By Ann Holiday
Cornish Pasties, Chinese Jiaozi, Nicaraguan Nacatamales – every nation seems to have its own special dish, and some, like Jiaozi and Nacatamales become a family affair.
Pasties were made by the women for the men to take down into the mines. In Beijing, I made Jiaozi for New Year’s with the family of a co-worker. We wrapped a combination of meat and vegetables in rounds of pastry folded the edges together and crimped them. They boil in a deep pan until they float, and they’re ready for the celebration.
Pasties are made with a sturdy crust of flour and shortening (my great-grandmother used suet and lard), filled with meat, potatoes and rutabaga and crimped together like Jiaozi. Then they’re baked in the oven.
Nacatamales have a little in common with Mexican tamales. They’re wrapped, but Nicaraguans use banana leaves. They’re based on a corn meal mush, but they don’t taste strongly of chili. Recipes can be found on line. Banana leaves can sometimes be found in grocery stores that cater to Latinos.
Our group of five learned how to make authentic La Corona Nacatamales under the guidance of Don Mauricio’s wife and daughters. While they were mixing the ingredients, we were softening the banana leaves over one of the fires in the open-air kitchen.
A major ingredient is corn, ground to a mush. I noticed a grinding stone and asked Doña Juana if she’d show me how she used it so I could make a video. She moved some things off it, washed it down, went across the kitchen for a cup of what looked like canned hominy, and began moving the grinder across the stone. I later learned that she actually ground the corn in a meat-grinder.
Another component is rice, seasoned with raisins and other mysterious ingredients. Chicken legs, red sauce and a slice of tomato finished the composition.
They showed us how to fold the banana leaves in layers over the innards, then one of the daughters tied them up with the familiar yellow nylon cord. She put a different decoration on each so we could tell them apart after they cooked in water over the fire for a few hours.
We helped the Doña Juana and her daughters make more with pork – for dinner that night and for leftovers.
After the singing, dancing and games, we fished the Nacatamales out of the pot and unwrapped them, one leaf at a time. The final presentation puts the Nacatamale on top of one banana leaf on a plate.
We sat down with family, hosts and, apparently, neighbors to enjoy our Nacatamales.
I liked mine so much that I ordered one for breakfast at the ecological resort at the end of the trip.
And when I got home, I looked on line and found several different recipes, with a variety of ingredients called for. Not all are used in any one recipe, but here they are:
For the masa (dough):
Masa Harina, lard (or other solid fat), salt, sour orange juice (or orange juice with juice of lime), chicken stock, Knorr chicken powder bouillon, pepper.
For the filling:
Achiote or annatto spice, rice, onion, green bell pepper, tomato, potato, peas, raisins, capers, olives, pineapple, mint, cilantro leaves.
Cubed pork butt or chicken marinated in salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, sour orange juice achiote.
Google “nacatamale recipe” and you should be on your way to culinary delight. Plan ahead – Preparation time: 24 hours. Cooking time: 3 hours.