Monday, January 15, 2007

Nacatamales

Upon return to Nicaragua, I´ve been keeping myself busy by daily readying myself for the teacher workshops that all the volunteers in the department of Boaco (8 of us) will be participating in. However, I took last Saturday off since my host dad´s siblings came over to, well, kill a pig.

It´s tradition here in Nicaragua to kill a pig for whatever celebratory reason be it a birthday, Christmas, graduation, etc. Far from a pig roast, every inch of the pig is used in a variety of ways from making chicharón (fried pig fat) to pig-bone soup. My host family had planned on killing this doomed beast for New Years but decided to wait until the 13th since not every sibling could make it over the holidays. Which meant that I got a fantastic lesson in Nicaraguan cooking with the emphasis on the laborious nacatamale (which were made right in my own kitchen).

As many of you may know, a tamale according to Mexican tradition is a mass of ground up corn stuffed with meat (you choose the animal), wrapped in corn husk, and boiled. The nacatamale is similar in the sense that it is based in ground up corn, wrapped, and boiled, but everything else is quite different.

First of all, the ground up corn is mixed with liquified green pepper, onion, LOTS of garlic, LOTS of manteca (liquid pig fat), and achote (a red seed used for coloring more than flavor). Instead of corn husks, banana leaves are used to wrap the contents. So... you start with a boiled banana leaf (it bends easier), lay it out flat, pile on the ground corn, and then the following ingredients are piled on top: pig ribs, subcutaneous pig fat (optional), potato slices, tomato slice, green pepper, mint leaves, onion slices, and raw rice to soak up the juices. Here are my host mom, Doña Elia, and her niece adding ingredients:
The nacatamale before being wrapped up:


Once all ingredients are on, you wrap it up and tie it with another type of leaf that strips into strong, rope-like pieces to keep water out while boiling:


Then you put all of those handy little meals (we made 70 of them off of one pig), in a large pot of boiling water over fire and cook for 5 hours. Here´s my host mom again in our kitchen boiling banana leaves and preparing the pot for the wrapped nacatamales:


The end result was a hot, artery-clogging meal that they claim is much better the morning after for breakfast since cooking all night gives the flavors a chance to mix more thoroughly.

Other new developments in my house include the family´s dog, Lili (mother of my dog, Nico), slowly turning into a cat. She´s killed 3 mice since I´ve been back! She´s never sure what to do with them after killing them, but makes sure that Nico doesn´t get close to her prize:



I´ll hopefully have some pictures of the teacher workshops up here soon. We are in some danger that the new Sandinista government and all the changes its bringing into the education system will cancel some of the workshops, but we´re moving forward as if all signs say go. Wish us luck and check back in a couple of weeks!

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Naomi, great pictures! Now I really know what a nacatamale is. Man, that's a long day in the kitchen! Mom

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