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WikiTamale - Dictionary & Encyclopedia of Words and Terms Related to Tamales

Introduction - What are Tamales?

Tamales are a "New World" food made by wrapping various ingredients in a rich corn dough, and then wrapping corn husks, banana leaves, or corn leaves around the dough parcel to create a packet, which is then steamed.  The finished tamales are typically eaten plain, although they may be accompanied with a variety of drinks, depending on the region, and sometimes sides like beans as well.  They may be topped with salsa, chili, queso, guacamole, or chili con carne.

Many people associate tamales specifically with Mexican cuisine, where they have been elevated to an art form, with various regional specialties which feature an assortment of ingredients ranging from chocolate to shredded beef.  However, tamales are also eaten in other parts of Latin America, and they were once eaten by Native North Americans on a fairly regular basis, as early colonists attested.  In the US, regional tamales have developed for the Mississippi Delta, New Mexico, and Texas (among others).

Nutritionally, tamales have a lot to offer.  The corn dough is typically made with masa, a form of nixtamalized corn which has been treated with slaked lime.  The corn dough is highly nutritious as a result, and the filling may add to the nutritional value of the tamales with ingredients like protein-rich meats and fresh produce.  Tamales are also extremely convenient, as the steamed packets can easily be carried on trips or in a lunchbox; many cuisines have foods similar to the tamale, such as zongzi, Chinese rice dumplings wrapped in plantain leaves.

A tamal need not necessarily be meaty, although many people think of them as a savory entree' food.  In addition to filling tamales with ingredients like spicy shredded chicken, pork, or beef, cooks can also fill them with chocolate or fruit.  It is also possible to find vegetarian tamales with ingredients like black beans, yams, and so forth.  Typically tamales are also heavy on the chilies and other spices, making them zesty as well as nutritious.

Many Mexican restaurants offer tamales, and if you live in a region with a large Hispanic population, you may be lucky enough to encounter a tamale stand.  Tamale stands often offer a range of traditional tamal flavors, served fresh and hot directly from the steamer and sometimes accompanied with salsa.  It is also possible to make tamales at home; if you don't want to go through the trouble of using your own masa, you can use nixtamalized products from a company like Maseca, which are designed to be easily used by home cooks. [Editor note:  or you can take advantage of www.TexasLoneStarTamales.com and have them ship them directly to you.]


Chipotle (CHI POTE LAY)

The word chipotle, which was also sometimes spelled chilpoctle and chilpotle, comes to English originally from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli by way of Mexican Spanish.  The Nahuatl word chilpoctli means "smoked chile", formed from chil (="chile pepper") + poctli (="smoke").  The original Nahuatl word was spelled "pochilli" and has apparently become reversed.  Today it is commonly misspelled and mispronounced as chipolte.  Other early spellings from Mexico are tzilpoctil, tzonchilli and texochilli.  The most common pronunciation is chee-POHT-lay, although some of those who are aware of this word's Nahuatl roots prefer the more historical pronunciation chee-POHT-til.  Some Mexicans refer to chipotles as chile poctle.

Masa

In general, it is dough made from Corn.

Spanish for dough, masa usually refers to cornmeal dough (masa de maíz in Spanish) in Mexico and the USA.  It is used for making tortillas, tamales, pupusas, arepas, and many other Latin American dishes.  Masa de harina is the dried and powdered form; also known as maseca (Maseca is also a commercial brand).  Masa de harina can be reconstituted with water.


Nixtamalization, Nixtamalize, or Nixtamalized

(from Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization)
In the Aztec language Nahuatl, the word for the product of this procedure is nixtamalli or nextamalli (pronounced [niʃtaˈmalːi]), which in turn has yielded Mexican Spanish nixtamal ([nistaˈmal] or [niʃtaˈmal]).  The Nahuatl word is a compound of nextli "ashes" and tamalli "unformed corn dough, tamal." The term nixtamalization (spelled with the "t") can also be used to describe the removal of the pericarp from any grain by an alkali process, including maize, sorghum, and others. When the unaltered Spanish spelling nixtamalizacion is used in written English, however, it almost exclusively refers to maize.

The labels on packages of commercially-sold tortillas prepared with nixtamalized maize usually list corn treated with lime as an ingredient in English, while the Spanish versions list maiz nixtamalizado.


Tamal

Singular for tamales.

Tamale is an "Americanized" word, created from the plural "tamales".  When you say "tamale", you are talking about a Mexican tamal.


 

Tamalada

A tamale-making party.

The tamal (tamale) can take a long time to properly prepare.  Tamales are often served on Christmas (and other festive occasions); before the occasion, a tamalada (tamale-making party) is usually held.

"Tamalada” is cited in English since at least 1873.  The tamalada has become an institution in South Texas among Mexican-American families, who ritually gather for tamaladas.  This means enlisting the whole clan for an assembly line, and making dozens upon dozens of tamales for all to take home.

The tamalada is a long-time tradition in Texas and many Mexican/Hispanic communities.


 

Chipotle (CHI POTE LAY)

The word chipotle, which was also sometimes spelled chilpoctle and chilpotle, comes to English originally from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli by way of Mexican Spanish.  The Nahuatl word chilpoctli means "smoked chile", formed from chil (="chile pepper") + poctli (="smoke").  The original Nahuatl word was spelled "pochilli" and has apparently become reversed.  Today it is commonly misspelled and mispronounced as chipolte.  Other early spellings from Mexico are tzilpoctil, tzonchilli and texochilli.  The most common pronunciation is chee-POHT-lay, although some of those who are aware of this word's Nahuatl roots prefer the more historical pronunciation chee-POHT-til.  Some Mexicans refer to chipotles as chile poctle.

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