Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Mexican tradition: Making homemade Christmas tamales with love

Joseph Michael Perez
Emma C. Perez prepares her traditional chicken tamales for Christmas. She is the mother of KPBS education reporter M.G. Perez who is on his way home for a holiday vacation. Pearland, TX, on Dec. 22, 2022.

Tamales are a Mexican Christmas tradition that have been filling bellies for centuries.

Just the mention of tamales can get your mouth watering. Fresh out of the pot the smell of the warm masa filled with seasoned beef, chicken, and even fruit flavors if you prefer something sweet, is nostalgic for many Mexican American families — including mine.

For me, meat-stuffed tamales are even better with a little guacamole or salsa on top and sprinkled with some cheese. Mmm, mmm, mmm!

Emma C. Perez
Corn husks and masa are some of the ingredients used to make traditional chicken tamales. The chicken breast meat is seasoned with spices, green salsa, and tomatoes. Pearland, TX, Dec. 22, 2022.

I grew up in Southeast Texas with a huge extended Mexican American family that knew how to love and, more importantly, how to eat. That included lots of tamales. I am so excited to be going back there to spend time with family for the holidays.

Emma Elva Canas Perez is my mother. She is a master tamale maker who has been cooking them for more than 70 years.

She joined me on Midday Edition, Thursday, from her kitchen in Pearland, Texas to talk about making tamales and to share some family memories.

Emma’s Chicken Tamales

40 cleaned corn husk leaves
3 1/3 lbs of corn masa
1 lb of butter-flavored shortening
canned or deboned chicken meat equivalent to one whole chicken, shredded
1 jar green salsa
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes including juice
3 cubes chicken flavored bouillon or consommé and 2 cups hot water
onion flakes, salt, garlic powder and other preferred spices to taste

1. Soak corn husks in warm water overnight. (Mom puts them in an ice chest overnight then drains the water in the morning)
2. Using a stand mixer combine masa and shortening together to make the tamale masa smooth and spreadable
3. Combine the meat with spices, salsa, tomatoes and their juice and bouillon with water and simmer for an hour.
4. Use a spoon to spread the masa dough on each corn husk and fill with meat to taste.
5. Roll and fold the husks.
6. Steam in a pot or pressure cooker for up to one hour.

Depending on how thick you make them, this recipe can yield as many as 3 dozen tamales.