Pumpkin tamales

Time 2 hours
Yields Makes 2 to 2½ dozen tamales, depending on size
Pumpkin tamales
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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These are sweet tamales, filled with candied pumpkin – calabaza en tacha – that chefs Jaime Martín del Campo and Ramiro Arvizua make specifically for the popular Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), which, ironically, is a celebration of life. The brightly colored squash is simmered to tenderness with cinnamon and clove and piloncillo, the unrefined Mexican sugar shaped like tiny traffic cones. The cooking liquid coats the pumpkin in a caramel-like glaze. That sweet stickiness sets the tone for the already sweetened masa all of which gets wrapped in a corn husk and steamed until set.


In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground masa, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar and piloncillo. Mix well. Add the corn oil and chicken broth, and continue mixing (the masa should be smooth). Add the candied pumpkin, but be careful not to overmix; you want to see chunks of the pumpkin in the masa.


Drain the corn husks and pat dry.


Scoop a 1/4- to 1/3-cup spoonful of masa mixture onto the corn husk and fold one side of the corn husk over mixture then fold the other side, overlapping, as if folding a letter. Fold the pointed side of the tamale up and turn over to keep it from coming undone.


Arrange the tamales upright in a tamale steamer (tamalera) filled to the line with water, and heat over medium-high heat. Cover the top of tamales with a layer of remaining husks and a damp towel.


Cover with lid and steam until the masa is set (test by pulling back the corn husk on a tamale; if the masa sticks to the husk, it still needs to steam), about 11/2 hours, adding additional water to the tamalera as needed.

Adapted from a recipe by Jaime Martín del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu of La Casita Mexicana and Mexicano.