top of page

New Year's Food Traditions from Around the World - Mexico!

Eating tamales on New Year's Day is traditional in Mexico. The golden yellow of the corn in the masa symbolizes wealth for the future, while the tamales themselves represent prosperity and family unity. Tamales pretty much make appearances at every special occasion in Mexico, but they are especially a favorite during the holidays. On New Year's Day, tamales are often served with the soup Menudo because it is known to be good for hangovers, and gosh only knows how big of a bang your New Year's Eve was! Menudo (as you may know) is made with tripe, which is the lining of an animal's stomach, and although many have told me how it's great ... I still say, "no thanks!"

But tamales, made with chicken, shredded beef, pork, or chiles & cheese are divine!

In my book, I talk about the patient that had promised to teach me how to make tamales, but sadly passed away before she got the chance; and another family who had very little to give, but still gifted me these warm morsels filled with very little meat but lottsa love.

Today I give you the recipe for HOMEMADE CHICKEN TAMALES


24 dried corn husks

1 whole chicken

(3 - 4 lbs. cut up)

1 medium onion quartered

2 tsp. salt

1 garlic clove crushed

3 quarts water


1 cup shortening

3 cups masa


6 tbsp. canola oil 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

6 tbsp. all-purpose flour 1/4 tsp. pepper

3/4 cup chili powder 2 cans sliced black olives drained

1/2 tsp. salt Hot water


For the prep, cover corn husks with cold water and soak until softened (at least 2 hours).

Place chicken, onion, salt, and garlic in a 6 qt. stockpot, pour in 3 quarts water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while covered until the chicken is tender (about 45 - 60 min.)

Remove the chicken from the broth and when cool enough to handle, remove the bones and skin and discard. Shred the chicken, strain the juices, and skim the fat. Save this stock.

For the dough, beat the shortening until light and fluffy (about 1 minute). Beat in the masa harina a little at a time, alternating with the stock - using no more than 2 cups of the stock.

Drop a small amount of dough into a cold cup of water - it should float. If it doesn't, continue beating and rechecking until it does.

For the filling, heat oil in a Dutch oven and stir in the flour until blended. Cook and stir over medium heat until lightly browned (about 7 - 9 minutes). Then stir in the seasonings, the chicken, and the remaining stock - bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered while stirring occasionally, until thickened (about 45 minutes).

For the assembly, drain the corn husks and pat dry, then tear 4 of the husks to make 20 strips for tying the tamales. To prevent the husks from drying out, cover them with a damp cloth until ready to use. On the wide end of each remaining husk, spread 3 tbsp. of the dough and top with 2 tbsp. of the chicken filling and then 2 tsp. olives - leave a 1/2" margin on the edges of the husk. Fold the long sides of the husk over the filling, overlapping slightly, then fold over the narrow end of the husk and tie it with the strip to secure.

For serving, place a large steamer basket in a stockpot over water and place the tamales upright in it. Bring to a boil, steam the tamales while covered, adding hot water to the pot as needed, until the dough peels away from the husk (about 45 minutes). Enjoy!

Sidenote: I can now see why I never made tamales while I was still working! If you don't have a whole day to spend in the kitchen, there are many delis, markets, and grocery stores that have their own delicious tamales to purchase...just sayin'

But if you do have the time and want to take on tamale-making, I'd suggest making a bunch to make it worth your time because they do freeze well!


bottom of page