Tamales are made using ingredients that can vary from region to region, family to family. However, there are essential ingredients that are needed for making a basic tamale. These ingredients are generally easy to find so that you can make tamales right at home.
The first ingredient that you should look for is masa, or the “dough” for the tamales. Sometimes Mexican or Latin grocery stores will carry masa pre-made for any recipe that calls for it. If you find a good pre-made masa, you will be able to save yourself time when you make tamales. But, you can also buy masa harina and make your own masa. Of course, making your own masa will require more of your time, but you can alter the recipe or make your own and the masa will be customized to your tastes.
The next ingredient is going to be a little different depending on what recipe you are using. Whether you use butter, lard, vegetable or corn oil, you will need some type of fat in order to make the masa. People will have their preferences especially if they have learned how to make masa a certain way, but you will find that you may prefer one fat over another. Try experimenting with butter, corn oil, and lard and see which produces a better masa for you.
Another important ingredient, though not exactly part of the tamale itself, is the outer covering that will hold the tamale. Many recipes call for corn husks, although in some regions tamales are wrapped with banana leaves. If you have access to banana leaves, you can try this flavorful and interesting way of wrapping tamales. However, you will be able to easily find dried corn husks in Mexican grocery stores and they will be cheaper than the banana leaves if you can find the leaves.
Meat is often a big part of tamales. The filling can be the most important aspect to some people, and others will believe that it’s all about the masa. But, if you are making meat-filled tamales, you will need to find a well-marbled piece of meat, whether it’s beef or pork, or good quality chicken.
Chiles and the sauce that flavors the meat filling are also essential to making tamales. Dried chiles such as pasilla or guajillo may be good for red sauces, while a freshly made salsa verde using tomatillos can be a good green sauce.
When thinking about making tamales at home, write these ingredients down for your next trip to the grocery store so that preparing and cooking tamales will be much easier.