In Arlie’s own words:
My family has been in the U.S. for 50 years. My aunts began coming here during the last Nicaraguan civil war. As a child, growing up Nicaraguan in this country was very interesting. None of the other kids could pronounce “Nicaraguan,” so my aunts quickly taught me to just tell them we were “Central American;” it was easier to pronounce.
I remember having to take Spanish class in junior high school. It was a struggle as it was a different kind of Spanish from what I was used to speaking. The form of informal “you” we use is not “tu” as what is taught in schools here. Nicaraguans will use “usted” and “vos” as forms of “you.” I remember constantly getting into arguments with my Spanish teacher over this at school, then having to answer to my aunt as to why I was using the wrong kind of “you” in my homework.
Outside of school, family time was very important to us, and valuing traditions was equally as important. As a young girl, my aunts taught me how to crochet and embroider, as it’s tradition for Nicaraguan women to know these things. Learning to cook traditional food was also important.
My favorite meal until my last breath will always be Nacatamales. Nacatamales is not just a meal, but a family experience and time to work together. It’s a beautiful Nicaraguan dish that takes three hours to prepare, six hours to cook, and several hands in the kitchen to make. This is also a meal made only during Christmas, because it takes so much time to prepare.
I remember my aunts would come together early in the morning; a fresh pot of coffee would be brewing to make sure everyone was alert and on their game in the kitchen. They would all bring over their aprons, and even my cousin and I had ones. There was always witty banter while preparing the food, minor arguments on how thick the potatoes should be sliced, and my aunts sharing stories with us of what life was like in their little town in Nicaragua.
Time spent with my aunts, working with our hands, and listening to stories from the beautiful country my family comes from will always be priceless to me. The making of our traditional foods takes me back to memories with my aunts.
From my family to “vos,” I hope you enjoy our Nicaraguan Nacatamale recipe!
Nicaraguan Nacatamle Recipe
-Masa harina (ground up hominy corn) -- 6 cups
-Pork lard -- 1 cup
-Salt -- 1 tablespoon
-Orange bitter juice -- 1/2 cup
-Chicken stock or broth -- 4 or 5 cups
-Pork butt, cubed -- 3 pounds
-Salt and pepper -- to season
-Rice, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes -- 3/4 cup
-Potatoes, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds -- 1/2 pound
-Onion, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds -- 1
-Bell pepper, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds-- 2
-Tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds-- 2
-Mint-- 1 bunch
-Jar of pitted green olives
-Banana leaves, hard spine removed and cut into 10x10-inch rectangles-- 12 pieces
In a pan, slightly fry the rice until it is a light golden brown, then drain oil and mix the rice with the mint leaves
Chop pork into stew cube size portions. Mix with salt, pepper, chicken stock, and achiote powder (add enough achiote powder to cover the pork completely. You may want to wear gloves as the achiote may stain your hands)
In a bowl, mix the ground up hominy corn with the orange bitter juice, lard, and salt
Lay two layers of banana leaves on top of each other. In the center of the leaves, place a handful of the hominy corn mixture (all other ingredients will be placed on top of the corn mixture and not mixed into the corn mix)
Add a cube of pork
Add a slice of potato
Add a slice of onion
Add a slice of tomato
Add a slice of green pepper
Add a tablespoon of the rice mixture
Add an olive
Wrap the entire mixture in banana leaves. Make sure the corn dough is not visible when wrapped; an extra banana leaf may be used
Secure the nacatamale by tying string around the tamale as you would a present; use extra string if needed
In a steam pot, add water to the bottom of the pot below the separator. Cook for six hours. The nacatamale will slowly absorb the flavors of the banana leaves as it steam cooks. Make sure to check your pot every couple of hours for water
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