Banana Leaf Tamales Stuffed With Yuca, Red Sweet Potato And Fish!
Many people automatically assume that the food of ancient societies in the Americas was primitive and very basic. In reality, the opposite is true. By any standards, many Pre-Columbian societies were truly gourmet. Old traditional recipes of Mesoamerican societies often combined a complex list of ingredients to create flavors that were incomprehensible by old European standards.
Two good ancient recipe examples that are truly gourmet are the Mayan Chocolate Beverage and the complex Mole Pastes that were made by Aztec and Puebla societies. The list of ingredients in these recipes are extensive and the complex flavors were well thought out.
Chile pepper knowledge is essential for cooking Pre-Columbian style food. Simply listing chile peppers as being spicy hot or mild is not good enough. Knowing the complex flavors of lesser known chile peppers can only be learned by experience.
Cascabel Chiles are native to the Yucatan region and they are an important part of Mayan cuisine. Cascabel Chiles are also called Sleigh Bell Chiles or Rattlers. These chiles have a nutty smokey rich chile pepper flavor and they are medium spicy hot.
Tamales in the Oaxaca and Yucatan regions are often made with banana leaves, instead of corn husks. Cooking food in banana leaves is one of mankind's first cooking techniques.
Nixtamal Corn Flour (Masa Harina) is what most people use to make tamales. In tropical regions like the Yucatan Peninsula, root vegetables like yuca and sweet potato are often used to make tamales instead of maize. A combination of Masa Harina and root vegetables is sometimes used as a tamale stuffing too.
Root vegetables were and still are main staple in the tropical Yucatan region. There are many yams that are native to Central America and Mexico, but they are rarely sold in markets outside of those regions. The white, yellow, orange, purple or red color "yams" that are sold in grocery stores are actually sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes and yams are two completely different plants. Red Sweet Potato is one of the ingredients in today's recipe.
Yuca (cassava) is combined with Red Sweet Potato to make the filling for today's banana leaf tamale. Yuca is native to South America and it is cultivated extensively in Central America.
Achiote is also called Anatto. Anatto gives the tamale stuffing its orange color. Anatto is an important spice in Central American cuisine.
Palm Tree Oil was used extensively in Pre-Columbian Central American cuisine. Many palm tree species produce small fruit or nuts that yield oil. Coconut Oil is basically the same thing. Coconut Oil is used in today's recipe.
If you want to step back in time to taste the flavors of Pre-Columbian Mayan cuisine, then today's Yucatan Fish Tamale recipe is good to try!
*This entire recipe yields 3 medium size tamales.
Chile Cascabel Preparation:
Carefully pop the stem off of 3 dried cascabel chiles.
Shake the seeds out of the pods. Discard the seeds.
Soak the cascabel chiles in cold water, till they are soft.
*The yuca and red yam tamale filling can be made while the chiles soak.
Yuca and Red Yam Tamale Stuffing:
About 2 1/2 cups of this stuffing will yield 3 or 4 medium size tamales.
This stuffing is thickened with Masa Harina.
Step 1: Peel and trim 1 medium size piece of yuca root. (About 10 ounces)
Place the yuca root in a sauce pot.
Add 1 medium size whole Red Sweet Potato. (About 8 ounces)
Cover the root vegetables with 1" extra water.
Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat.
Step 2: Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
Simmer till the yuca and red sweet potato are tender. Add water if necessary.
*The sweet potato will become tender before the yuca, so remove the red sweet potato when it is cooked soft and set it aside to cool.
Remove the yuca from the pot and allow it to cool.
Step 3: Peel the skin off of the sweet potato.
Split open the yuca root.
Remove and discard the hard stem core.
Coarsely chop the yuca and yam.
Step 4: Place the chopped yuca and yam in a sauce pot.
Add 1/2 cup of water.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil.
Place the sauce pot over low heat.
Step 5: Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground anatto.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of ancho chile powder. (Substitute ground chile puya instead for a more authentic spicy flavor.)
Add sea salt and black pepper.
Add 2 tablespoons of minced onion.
Add 2 minced green onions.
Step 6: Place a lid on the pot.
Slowly simmer till the root vegetables are vert soft, so they can be easily mashed. (About 10 minutes.)
Step 7: Use a potato masher to mash the mixture till it is smooth.
Step 8: Add a little bit of masa harina at a time while stirring, till the root vegetable mixture becomes a thick paste. (About 3 or 4 tablespoons.)
Step 9: Take the pot off of the heat.
Set it aside to cool.
Yucatán Pescado Tamales:
This recipe yields 3 medium size tamales and 1 banana leaf package of tortillas.
Step 1: Lightly grill 1 or 2 whole banana leaves over an open flame or on a cast iron griddle, till they turn a slightly darker shade of green and they become flexible. (Frozen banana leaves can be used too.)
Cut 4 square shape banana leaf wrappers that measure 10"x10".
Step 2: Place equal amounts of the root vegetable stuffing on the center of 3 of the banana leaf wrappers. (About 3/4 cup apiece.)
Step 3: Place a 2 to 3 ounce piece of fish on each mound of stuffing. (Tilapia, Catfish or any sustainable white fish can be used.)
Press the fish into the root vegetable vegetable paste.
Step 4: Place 1 of the reserved soaked cascabel peppers on top of each piece of fish.
Step 5: Tear 8 long thin strips of banana leaf.
Tie pairs of the banana strips together to form 4 long strings.
Step 6: Fold the banana leaf over the stuffing to form a sealed shaped square banana leaf package.
Tie each package shut with a banana leaf string.
Step 7: Place 6 to 8 small 5" corn tortillas on the 4th banana leaf wrapper and seal that package with the 4th banana string.
Set the tortilla banana leaf package aside.
Step 8: Place a steamer rack in a large pot.
Add enough water, so the water level is just below the steaming rack.
Place the 3 tamales on the steaming rack.
Cover the pot with a lid.
Step 9: Steam the tamales over medium/medium hot heat for 16 minutes. Add water if necessary.
Step 10: Place the banana leaf tortilla package in the steaming pot.
Steam for another 4 minutes.
Set the 3 Yucatán tamales de pescado, yuca y ñame on a plate, so they overlap each other.
Set the banana leaf package of tortillas on the back half of the plate.
Serve with a ramekin of your favorite Mexican style hot sauce or Yucatan Habanero Hot Sauce.
When the banana leaf tamale wrappers are opened, the aroma is mouthwatering!
Be sure to say to say "Hach ki’ in wo’och!" to the guests. This means "My food is very tasty!" in Mayan language!