When many area Mexican Americans gather to make tamales, a Christmas tradition unfolds.

Families come together to make this Mexican dish during the holiday season as a way to foster togetherness.

“We are all busy, and this brings us all together for the holidays,” Rudy Mendez, 59, said of his family’s Christmas tamale-making tradition, started 36 years ago by Mendez’s late parents, Lillian and Rudy.

“There’s a certain part of me that thinks I am supposed to do this for my family, and I feel the tradition has to go on.”

Mendez’s family gathered recently to make a whopping 765 tamales (minus a few dozen eaten during the process).

Tamale parties, called tamalades, are “a wonderful time to get the whole family together,” said Maria Elana Rodriguez, a Mexican cuisine historian and author of “Detroit’s Mexicantown.” “That’s what it’s all about.”

Rodriguez likened tamale making to a cookie exchange.

“If you want to take tamales home, you’ve got to help,” she said.

Tamales consist of a filling such as seasoned pork coated with a layer of masa (a dough made of finely ground corn mixed with seasonings), all neatly wrapped in a corn husk.

For Mendez, this year was the first time the tamale-making took place at his home.

He still makes them the old-school way — the way his parents taught him to make them.

The dried ancho chiles are seeded and stemmed by hand and cooked in water to soften. The cumino (cumin seed) are ground in a Mexican molcajete — a stone bowl made of volcanic rock (think of a mortar and pestle).

Mendez remembers the process, but also relies on hand-written recipes from his mother’s recipe box. There are several tamale recipes in the copper box that record various years and the amounts of meat and seasoning used for each tamalade.

The end result: tasty tamales wrapped with love.

“It’s handmade and family-made,” Mendez said.

Stove-top tamale pie

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Tamale pie recipes can be a way to capture the flavor and concept of tamales.


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 can (8-ounce) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (14-ounce) black beans, undrained
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 can (3-ounce) chopped green chiles, undrained
  • 1 package (1.25-ounce) taco seasoning mix
  • 1 package (8-ounce) corn muffin mix
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup sliced green onion


  1. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, place the olive oil and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the ground beef and brown; drain the fat.
  2. Stir in the tomato sauce, black beans, water, green chiles and taco seasoning mix. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes.
  3. Prepare the corn muffin mix according to package directions. Drop small spoonfuls of batter on the meat mixture in the skillet; don’t worry if there are some small uncovered places. Cover and cook over medium heat 15-17 minutes until the batter is cooked through.
  4. Sprinkle the mixture with the cheese and green onion. Re-cover and cook 3-4 minutes over low heat until the cheese melts.

Serves: 4-6

Nutrition per serving: 446 calories (38 percent from fat), 19 g fat (8 grams saturated fat), 45 g carbohydrates, 25 g protein, 1,380 mg sodium, 75 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber.

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