Tamales: one way to do a traditional Panamanian New Year’s dish

Tamales are part of world cuisine and come in many varieties. This Wikimedia photo by Judge Flora. This recipe as adapted by Eric Jackson and published in 2011.

Panamanian Tamales


– 3 pounds cracked corn
– 2 pounds pork tenderloin
– 1/2 stick butter
– 1 cup onions, chopped
– 1 teaspoon achiote
– 1/2 cup green peppers
– 1 small package tomato paste
– 3 leaves culantro, shredded
– 1 teaspoon oregano flakes
– salt and pepper to taste
– 1/2 cup capers
– 3/4 cup Spanish olives, sliced
– 1/2 cup pitted dried prunes, chopped roughly
– 3 fresh tomatoes
– 3 cloves garlic
– Bijao leaves (or banana or plantain leaves if you can’t get these)

Directions :

– Wash the bijao (false bird of paradise, also known as “platanillo” or Heliconia bihai L.) leaves — you can use banana or plantain leaves if these are unavailable, but bijao imparts a particular taste you want — and boil them for 20 minutes, then drain them and let them dry on some paper towels
– Boil corn until soft
– Grind boiled corn into mush (masa)
– Roast the pork until it’s done, then cut it up into chunks
– Brown the pork chunks in butter
– Remove the pork, retaining the pan and the residue from frying
– Add the onion, pepper, tomato, culantro, oregano and tomato paste to the pan you just used to cook the pork, saute until the onions are clear
– Add 3 cups of water and simmer into a chunky sauce
– Separate the chunks from the liquid in the sauce
– Stir the liquid that you have separated from the sauce into masa, plus the capers, olives and prunes, mixing it all completely so as to give the masa a texture kind of like mashed potatoes (add a little more water if you have to)
– Take a piece of leaf, spoon some masa into the middle, shape it to make an impression in the middle
– Put some of the solids from the sauce and some of the pork into this impression
– Cover with another spoonful of masa and pinch it down to enclose the meat and veggies in the middle
– Add another spoonful of masa and fold the leaf around it
– Tie the leaf up with string
– Get large pot of salted water to a rapid boil
– Add the tamales and boil for about a half hour

Serve hot (once cooked they may be refrigerated or frozen and reheated)


Contact us by email at fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com


To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.


These links are interactive — click on the boxes