Tamales de Ceniza (Ash Tamales)
Those tamales de ceniza are soft, savory, and meatless. Perfect to serve for breakfast or along with mole stews pairing with coffee, milk, or atole. Learn how to make them at home!
About The Recipe
Tamales de ceniza is a traditional Mexican dish consisting of a tamal made with corn cooked with ashes and wrapped in corn fresh leaves.
The traditional recipe is made by boiling dried corn in a wood fire stove and then using the wood ashes to mix into the cooked corn letting it sit for several hours to make it absorb the flavor.
Once ready, the corn will be rinsed thoroughly to discard the ashes and then ground to make the masa used for tamales, giving a particular look and taste to this dish.
They are then shaped by wrapping the dough with corn leaves blades, banana leaves, or any other large leaves locally available.
Once cooked, tamales de ceniza have a delicious smoky taste with a dense and smooth texture. They are usually served as a sort of bread with mole verde or other traditional dishes.
There are many recipe variations throughout the country, the one I am more familiar is with the one from Colima where the dough is mixed with refried beans and chile de árbol peppers.
In my hometown (Cuyutlán) the tamales are wrapped with leaves from the tropical almond tree. Those leaves give a particular flavor and since they can be harvested from the trees on the streets, they are completely free.
There are two old almond trees at my mother’s home, so my sister packed me a bunch of those leaves last time I was there. They arrived home still fresh so I freeze them and used them later to make this recipe.
- Masa harina: To make the dough, you can find this type of flour at Mexican local stores or on Amazon. Is the same flour used to make tortillas.
- Pork lard: For taste, if you have a Mexican butchery near to you, buy it from there, otherwise look at your nearest supermarket. You can also substitute pork lard with extra virgin olive oil.
- Baking powder: Is optional, but I believe it adds a bit of flufiness.
- Salt: To taste.
- Beans: To mix with the masa and give the particular flecked look to tamales.
- Chile de árbol: Roughly crushed on a mortar or molcajete. Or substitute with any chili flakes you prefer.
- Wraps: You will need some leaves to wrap your tamales, banana leaves or fresh milpa leaves are the most common. As the last resource, you can use parchment paper cut into sheets.
Note: We are making a homemade version of this traditional Mexican dish, because is not easy for many to make or find ashes to make the masa, we didn’t include it in the recipe.
How To Make Tamales de Ceniza
Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add about 1 1/2 cup of cooked beans. Mash them with a potato masher to your desired texture.
Add masa harina, salt, baking powder, and water to a large bowl and start mixing with your hands to combine all ingredients.
Knead until you will have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.
Melt the lard and allow it to slightly cool down. Add to the dough and combine.
Now, add chile de arbol flakes and mix with a spatula until everything is combined.
Last, add the refried beans and mix to combine.
Wrap the tamales
Add some of the tamales dough in the middle of a leaf or a parchment paper sheet.
Wrap by first folding the top side towards the center. Then both sides also to the center overlapping one another. Last, close the tamal by folding upwards the lower pointy side.
Place all tamales standing up on a steamer and cook over medium heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes, checking occasionally and adding more water to the steamer when needed.
How To Eat
Tamales de ceniza can be served on their own to enjoy with a glass of cold milk, as is popular in Colima.
Or you can also top them with cream, queso fresco, and your favorite salsa. We recommend this molcajete salsa or you can try also this salsa roja.
Last, you can also serve them as bread to accompany stews like mole de olla, mole verde, or encacahuatado (peanut mole).
Ash Tamales Variations
As mentioned before, in Mexico, ash tamales are prepared and served in different ways. Here are a few you should know:
- JALISCO: Made with nixtamalized masa, ashes, and pork lard.
- DURANGO: The dough is mixed with a red natural colorant obtained from a tree. They take the name of tamales colorados.
- VERACRUZ: In the Zongolica region, are prepared for Saint John the Baptist day (día de San Juan Bautista) on June 24th because is believed that eating tamales de ceniza this day will protect people from hunger during the period from July to October. They are usually served along with two local dishes, esquimole and chicaldo.
- MICHOACAN: Known as corundas, they are usually served with a flavorful tomato sauce, cheese, and cream.
- GUERRERO: Called tamales nejos, they are usually served to accompany mole and other stews, their shape is flat, and they are usually wrapped in banana leaves.
How To Store And Reheat
- FRIDGE: Allow tamales to cool down, and place leftovers in an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- FREEZER: Wrap tamales (do not remove the leaves) with cling film, then place them in a resealable bag and freeze for up to 3 months.
- THAW: Transfer tamales from the freezer to the fridge and allow them to thaw overnight. Or just place them on your countertop covered to defrost them faster.
- REHEAT: Add water to a steamer, place the basket and arrange the tamales. Reheat for about 10 minutes or until warm and nicely soft again.
Watch How To Make It
Tamales de Ceniza
- 3 cup masa harina (read note 1)
- 1 ½ cup pork lard, melted (or extra virgin olive oil)
- 1 cup refried beans
- 2 teaspoons chile de arbol roughly crushed (or chili flakes)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- salt (to taste)
For wrapping tamales
- 10 almond leaves or banana leaves (or 10 sheets of parchment paper, 8×6 inch/20x15cm each.)
Make the dough
- Place masa harina, salt, baking powder, and water in a large bowl.
- Mix with your hands to combine all ingredients (read note 2).
- Knead until you will have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.
- Add the melted lard to the dough and combine.
- Add chile de arbol flakes and refried beans, then mix with a spatula until everything is combined.
Wrap the tamales
- Add some tamales dough in the middle of a leaf or a parchment paper sheet.
- Wrap by first folding the top side towards the center.
- Then both sides also to the center overlapping one another.
- Close the tamal by folding upwards the lower pointy side.
- Place all tamales standing up on a steamer.
- Cook over medium heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes, checking occasionally and adding more water to the steamer when needed.
- You can find masa harina flour at Mexican local stores or on Amazon. Is the same flour used to make tortillas.
- Add first one teaspoon of salt to the dough, mix, taste and adjust to taste.
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I remember getting leaves with my Papa to make with Tamales as well! That’s why Tamales de Ceniza has a special place in my heart, it reminds me of good times back then. Thank you so much for this recipe, will do this with my kids as well.