Banana leaf tamales recipe. Corn masa stuffed with squash, tomatoes, garlic, cheese and chili sauce, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
Many people seek tamales around the holidays because, well, they are delicious. And then there are some families that make them as a collective group. Everyone lines up and takes a part in the tamale-making process.
Tamales are a favorite of Latin America – a yummy filling that’s enveloped by a corn meal dough and steamed until they are cooked. Most tamales here in the United States are wrapped in corn husks – which is also popular in central and northern Mexico.
In other areas of Central America, you will find tamales wrapped in banana leaves that impart a unique flavor. Making tamales is a long and arduous process… Often times, they are made at the holidays and done by extended family – several dozens at a time with many sets of hands.
These tamales are a wee bit different than the traditional tamales that we would normally make. Instead of using husks, we’re using banana leaves. While they are a bit more tricky to prepare, they impart a unique flavor to the finished tamal that is wonderful.
Tamales freeze beautifully too. Since they are so time consuming, it only makes sense to make a large quantity at a time and freeze a portion of them for later. While you can freeze them after cooking them, I prefer to freeze them before steaming to keep them as fresh as possible.
Vegetarian Banana Leaf Tamales
This recipe is for a vegetarian filling of onions, tomatoes, zucchini (or squash), corn, and chile. You could substitute pork, beef or even chicken for the vegetarian filling if you prefer a more meaty version. This recipe makes about one dozen tamales.. more or less. If you are looking for more, then simply double the recipe.
Vegetarian Banana Leaf Tamales
- large stockpot with a steamer rack or..
- Instant Pot
- 4 dried ancho chiles
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 C Masa Maseca brand
- 1 C vegetable oil or, olive oil, coconut oil or avocado oil
- 2.25 C water or, chicken broth, vegetable broth
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 roma tomatoes chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 red onion chopped
- 2 C Mexican summer squash chopped, can substitute zucchini
- 1.5 C corn
- 1 C spinach packed
- 12 oz Monterey Jack cheese cut into 3 x 1/2" x 1/2" pieces
- 1 lb banana leaves frozen or fresh, available at most Asian or Mexican markets
Prepare the Banana Leaves
- If you are using frozen banana leaves (which you can pick up at the Mexican market or Asian market..) - rinse them under warm water to defrost.
- Cut away the edges of the leaves. Rinse.
- Soften them by soaking them in warm, salted water for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Or, you can hold them over a gas burner on the lowest heat for 10-15 seconds until they turn bright green (too long and they'll turn hard again).
- Cut the banana leaves into rectangles about 8" x 10". Pat dry with a towel.
Prepare the sauce
- Put on protective gloves. Use a knife to open the chile down the long side. Remove the seeds and stem.
- Lay the chiles open side down on a skillet over low heat for several seconds, flip and repeat. The heat will soften them and release their flavor. Avoid heating too long and toasting or browning the chiles.
- Place the chiles in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow them to sit for 10 minutes until they soften.
- Place the chiles and 1.5 C of the soaking water, garlic, and salt in the blender and puree until smooth. Adjust the seasonings - add more salt as needed.
- Strain and set aside to add to the filling ingredients.
Prepare the Filling
- Coat the bottom of your saute pan with 1-2 Tbsp olive oil. Heat to high, and add the tomatoes, garlic, onion, squash, and corn and saute until soft, 5-6 minutes.
- Add the salt and spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from the heat.
- Add 1 C of chile sauce to the vegetables, and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Assemble the Tamales
- Banana leaves have two sides. Place a handful of masa on the lighter green (smooth side) of the banana leaf rectangle. Lay the rectangle out, light colored side up.
- Place 1/4 - 1/3 C. masa in the center of the leaf; push down with your hand to spread the masa out in the shape of a square.
- Add a spoon or two of your filling + chile sauce down the center. Top with a strip of Monterey jack cheese.
- Fold the banana leaf in from each side (L and R), then fold the remaining sides (top and bottom) under the tamale.
- Secure the tamale with thin strips of banana leaves or, twine. If the banana leaf tears or gets too brittle, then it needs to be softened (and that can be done with the steps above).
- Pour 1.5 C water in your Instant Pot, and arrange the steamer rack within. Lay a piece of foil over the steamer rack, and carefully place your banana leaf tamales within. You should be able to fit 15-17 banana leaf tamales within the Instant Pot.
- Place the lid on the Instant Pot and seal the valve. Set the timer for 30 minutes at manual (high) pressure. Once the pot beeps done, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then do a quick release on any remaining pressure.
- Carefully use a thongs to remove the banana leaf tamales to a pan or plate. Enjoy.
Did you make this tamale recipe? If so, please please tag us @RebootedMom and share your results with us on Facebook.
If you like banana leaf tamales, you might also want to try your hand at regular Mexican tamales: