Staff prepare healthy tamales

Healthy tamaladas keep traditions alive

By teaching how to prepare healthy tamales, Healthy South Texas helps communities uphold the tradition of tamale-making with an eye toward well-being
December 14, 2018

A Family Tradition

During the holidays in Texas, friends, families and neighbors get together for all-day fiestas called “tamaladas,” or tamale-making parties. These are a time for multiple generations to gather around the kitchen table and pass down the age-old tradition of making tamales for holiday meals and parties.

“For all of us it means something different,” said Petra Guerra, MSN/MHA, RN, health educator with Texas A&M Healthy South Texas. “For some, it just means work. Others like the camaraderie and the love that is felt while working together and hearing stories of the past as to how they learned to make the tamales. It is a coming together to share the tradition of love and cooking. Tamaladas are rich, and they bring more than good food to those who participate.”

In this same spirit, Healthy South Texas hosts annual tamaladas throughout South Texas during the month of December. Members of the community, organizational partners and staff join together to learn from a dietitian how to make a healthier version of traditional pork tamales with half the calories and a fraction of the fat and carbohydrates.

Traditionally, tamales are made with masa and pork. The masa is typically prepared with lard, which is rendered fat from a pig and a source of saturated fat, the kind of fat that can increase “bad” cholesterol and lipid levels. The pork in traditional tamales usually comes from pork butt, which is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Healthy South Texas swaps the lard for olive oil and the pork for leaner protein, like chicken or beans, which reduces the saturated fat and lowers the number of calories.

“Because tamaladas are a joy-filled event with families and communities, our team wanted to provide a healthier option for tamales while still encouraging family engagement and celebration,” said Keri Carpenter, MPH, RDN, CHES, health educator with Healthy South Texas. “Teaching how to prepare tamales in a healthier way allows families to keep the tradition alive while also taking care of their health.”

If you would like to host a healthy tamalada, here are the recipes taught by Healthy South Texas. These still have all the same rich flavors that everyone knows and loves about this time-honored food.

Low-fat chicken tamales

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 3 pounds chicken breasts
  • 3 ½ cups water (or enough to cover chicken in pot)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2⁄3 cup chicken broth

For the masa

  • 5 pounds corn masa
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ⅛ cup baking powder
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1–2 packs dried corn husks

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken breasts in a pot and add enough water to cover them. Bring pot to a low boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the meat is cooked.
  2. Remove chicken from the broth (set broth aside) and let it cool.
  3. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it and chop. Add onion powder, chili powder, garlic, cumin, salt, broth and mix well.
  4. In a separate bowl, prepare the masa mixture by combining all ingredients and mixing until the mixture clumps together. Add broth as necessary to make the masa pliable. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute.
  5. Soak the corn husks in a large bowl of hot water for about 20 minutes. Make sure they are pliable.
  6. Drain and rinse the corn husks. Pat dry and keep covered with a warm, damp towel.
  7. Flatten the corn husk on a flat surface. With a spoon or spatula, take 2 heaping tablespoons of masa and spread it on the smooth side of the husk, leaving about a 1-inch margin on all sides. Add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of filling to the center. Roll up lengthwise into a cylinder and wrap with the corn husk. Repeat with remaining dough, filling the remaining husks. You may freeze the tamales to cook at a later date or steam cook immediately.
  8. Place the tamales in a steamer basket and set over one inch of boiling water. Cover tightly and reduce heat. Steam the tamales for 30 to 45 minutes until cooked. Check frequently and replenish water as needed. Frozen tamales should be thawed for at least one hour and will require a longer cook time.

Nutrition Facts

Servings: 6–8 dozen. Serving size: 2 tamales. 250 calories, 7 g fat, 13 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates

Compare to traditional pork tamales, which are 506 calories, 22 g fat

Low-Fat Bean Tamales

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 3 ½ cans (15 oz cans) fat-free refried beans
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the masa

  • 5 pounds corn masa
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ⅛ cup baking powder
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1–2 packs dried corn husks

Instructions

  1. Pour cans of refried beans into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add onion powder, chili powder, garlic, cumin, salt and mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, prepare the masa mixture by combining all ingredients and mixing until the mixture clumps together. Add broth as necessary to make the masa pliable. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute.
  4. Soak the corn husks in a large bowl of hot water for about 20 minutes. Make sure they are pliable.
  5. Drain and rinse the corn husks. Pat dry and keep covered with a warm, damp towel.
  6. Flatten the corn husk on a flat surface. With a spoon or spatula, take 2 heaping tablespoons of masa and spread it on the smooth side of the husk, leaving about a 1-inch margin on all sides. Add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of filling to the center. Roll up lengthwise into a cylinder and wrap with the corn husk. Repeat with remaining dough, filling the remaining husks. You may freeze the tamales to cook at a later date or steam cook immediately.
  7. Place the tamales in a steamer basket and set over one inch of boiling water. Cover tightly and reduce heat. Steam the tamales for 30 to 45 minutes until cooked. Check frequently and replenish water as needed. Frozen tamales should be thawed for at least one hour and will require a longer cook time.

Nutrition Facts

Servings: 6–8 dozen. Serving size: 2 tamales. 215 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates

Compare to traditional pork tamales, which are 506 calories, 22 g fat

— Lindsey Hendrix

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