Colombian Tamales How-2 Guide

December 29, 2006 in chicken, Colombian Food, cooking, How-2, latino, pork

Christmas in Colombia is QUITE a production. Its not just one or two days like here in the US and it can be exhausting if you are not used to partying constantly for a better part of some 15 days, day and night after day and night. If you think you will be spending Christmas in Colombia next year be sure to condition your liver with a serious regimen of rum training over several months. Otherwise, you will be such a light-weight that you will not remember past December 15th or so.

One of my most enduring memories from Colombian Christmases would have to be eating tamales at midnight on Christmas Eve. Even though I now live way the h*ll north of the beautiful equatorial paradise that is Colombia and far from my mom, I set out to make my own tamales this year (first time for me). I have put together a few pictures of the assembly process to help you with the how-to. Since I was shooting in the kitchen with low crappy lighting and also taking care of three kids and dealing with a delivery man, all at once, my shots are not the best here and not in great focus. I apologize for that ahead of time!

This is best done surrounded by all of your favorite relatives (preferably mamas, abuelitas, and tias who know how to do this and who have all sorts of stories to tell) so that you have help and make it all go by quickly. I had just myself!

Christmas Eve Tamales - The set-up for assembly

(Christmas Eve Tamales – The set-up for assembly)
Pork and chicken are marinated overnight

(Pork and chicken are marinated overnight)
Filling includes masa, eggs, peas, pork, chicken, carrots, and hogao

(Filling includes masa, eggs, peas, pork, chicken, carrots, and hogao”)
Wrap tamal up in banana leaves and tie with string

(Wrap tamal up in banana leaves and tie with string)
Wrap tamal up in foil and steam 3 hours

(Wrap tamal up in foil and steam 3 hours)
Here is the recipe that our family uses to make Colombian tamales. There is quite a bit of preparation time, so you will need to start at least two or three days ahead of the planned serving time. This recipe should make about 20 tamales.

  • 20 chicken thighs, skinned and defatted (save this. Can be rendered to crisps and schmaltz for other recipes).
  • 20 pork ribs about the length of your finger with a good amount of meat on them. You’ll probably have to buy them as a rack and chop them up yourself. (If you don’t want pork ribs, use 20 chicken legs)


  • 3 bunches of green onions, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 heaping tsps of ground cominos
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • Pinch of ground annatto seeds


  • 5 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 bunches of green onions, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cominos
  • Pinch of ground annatto seeds
  • 1/2 cup of packed, chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • salt to taste

4 C “La Venezolana” or “ArepaHarina” precocida (extremely fine precooked corn meal – you simply can not use any substitutes here, find this ingredient)


  • 5 large carrots, peeled and 1/4″ sliced
  • 2 cups of frozen green peas
  • 5 large red potatoes, scrubbed, 1/4″ sliced (put in water to prevent discoloration)
  • 8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and 1/4″ sliced

Package of thawed/frozen banana “platano” leaves (latino food store), cut into 12 inch square pieces and rinsed in VERY hot tap water.

Clean string or cord used for tying meat roasts.

Aluminum foil

A very large crab or lobster steamer with a bottom rack and lid. Fill with salted water about 3 ” above the bottom rack.

Pique Sauce:

  • 6 cleaned green onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of minced cilantro
  • 1 tsp of ground comino
  • 1/8 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of white vinegar
  • salt to taste


Two or three days before:
Put the chicken and ribs in separate containers. (Or if you are substituting more chicken, you can put all the meat in one container). Prepare the marinade from the ingredients listed above, divide and put 1/2 on the chicken and the other 1/2 on the ribs. With your hands, work the marinade into the meats. Cover and refrigerate until the next day.

Saute the listed “hogao” ingredients in the olive oil until wilted, set aside.

Preparation of the “Masa”:
Corn dough or “masa”. Put 4 cups of “La Venezolana” or “ArepaHarina” in a large bowl or container. Slowly add 5 cups of lukewarm (not hot) water or chicken broth. You’ll probably have to use your hands to mix well. Most likely, you will need to add more water to get the “masa” to the consistency of cooked oatmeal or grits. This dough does not have the stiff consistency of “empanada” dough.

Assembly and cooking of the Tamales:

Place about a cup of the dough in the center of the banana leaf. Place one rib and one chicken thigh on top. Place about 3 slices each of the carrots, potatoes and egg on the meat. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of “hogao” on top of the vegetables and egg. Then spoon about a 1/2 cup of “masa” on top of all of this and gently spread as much out as you can. Now, fold the edges of the banana leaf over the filling so as to make a package. Do not let any of the filling show. If the leaf splits, just take another smaller piece of leaf and fold it around the package.

Tie up the package/tamale with the string or cord. Believe me, this tying up of the tamales in banana leaves takes practice!! After you have tied up the tamale/package, tear off a 12″ sheet of aluminum foil and wrap it tightly around the tamale. Continue with the other tamales according to the above directions. Stack the tamales all the way to the top in the steamer pot and turn up the heat to high. If your pot does not hold all of them, just refrigerate the rest until you can steam them later, or, borrow another steamer pot. When you hear the water boiling furiously, turn the heat down to medium. Always make sure that the pot is steaming and that there is enough water in it. Cover tightly and steam for at least 3 hours. After that time, remove the top tamale and open it up to make sure that the meat is thoroughly cooked. It should be falling off the bone.

Serve the tamales on a section of banana leaf. (Warn guests not to eat the leaf! A favorite Colombian story is that a Gringo was served a tamale. When he finished it he said,”Boy, was this delicious!! However, the lettuce was kind of tough!!” (har,har).

Some Colombians like to put “pique” on their tamales.

To make pique sauce:

This sauce/relish is similar to “pico de gallo” except it does not include the minced jalapeno. If you want to use jalapeno, you can, but it’s not legitimate Colombian. This relish is spooned into a bitten-off empanada or onto arepas, into tamales, etc. Yummmm! Its like a taste of sunshine!

Finely mince the green onions and the garlic. Add the other ingredients and let marinate for at least 2 hours. There should be enough liquid to almost reach the top of the relish. You may have to adjust by adding a little more vinegar.

I made enough to freeze (raw) and will see how they cook up out of the freezer at a later date!

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Happy Winter Solstice! May you have light

December 21, 2006 in christmas, holiday, How-2

(If you are looking for information on my contribution to the Menu for Hope III event go to this permalink)
Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Through the portal © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
Today is the shortest day of the year and tonight is the longest night. It is an important time for those of us who live in northern lattitudes because it marks a very real and very important occasion, the switch from loss of light every day to the slow return of light, precious seconds every day. I dont get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) so much as just sensitivity to light length and quality. On this day we celebrate the Sun and light candles at night in anticipation for the new year and rememberance for the past year.

If you would like to learn more about the winter solstice and traditions around it (ancient and new) try these links:

Winter Solstice wiki entry
Stonehenge wiki entry
Maps and layouts
Amazing Stonehenge photo gallery
Stonehenge clones and morphisims
Party at the henge
Modern Stonehenge Solstice Ritual
Modern Druids and the Stonehenge
Information on Druids and the Stonehenge
List of Solstice websites that may interest you

To mark the occasion, we made our own stonehenge cake! We printed out some layouts and photos.

(Stonehenge site)
Then we set to work!

We gathered the various materials we would need to build our stonehenge and sat down to the hard work of nibbling on ladyfingers and sneaking bites of frosting.

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Materials © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
We trimmed off the ends of the ladyfingers and cut a few in half lengthwize (for the capstones).

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Cutting the stones © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(More cutting © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
Q spread frosting on her plate as a foundation.

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Spreading the foundation © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
KD did the same. Baby O worked on his nap.

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(KD working on her henge © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
The frosting had to be put all over the plate. Here Q is using an off-set spatula.

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Spatula in hand © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
She had to be sure to get a deep enough layer of “snow” so that the ladyfinger stones would stand upright.

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Frosting “snow” © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
Q studied the photos and layouts of the Stonehenge and then set to work constructing hers. If you look carefully, you will see that she stuck very closely to the actual layout.

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Frosting does an excellent job of anchoring the stones © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
Almost done.

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(A few more stones © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
The henge takes shape!

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(Henge-in-progress © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
KD’s henge is coming together beautifully. It did not last long tho. Alas, cake and frosting are too tempting for a 3 year old.

Stonehenge cake for Winter

(Little fingers work the stones © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)
And voila, CakeHenge 2006!

Stonehenge cake for Winter Solstice

(CakeHenge 2006! © 2006 Nika All rights reserved)

Christmas Colombian Bunuelos How-2 Guide

December 19, 2006 in christmas, Colombian Food, cooking, deep fry, dessert, How-2

Christmas morning Bunuelos

(Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with hot chocolate © 2005-2006 Nika Boyce All rights reserved)

Last year I did a quickie post on Colombian bunuelos but I did not do the How-2 Guide or give a recipe. I will do that now.

Colombian Bunuelos


  • 2 C white fresh farmers cheese, finely ground or crumbled with fork
  • 2 C Colombian “Bunuelina” mix
  • 2 eggs
  • milk to moisten
  • canola oil for deep frying

Mix all ingredients (except oil) in a bowl.

Colombian Breakfast -3: pan de bono - 2

(Queso Blanco © 2005-2006 Nika Boyce All rights reserved)
Colombian bunuelos for Christmas

(Mix the bunuelo mix with the cheese © 2005-2006 Nika Boyce All rights reserved)
Knead, adding a little bit of milk to often the dough and make it hold together.
Colombian bunuelos for Christmas

(What the mix should look like before making into balls © 2005-2006 Nika Boyce All rights reserved)
Make balls a little smaller than the size of a golf ball, DO NOT COMPRESS the dough.
Colombian bunuelos for Christmas

(Roll dough into loose balls, not hard packed ones © 2005-2006 Nika Boyce All rights reserved)

Heat the oil to very warm (you can stick your finger in it but not very long). Gently drop the balls into the oil and then turn up the heat. The balls will linger at the bottom of the pot until the oil heats up. They will turn themselves as they come up “for air.” Fry until light brown. Remove to a drained surface to cool.

Colombian bunuelos for Christmas

(Start in cool oil to avoid explosions © 2005-2006 Nika Boyce All rights reserved)
For the next batch let the oil cool down (doesnt have to be as cool as when you first started) such that a test dough ball will drop to the bottom and then rise slowly to the top. Once the oil has cooled enough to do this, add your next batch. Always use a splatter shield.If you drop them into hot oil they will explode and could seriously hurt you.

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A Colombian breakfast How-2 guide

August 21, 2006 in breakfast, Colombian Food, cooking, deep fry, Food Porn, How-2, latino, pork, recipe

Colombian Breakfast - 12

(Clockwise from top left: changua, arepa with queso blanco, pan de bono, and patacones – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

A Colombian breakfast is not just one thing, sort of like you might think a proper English fry up would be. I think that a Colombian breakfast can actually have many different possibilities limited only by the appetite, types of leftovers, and guided by the region of Colombia you are in/from.

This post discusses a breakfast that includes changua, arepas, pan de bono, and patacones. (I will talk about how to make each of those items below.) What you dont see is what you might have to drink with this meal. That could include aqua de panela, strong Colombian coffee, or even steaming hot chocolate. It could easily have been beans, rice, chicharrones, and fried eggs with a side of hogao. This breakfast is an amalgam of breakfasts I had as a kid at home and while on vacation in Bogota, Colombia.

This set of food may LOOK simple but it can take a while and lots of energy.

I would suggest starting with the Pan De Bono and I will cover that first.

Pan De Bono

Note: The translated ingredients and directions on the mix I show below are incorrect! I will give you the correct directions here in English.


  • 1 box of Pan De Bono mix
  • 3 cups grated fresh queso blanco (farmer’s cheese – do not try to substitute this. Go to a latino market and get it fresh)
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 cup milk


Grate the queso blanco with a fine grater. It is fragile and will crumble/grate easily. Do enough to equal 3 cups. Try to buy enough so that you can eat some slices of it later.

Colombian Breakfast -3: pan de bono - 2

(Package of queso blanco – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Colombian Breakfast -4: pan de bono - 3

(Block of queso blanco – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Colombian Breakfast -5: pan de bono - 4

(Grated queso blanco – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Pour the mix, grated cheese, milk, and butter and knead until it comes together into a smooth dough.

Colombian Breakfast -2: pan de bono - 1

(Pan De Bono Mix – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Colombian Breakfast -6: pan de bono - 5

(Pan De Bono dough ready for forming – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Pinch off small balls and then knead a bit more and then roll out into little snakes about 3.5 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Gently pinch the snake into a little circle and bake at 450 F on parchment for about 15 minutes.

Colombian Breakfast -5: pan de bono - 6

(One raw Pan De Bono circle ready to bake – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Colombian Breakfast -6: pan de bono - 7

(Pand De Bono circles ready to bake – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

While baking these circles will puff up and then brown. Remove and cool. Enjoy!

Colombian Breakfast -7: pan de bono - 8

Baked Pan De Bonos – (Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Next you might want to fry up your patacones. I have covered that in a previous post called How-2 guide on how to make Platanos (fried plantains or tostones).


(Patacones – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Next you might want to make you arepas.

Colombian Arepas


  • 2 cups Masa Harina (very finely ground corn meal. Do NOT use regular corn meal. I talk more about what to use below)
  • 3 cups BOILING water (MUST be boiling)
  • 2 teaspoons salt


I suggest this brand of Masa Harina.

harina for empanadas

(Masa Harina – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

In a large bowl pour in 2 cups of harina, 2 teaspoons of salt and mix well. Add the 3 cups of boiling water and mix with a spoon. Before it cools much knead it with your hands. My grandmother starts kneading almost right away with her heat-tolerant asbestos hands! I cant do that so I let it cool a bit.Knead into a rubber not overly sticky ball. If its very sticky add more harina. I had to do that and feel that I need to work more on my technique!

Colombian Breakfast - 9: arepas - 1

Arepa dough, a bit sticky – (Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Form the dough into little patties and then either grill or cook in a well seasoned cast iron pan. Its ok if the interior is a bit moist. These can burn easily and dry out easily. I like them toasty, adds nice flavor.

Colombian Breakfast - 10: arepas - 2

(Cooked Colombian Arepas – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

You can serve them with butter, slices of queso blanco, or even guava paste.

arepa - alternative PS process

(Arepa with queso blanco and cilantro – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Here is a shot of a package of Guava Paste (super sweet).

Colombian Breakfast - 8

(Guava Paste – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Colombian Breakfast - 11: arepas - 3

(Arepa with guava paste – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Ok, now you have all the sides to the main part of the breakfast, Changua! This is a very rich concoction of milk and eggs that is quite filling and very welcome in the morning. My father ADORED changua and this dish reminds me so much of him that I actually feel sad when I think of it, make it, and eat it. I can still see him bending over a fresh bowl of changua, beaming with joy, inhaling the scent and blissing out on the flavor and the memories from Colombia. We lost my father in 1999 to brutal early onset Alzheimers Disease.

Colombian Changua


  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 or 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup diced onions (I used vidalias)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Dash of cominos
  • diced green onions, to taste
  • diced cilantro, to taste


Melt butter in a large milk-boiling-friendly pot, add onions and cominos. Saute on low heat until golden brown.

Add 4 cups of milk and bring to a rolling simmer (do not boil so hard that it boils over, that only puts you in a bad mood).

Once up to the boiling simmer add eggs Allow to simmer for between 5 and 10 minutes (some people like the egg well cooked, others like it barely cooked at all).

Add diced green onions and cilantro to serving bowls and then ladle out servings that include eggs and plenty of broth.

Enjoy with all the sides you made all morning long and then collapse on the couch for a leisurely nap.

Colombian Breakfast -1

(Everything together – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

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