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The tamal is a pre-Hispanic food and ritual, which has endured throughout history despite the various influences and incursions from other cuisines. This dish is made of masa which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper which is discarded before eating. Tamales can be filled with meats, fruits, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned. Tamales are generally wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves .
The basic tamal is a brick-shaped lump of spiced corn masa, with a filling made of several ingredients, including meat (either beef, pork or chicken), potatoes, olives, capers, raisins, rice, chickpeas, and many others.
Once shaped, the tamal is wrapped in several layers of fresh banana leaves and tied-up with thin strips cut also from banana leaves. Prior to that the leaves are placed in a large pot over low heat, with water halfway and simmered until until they catch a blackish color, then the veins are removed.
hen, tamal is cooked in a pot of boiling water. The banana leaf wrapping forms a water-tight seal that cooks the tamal without letting any water in, or any of the aromas and flavors out. Before serving, the banana leaf wrapping is untied and removed, although some of it can be left for presentation. A slice or two of lime and hot sauce are usually served with the tamal.