Tamales Are an Experience

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Tamales are not just masa and meats wrapped in corn husks,  a whole experience is wrapped into tamales, they are full of flavor, family, friends, memories, traditions, and history!

The tamale is recorded as early as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history.  The women would make tamales for the hunters or when in battle would travel with them, the tamal is a filling meal and holds well for traveling.

Over the centuries tamales remain as one of the most traditional foods in Mexico, and also in Central & Southern America.  There are so many variety that are often distinguished by the region of Mexico, the technique for the masa (corn dough) making is fairly consistent, however the fillings have a huge variety.  One thing for sure, they are labor intense and time consuming to make, thus now they are so often only made during the holidays or special celebrations.

What I enjoy most of tamales, besides eating them, is the event itself of making the tamales, the tamalada, which is the assemblying of the tamales (soaking the corn husks, spreading the masa, filling them, wrapping them, and cooking).  I guess it’s similar to getting together and making Christmas cookies.  It’s really quite an event to make the tamales, most often entailing 2-3days of preparation for the shopping of ingredients, preparation of the mole, preparation of the masa, then the assembling, and finally the cooking.  If you are making tamales from scratch, and most likely making several dozens, it requires, and is much more fun when family and/or friends participate!  The holidays are a great time for a tamalada, growing up my mom and the tias (aunties) and cousins made everything from scratch.  And if you are planning on making tamales from scratch and it’s your first time, I highly recommend to have at least one experienced person assisting you so you to get perfect tamales, everything from the masa to the sauce to the cooking process has it’s tricks- trust me!  I’m lucky I have El Burrito Mercado to get the prepared masa and tamales fillings so all I have to do is assemble the tamales and cook em up!

Four years ago we held our first tamalada class and people look forward to it now, this weekend we had our 2016 tamalada in our newly expanded La Placita Room and it was a success! Everyone had a great time, my mother, our matriarch, shares some really fun stories and a plethora of information all about tamales while the class sipped on cocktails and ate dinner. Then, the last half of class everyone assembles their tamales, learns about tamales cooking techniques and then enjoy dessert & ponche navideno, each person walks away with a swag bag full of goodies.

Here are some pictures from our 2016 tamalada:


We are offering another tamalada in January, this event is open for kids too, 12yr and older, it’s a wonderful cultural experience, eat delicious authentic dinner, learn the basics about tamale making and then assemble your own to take home and freeze to later cook for your Superbowl party or for any event! Registration is now open and limited capacity, register soon, makes a great holiday gift!

So you see, tamales are not only masa and meats wrapped in the corn husk, also wrapped into each tamal is history, tradition, flavor, memories, and experiences.

Cheers, to your Tamalada!


Cecina, the other carne asada

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I recently overheard an elderly couple in El Burrito Mercado standing in front of the counter in the carniceria (meat shop), both very entertained and with big smiles as they observed the fast, skilled carnicero (butcher)   slicing cecina.  They were curious what it was, so I approached them and gave them a brief explanation, they excitedly bought some.  This is not an unusual scenario at our place, and I embrace each of those opportunities to share about our foods with adventurous people like this.   Maybe you too are curious to try something new, not to ‘out there’, and easy, so I’ll elaborate a bit with you on what I shared with them regarding cecina.

Cecina is thinly sliced, salted and partially dried sheets or strips of beef or pork. The technique of making it requires an extremely sharp knife, considerable skill, and patience. A large piece of boneless beef is lightly folded into a continuous roll of thin slices by deft cutting, back and forth, within the mass of muscle. Not every carniceria has cecina, especially this far north  it’s quite challenging for Mexican meat shops to have experienced carniceros, so we feel pretty lucky that we have a couple of the best carniceros (specialty butchers)and are always stocked!

In Mexico, Spain, and Latin America, after cecina is sliced, it is salted and dried by means of air, sun or smoke, or stored, depending on the region.  And here in the USA, due to health regulations, the beef is stored in controlled refrigerated temperatures.

Experienced hands thinly slice the beef, it takes patience and skill.
The thin slices are folded into a roll after it’s lightly salted and rubbed with oil.








Our experienced carniceros at El Burrito Mercado, we are so pleased to have some of the best from around the Twin Cities.  It’s sold by the pound.

Many of our customers are unfamilar with a lot of the specialties we offer in our carniceria. And because cecina requires special skills, it’s probably one the most unique meats a-typical to American butcher shops.  In Mexico, it’s the meat you’ll sometimes see in the carnicerias hanging to dry or laying out to dry in the sun, and it’s eaten like beef jerky, or used in cooking.  When it’s cooked, like when purchased from our carniceria, it’s most typically either grilled or pan cooked.


In Spain, cecina is enjoyed as a delicacy.
In Mexico, cecina is cooked and prepared in a variety of ways or served as a main entree

I personally love that it cooks quickly, no seasoning needed, and it can be enjoyed in a variety of Mexican favorites such as tacos, tortas, and commonly served with chilaquiles for breakfast. In Mexico there is a breakfast dish known as Aporreadillo (aka machaca in most areas), it’s the shredded cooked cecina scrambled with eggs, onion, and peppers. These options are served for breakfast at El Burrito Mercado’s El Cafe Restaurant!

Aporreadillo without salsa- machaca


Aporreadillo with salsa

(Note: Carne asada is a general term used for ‘grilled meats’, however most commonly people inadvertently reference only beef  (like ribeye) as carne asada.  However, cecina, pork, or even chicken can all be lumped into the general term ‘carne asada’, the most accurate way is to reference a meat as “carne para asar”, so for example, cecina is a carne para asar, “a meat to be grilled”.  Cecina is very commonly used for carne asadas, however to eat it in a taco it needs to be chopped after cooking, it’s texture makes it tough to bite from a taco in a whole piece.)

Next time you are in our mercado and if you are unfamiliar with cecina definitely give it a try, it’s the #1 thing I recommend to anyone that is unfamiliar with our meats and want to try something different but easy to cook.  It’s simple, basic, and so enjoyable! If you’re lucky, like the elderly couple I met, you’ll catch a carnicero at work slicing cecina.


How to Plan a Tamalada

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Tamalada is a great holiday event that brings together family and friends, I’ve even had work teams want to do this as a team building activity and then they proudly enjoy their tamales at their holiday party!

Gingerbread and sugar cookies are seasonal musts for many, but tamales are a holiday staple for Mexican and Latino families like mine. For centuries, tamales were the ideal travel food for Aztec, Mayan and Incan soldiers, farmers or anyone who might be away from home at mealtime because the stuffed delicacies travel so well in their own little ‘packaging’, aka the corn husks.  Countless variations have been passed down from generation to generation.

In Mexico through Latin America and in the USA too, around this time of year begins the tamales making, aka, tamaladas, it’s basically our holiday kick off, and it’s essentially the coming together of people to assemble tamales together.  Some choose to cook them and share them with friends, same way we do for cookies, others freeze them uncooked and cook them the day of their holiday celebrations.  If you go to a holiday celebration with Latinos, most likely you are going to eat tamales!

As for making the tamales, it can be a bit timely and labor intense process, so for those that host a tamalada, typically they either make the filling options and masa in advance, or purchase it ready to use from a restaurant or deli like ours El Burrito Mercado.  Masa is the corn dough that spreads onto the corn husk, it’s important to have a good masa, meaning it is prepared with the right balance of ingredients, this is a key determinator for whether your tamales will make it or not!  I highly recommend buying or masa preparada (ready to spread corn dough), and we do also sell masa regular, some people like to mix their own ingredients into the masa.

For the fillings, the most traditional of tamales fillings is shredded pork in a red chile sauce or shredded chicken in a green sauce, there is an extensive variety of tamales filling options, and so it’s really up to the hostess to decide and have it ready in advance.  Some other variations: roasted poblano with cheese, vegetables, beef, beans, and peppers. The other step that a hostess might want to have ready in advance is the preparation of the hojas by soaking them in hot water, this makes the tamales pliable and easier to for spreading the masa onto.  I remember when we had tamaladas with our cousins, there were so many we’d soak the hojas in a bathtub!

For hosting your own tamalada party, like most Latino & Mexican fiestas, you’ll  serve some food to share and depending on the time of day you host yours, perhaps cocktails and/or cafecito- this is also a great time to try making Ponche Navideno, I shared the recipe in my previous blog A Latino Thanksgiving.  Also, turn on some festive holiday music in the background (Pandora has great Navidad Latino stations) Some menu ideas for your tamalada, keep in mind your kitchen will be filled with tamales making ingredients, so keep it simple- guacamole & chips, mini burritos, rolled taquitos, and pan dulce (mexican pastries), finger food type stuff.
If it’s with small children, it’s fun to give them the job of soaking the corn husks, but really, everyone can participate in the spreading of the masa onto the corn husk.  Tamaladas require quite a bit of table space and non-carpeted areas so afterwards you can easily clean up the spilled masa pieces.  Based on the setup of your home, you can use counter tops, dining tables, and folding card tables, some people form an ‘assembly’ line where basically each person has a chore, and there can be more than one person per chore, for example: 1) Soak corn husks & make sure the hojas are all consistent size by tearing & cutting the hojas 2) Masa spreaders, this is the job that requires the most skill 3) Tamal filling & wrapping- wrapping the tamal gently but tightly also has it’s special knack.
Another way for settin up the tamalada is for each person to have a bowl of masa and filling in front of them to make their own tamales, this is especially a great way if you have a variety of filling choices so each person is responsible for a certain flavor, especially for this you will also need considerable amount of table top usage for this to spread out.  Have plenty of soup spoons or mini spatulas for your guests to experiment for the masa spreading, for this, there is no one perfect technique, some people use flat spatulas,  spoons, butter knives, some even use a masa spreader, whatever is easiest for each.  As for how much masa to spread onto each tamal, well, again, there is no exact measurement because it depends on the size of the hoja.  A couple of guidelines is to fill the corn husk no more than about 1/4 from the top, and the top is the narrower end of the corn husk.  The hoja has one smoother side and one rougher side, you want to spread the masa on the smoother side of the hoja.  Finally, the masa should be about 1/4″ thick, see some of these illustrations for reference.


Masa expands when it cooks, just a slightly thick layer of masa is sufficent.
As the person wrapping the tamal finishes up, someone can help either placing the tamales in the tamalera (cooking pot) if you are going to cook them right away, or into freezable ziplock bags – if you do this, be sure to lay the tamales flat in the freezer, not piled up.  Cooking the tamales also has some important points to remember, it’s another determining factor on whether or not your tamales will be a soggy mess or perfectly assembled and beautiful tamal.
To cook the tamales, you’ll need a tamalera or some type of pot with a strainer & steam, fill the bottom of the pan with water, place tamales on the strainer open end face up, cover tightly low heat for about 1.5hrs.  A couple of tamales cooking tips passed down from tias (aunts) and my mama, place a coin at the bottom of the pan, if you hear the coin rattling it means you need to add more water, pour the water carefully down the sides, not over your tamales! And to know when your tamales are cooked? When you begin peeling back the hoja, masa does not stick to the corn husk.
Steam-Tamales-Step-5 tamalera1
 If you decide to cook the tamales while guests are over, maybe have loteria game (Mexican bingo card game) to play together while they cook,and also stock up on baggies or disposable aluminum trays for everyone to take some home.  And, it’s a messy affair, so plan for some time to clean up the next day, you’ll be exhausted from your tamalada!
I am all about hands on involvement, it’s the best way to learn new things and to truly understand and appreciate others experiences.  Tamaladas really are an enjoyable experience, they are a lot of work too, but when you focus on the delicious delicacy you will enjoy and appreciate made with your own hands while enjoying time with special people, and making memories.  I really can’t think of another food that can be prepared party style?  I find this to be a beautiful food not only for it’s unique and clever swaddle of delicacy, the mere complex preparation of them is important.
Tamales is a food that is representative of Latinos, we are a united culture with strong family and community values, though our style of tamales varies, we share in common the ‘it takes a village’ mentality, and the same is true with making tamales. Sure, you can make tamales by yourself, but like life, you can lighten your burden and make it enjoyable with the support of others.
I started the tamalada classes through El Burrito Mercado as a way to offer a unique experience, La Experiencia Mexicana to our customers, and it’s probably the richest, Mexican food related experience one might have.  We offer two every year around this time of year and we sell out each year, we just had our first tamalada for this year a couple weeks ago, and it really truly is a special experience not just for our customers, but for myself too.  My parents are now retired, but we were able to convince my mother to teach the class. Her down to earth, practical, and very ‘mama’ style of teaching, makes it so special for our customers, and for myself, I learn something new every time she teaches, it’s an endearing, memorable experience. Our second tamalada is also sold out, we plan to host more classes & experiences in 2016 with the expansion of our El Cafe Restaurant y Bar.
Wishing you happy tamalada celebrations! El Burrito Mercado is your one stop tamalada stop!
Please contact me if I can be of assistance in planning your tamalada,
Hasta pronto,

A Latino Thanksgiving Fiesta

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When it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving, we all have our own ideas of a traditional meal. Most non-Latino families will be celebrating the holiday with a buttered turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and a classic stuffing, but let’s make your table come alive with color, ambiance, energy, and sazon!


For Latinos, there are a few not-so-typical dishes. I feel lucky because I get the best of my favorites, comforting good ‘ol American Thanksgiving meal and a feast of Mexican delights! You’ll still celebrate with the spirit of family, friends, and gratitude, but for Latinos, it’s more than just a meal, it’s more like a Thanksgiving Fiesta.
Let’s start planning! For starters, dress up, this is not just a casual get together, this a Latino party, so ladies, get out the heels and lipstick, and fellas, cologne and a dress shirt please! And, don’t plan to eat at 2pm, our parties start late, and run into the night.
DECOR I love the the orange, yellow, and brown color theme! And the decor is fine, but how about adding some platters, plates, or serving bowls that fits right in with the color scheme. Clay dishes (barro) would add a touch of Mexico to your table decor- I would use bright colored cloth napkins too like yellow, orange and red!

ENTERTAINMENT Yep, we love to party! So Thanksgiving for many Latino families rarely is it just ‘gather around the table’ kind of get together. For many families it varies, music is playing in the background, tios (uncles) may be playing instruments (guitar, congas, maracas), or perhaps playing a game of domino (especially common in the Puerto Rican familias). For you amigos, I recommend some nice bachata or balada music in the background for as guests arrive, (on Pandora try Prince Royce) then later, after dinner, put on some salsa or cumbia music (Marc Anthony is my favorite), clear the tables and get to dancing! For family fun, get a game of Loteria going, Mexican bingo, plan ahead with funny and simple prizes- use dry pinto beans or black beans as your card markers.   Oh, and of course, leave the TV on the football channel, muted so as not to kill the fiesta!


BEVERAGES & COCKTAILS For the kiddos, get a variety of Jarritos soda flavors or Goya fruit juices. Wine is fine, and cerveza too, though sipping on tequila as guests arrive is known to open an appetite (and help with digestion after a meal). For Mexicanos, Ponche Navideno is a must and for our carribean amigos, it’s Coquito. Below is a recipe for Ponche Navideno, give it a kick with a bit of tequila or brandy. Coquito, well, that may take a few tries to master its recipe, it’s an egg nog like consistency and it’s a tasty blend of cinnamon, coconut, and rum ingredients! (if you are as lucky as I am, you’ll have friends that will make you a bottle or bring one to share!).

ponche navideno
Ponche Navideno, hot fruit punch, spike it tequila or brandy
Try our Coquito in El Cafe Restaurant y Bar!
Jarritos Sodas, add a flavorful and colorful touch.

THE MENU There are so many different ways you can change up your menu, here are my favorites:
Roasted Jalapeno Salsa
Frijoles Rancheros (ranch style pinto beans)
Ham or Seasoned Pork Leg (Jamon o Pierna de Pernil)

Pernil Asado


Other common Mexican foods for special celebrations is pozole and enchiladas, and of course, traditional mole sauce on turkey and make turkey mole enchiladas for next day.


And for dessert, traditional or pumpkin flavored flan, tres leches cake, and my favorite sweet potato with a sweet marshmallow & piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) topping.
And of course, the absolute most important thing about Thanksgiving, be grateful for the company present, and the many blessings from above! And for many ways to make your Thanksgiving special, visit our specialty Mexican deli at El Burrito Mercado!

Happy Thanksgiving amigos, eat, dance, drink and be happy!
Con Amor, Milissa

Ponche navideno

Goya Ponche, frozen


Tamales Making Fun!

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Here are a few promo spots for our tamalada! Watch for my “Tis Tamales Season” blog!
Here is Em’s Adventures from TC Live:
Jason deRusha:

Tamalada Registration link:



Kids Tamalada Fun!
Kids Tamalada Fun!