Nacatamales (ANY Banana Leaf Wrapped Central American Tamales)

"These tamales are very different from the regular mexican tamales. The masa is different as is the filling and the wrapping. Nacatamales are usually only made for special occasions or christmas as they are very time consuming and labor intensive but the end product is well worth it. Learning how to make these is a huge milestone in my culture. They can be made vegeterian if you subsitute the chicken broth for veggie broth, the lard for veggie shortening, omit the meat and add sliced zucchini/spinach/sauted poblano peppers with onions or anything else you wish. The masa is the most difficult part. It requires alot of water/broth and constant mixing so that is does not burn (almost like making a roux). It might take a couple of tries before you can get the consitency of the masa right. Too much lard, the masa is too greasy. Too much water it becomes very sticky (like cookie dough). Too little water, the masa will be very dry. Once you can make the masa right, you can make these with your eyes closed"
photo by Chef Sarita in Aust photo by Chef Sarita in Aust
photo by Chef Sarita in Aust
photo by Chef Sarita in Aust photo by Chef Sarita in Aust
photo by Michelle P. photo by Michelle P.
photo by Michelle P. photo by Michelle P.
photo by Michelle P. photo by Michelle P.
Ready In:
25 tamales


  • 6 cups masa harina for tamales (Preffer Maseca)
  • 2 cups lard or 2 cups shortening
  • 1 tablespoon salt (and extra for seasoning)
  • pepper (to season)
  • 2 -3 tablespoons powder chicken bouillon (preffer knorr)
  • 34 cup sour orange juice (1/2 for masa and 1/4 for meat, preffer Goya marinade)
  • 8 -10 cups chicken stock or 8 -10 cups broth, UNSALTED
  • 3 lbs pork butt, cubed into stew meat sizes
  • paprika (to season)
  • cumin (to season)
  • 1 -2 tablespoon chipotle salsa
  • 34 cup long-grain white rice, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water for 30 minutes, do not drain water
  • 3 large white potatoes, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch small cubes (the size of a marble)
  • 1 cup olive (or about 25 of them)
  • 1 (16 ounce) can green peas or (16 ounce) can garbanzo beans
  • 12 cup whole cilantro leaf
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 12 pieces banana leaves, washed, hard spine removed and cut into 10x10-inch rectangles
  • 12 pieces aluminum foil, cut into 10x10-inch rectangles


  • Season the pork with salt, pepper,cumin and paprika to taste. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the chipotle salsa (depending on how hot you like it) to the pork. Place in a large bowl and pour 1/4 cup sour orange juice over pork. Cover and let marinate for about 30 minutes in refrigerator.
  • Place the masa harina, lard,salt, and 2 tablespoons of the chicken knorr in the bowl of an electric mixer. Blend on a low speed to incorporate the fat into the masa harina and give it a mealy texture. You may have to do this and the next step in two batches if your mixer bowl is not large enough to hold all the ingredients without overflowing.
  • With the mixer still on low speed, add remaining 1/2 cup of the sour orange juice and enough chicken stock to make a soft, moist dough (about 7 cups added intermitently between mixing). It should be almost like the texture of mashed potatoes but thicker. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 2-3 minutes to incorporate some air into the masa and make it fluffier. Cover the bowl and set the masa aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  • After the resting period, place the masa in a large pot and on medium heat, stir the masa slowly and constantly for about 20 mintues adding 2 more cups of water or chichen stock (1/2 cup every 5 minutes for the 20 mintues of stirring). Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Drain the marinade from the pork and set aside. Heat oil in large frying pan on high heat. Once it is heated, add the cubed pork and brown for abour 3 minutes (being careful of splattering oil). Set aside and let cool for about 5 minutes Reserve pan juices from pork in another bowl.
  • Place the rice (with the watere still in it) in a microwave safe bowl and cook for about 2 minutes. The rice will be semi cooked. Set aside.
  • Assemble all of your filling ingredients and assembly items on a large table or work surface. Gather family and friends to help in an assembly line.
  • Lay out a banana leaf square with the smooth side up. Place 1 cup of the masa in the middle of the banana leaf and, using wetted hands, spread it out a little. Put about 4 pieces of pork on top of the masa and sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of rice over the pork. Lay 5 or 6 pieces of potato on top of the pork, add 1 table spoon green beans/garganzo beans, add 1 olive and add a little bit of the pan juices from the pork. Top off with 1 or 2 cilantro leaves.
  • Fold the top edge of the banana leaf down over the filling. Bring the bottom edge of the banana leaf up over this. Then fold in both sides to make a rectangular package. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly or the filling will squeeze out. Flip the package over so it is seam side down.
  • Set the tamal in the middle of an aluminum foil square and wrap it up tightly the same way you wrapped up the banana leaf. Set aside and repeat with the remaining ingredients to make 10 to 12 nacatamales in total.
  • Add 2 or 3 inches of water to a tamalera or pot large enough to hold all the nacatamales. (You may have to use two pots if you don't have one big enough to hold the nacatamales in one batch.) Place a rack in the bottom or toss in enough wadded up aluminum foil to hold the nacatamales mostly out of the water. Add the nacatamales and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover tightly, reduce heat to low and steam for about 3 hours. Add more water as needed to keep the pot from boiling dry.
  • Once cooked, drain the water and let tamales rest for atleast 2 hours in the pot so that the masa can become firm.
  • Remove the nacatamales from the pot, take off their aluminum foil covering and serve warm. Each diner opens the banana leaf on his or her own nacatamal before eating.
  • This is MY family recipe. Nacatamales are a general name used for ANY central American tamale wrapped in a banana leaf, not just Nicaraguan. If you make yours differently, that's great! But keep in mind that there is no authentic recipe so PLEASE do not compare MY recipe to other recipes as I am sure everyones is different. It is very helpful to others if you rate according to your experience and result with this particular recipe. Thanks and enjoy!

Questions & Replies

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  1. the masa dough needs alot more than just lard for naca tamal. the filling also is a little off - there's no peas in naca tamal - I think you saw capers, because that is what goes in, with bell pepper one slice across the top before you fold it - your recipe is also missing the sweet part (this is why they taste so different from Mexican tamales because they are not full of chile - instead they are sweet and savory mix. In Naca tamales, there is always either 1 - prune or 2 - golden raisin. Usually there is no cilantro or chipotle salsa in them either - it is diced tomatoes, onions and a little garlic - but this is personal taste. So, if you make the recipe exactly like this shows then go to an authentic Nicaraguense restaurant you will see its completely different.
  2. I've never made tamales before but this recipe was very easy to fallow and the ingredients were pretty simple. I haven't tasted them yet but they smell great. I'll let you know what they taste like. I used garbanzo beans and chicken so they will be a little different than the recipe here but I'm sure they will be a hit. I'm making them for my boyfriends birthday but I think I'm gonna eat one before everyone gets here. Thanx bunches


  1. I Love Making Spicy Tamales I Use The Banana Leaf and I make with pork shoulder, Masa and several different spices including Hot Spicy Peppers...
    • Review photo by Michelle P.


I was born in Honduras, Central America. I came to the states when I was about 2 yrs old and now currently have a full time job in the medical field. I have a family of 100+ relatives also living in Austin and we all share a passion for good food. I am known for the foods that I prepare for my dinner parties and special occassion gatherings. Weekends at my house are packed with family and friends because we usually have the grill going. I also have a knack for baking. I have been told by several people that I should open my own bakery or restaurant...which I am seriously considering in the near future. I absolutley love to cook and this is why Zaar is a heaven sent! I like to take other peoples feeings into consideration when rating recipes so my rating system reflects that. I do not rate below a 3 just for the simple fact that everyones taste is different and what might taste magnificant to some, might not be too great for others. I always give everything a second try unless I absolutley hate it (then I take a second look at the recipe and find out what attracted me to this recipe and how can I alter it a bit to my taste). I usually spend my free time brainbstorming recipes and creating them with my beautiful daughters (pictured above)!
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