Oaxacan Style Mole Tamales

Makes 20 tamales

These tamales wrapped in banana leaves are the famous tamales of Oaxaca. They are filled with chicken, turkey or pork combined with mole coloradito or mole negro The two moles are interchangeable according to what you may have on hand. These are labor intensive, but quite worth the effort. I always joke that one of the reasons that Mexicans have extended families is so that there are enough hands to help in making tamales. Get yourself some extra hands to help you make and eat them afterward, too. One of the biggest rewards is the aroma of the tamal pot in your kitchen.


For the pork:
  • 1 medium white onion, thickly sliced
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 3 celery ribs, with leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole allspice
  • 1 chile de árbol
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 1 ½ pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • Salt to taste
For the mole:
  • 1 lb tomatoes cut into quarters
  • ½ lb. tomatillos cut into quarters
  • ¾ cup pork stock
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 jar / 8 oz Seasons of my Heart Mole Negro Paste
For the masa and Tamales:
  • 2 pounds prepared masa for tamales or 3½ cups masa harina for tamales
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup lard, softened
  • ½ cup pork stock
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 20 pieces banana leaves, fresh or frozen (see Hints)
  • 1 package cornhusks, soaked in hot water for ½ hour
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For the mole
Roast the tomatoes and the tomatillos in a dry frying pan until they give off their juice. Puree until smooth in a blender, adding ¾ cup of pork stock and strain. In a wide soup pot or cazuela heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add one jar mole paste 8 oz, fry until heated through, add the tomato puree stirring at medium heat. Slowly add stock to mole sauce until achieving a medium consistency, letting it reduce and bubble, stirring constantly. Adjust salt to taste.

For the pork
In a heavy 6-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts of cold water to a boil (see Hint). Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, bay leaf, allspice, chile de árbol and peppercorns. Boil for 15 minutes, add the pork and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, until tender, about 1 hour. Add salt. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Reduce the stock by simmering, uncovered, for 10 minutes more. Remove the pot from the heat and strain the broth to remove the vegetables. Reserve the stock.

For the tamales
If you using prepared masa, break up the masa in a large bowl. If using masa harina, put it in a mixing bowl and add 2¼ cups warm water. Mix well and allow the dough to rest 15 minutes. Add the baking powder to either masa and mix well. Add the lard if it is fresh (soft). If the lard is the block type, whip it as much as possible to get it light, then add it to the masa. Mix in the lard well by hand or electric mixer. Add salt and reserved stock and add to the dough, stirring well. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. You should be able to taste the salt, but it should not be salty. Whip the masa well until light, about 20 minutes.

Cut the banana leaves into 12-inch pieces and heat on a comal or grill over high heat until they change color and are soft.

Shred the cooked pork. Shred 5 of the cornhusks into strips and tie the strips together in pairs.

Place a single piece of banana leaf on a tray. Place ¼ cup of masa on the center of the leaf. Place a sheet of plastic (a plastic bag cut in half works best) on top of the mass of dough. Spread the masa to almost cover the whole leaf, leaving about a 1-inch margin on all sides. Remove the plastic wrap and set aside for the next tamal. In the center, place 1 tablespoon shredded pork and 2 level spoonfuls of mole.

Fold the top edge of the banana leaf down and bottom edge up to form thirds; then fold in the sides, one by one, to make a small (or large) package. Tie with the cornhusk ties to secure. Repeat with the remaining banana leaves. Fill a tamalera or steamer with salted water up to the level of the rack. Place the rack in the pot and cover the rack with the extra cornhusks for flavor. Place the tamales on rack and steam for 1 hour or until masa falls away from the banana leaf when opened.

If you are using pork bones to make the stock, start by putting the bones in cold water and bring to a boil with the vegetables. This enables the bones to give off their juices.

You can reheat the tamales the next day on a comal or griddle by grilling them in their “wrappers”, covered with a lid or steaming them, in a steamer. I prefer the slight charring of the leaves on the griddle, giving them an added smoky flavor.

In looking for banana leaves, try to get Thai leaves in the Asian markets that are frozen. I find the Filipino variety to be thick and tend to crack a lot. When you use the frozen leaves, allow them to defrost in their packages then boil according to directions.