imbb 14: tamales gisu

tamales gisu

foodgoat hosts this edition of imbb, and the theme is orange! we guamish folk love our orange food--we have orange rice, orange turnovers, and orange stews, mainly due to a staple of the chamorro kitchen, achote--better known as annatto, or achiote. the orange colour comes from the seeds in the pods of bixa orellana (no, not the guy from einstürzende neubauten--although, ha! he was a bad seed), which was supposedly brought over to the island during the spanish exploration days, but has been documented in ancient legend, so i can't say that it was used in emulation of the spaniards' predilection for saffron, but maybe it was. if you know, let me know.

tamales, certainly, were brought over by the explorers, as versions of this are found all throughout latin america and in the philippines, down to the creamsicle-y half orange-half white aspect. made from masa harina and chicken broth, then steamed in banana leaf wrappers, these little savoury gems are a little more work than i am willing to tackle, so these were made by my friend's auntie. thank you auntie! they were delicious. and thank you foodgoat and lady goat, for hosting this time around.

tamales gisu

red tamale:
1/3 c achote seeds
1/2 lb smoky bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 head garlic, minced
3-4 thai bird or other hot chili peppers, finely minced or ground in a mortar and pestle
1 tbsp salt
1 c white cornmeal or grits, toasted
1 c cornstarch
2-3 c chicken broth, made from stewing chicken simmered with garlic and onion in water, with the cooked, finely shredded chicken meat added in

1. soak achote seeds in 1 c of water until colour has been extracted, usually overnight. discard the seeds.

2. sautée the bacon, garlic, and onion until transparent. add the achote water. add the chili peppers, salt, black pepper and a cup or two of chicken stock. bring to a full boil and slowly stir in the cornmeal until a thick paste has been formed, roughly 10 minutes.

3. dilute cornstarch in 1 to 2 c water. stir in cornstarch mixture and simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly. remove from heat and stir occasionally.

white tamale:
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 head garlic, minced
1 tbsp salt
1 to 2 c masa harina
2-3 c chicken broth, made from stewing chicken simmered with garlic and onion in water, with the cooked, finely shredded chicken meat added in

1. sautée the garlic and onion until transparent. add salt and a cup or two of chicken stock. bring to a full boil and slowly stir in the masa harina until a soft paste has been formed.

2. remove from heat. cool both mixtures.


1. wrap a couple tablespoonfuls of red tamale mixture next to a couple tablespoonfuls of white tamale mixture in a banana leaf or foil. secure well, then steam until cooked.


Lucky you! They sound so good. Found this about achote/annatto/achiote. Sounds like it was introduced from Mexico. Maybe it was named achote because of the tribe referred to in that legend of the coconut?

Your posts and dishes are always so original, refreshing, and real. Love the orange dish!

Hi Santos,

This looks so good. I can understand why you didn't make it yourself as the recipe seems a bit complex. I'm hungry now! =P

hi cathy! the plant itself is supposedly indigenous to the carribbean, so it was certainly either the spaniards or the portuguese who went from there and from mexico, like you say. however, the name 'achote' predates european discovery by several thousand years, while 'achiote' existed separately in another part of the world. i don't know if the name was changed later, or if the plant actually originates from somewhere in asia and was brought to the pacific region and the carribbean at the same time or...or...or...i think my head is exploding. thanks for the link, i've got to study up on this!

hi mia! this is a traditional chamorro dish, but it is similar to two regional tamales, one from the philippines and one in mexico. most people have never tried something like this, so i thought this would be a perfect time to blog about it :-)

hey reid
i had to cut down the original recipe which started out with something like 30 cups of chicken broth and 7 lbs of masa....i think because they are so time consuming to make, people make them in huge batches and just freeze them. mmmm, i'm hungry now too!

The tamales look so pretty .. reminds me of the kuehs we have back home. :)

Ach! Der Blixa!

Never heard of achote before but now I have and that's a good thing.

Don't forget the empanadas! Empanadas sold in little convenience stores, deep fried, filled with the un-meat orange-ey stuff -- yowzha! I still look for empanadas to this very day, haven't found any I like as much as the stuff on Guam. I never found out what that orange un-meat filling is.

Those tamales sounded so good...I lived in Guam for almost 5 years and loved the fiestas....so much good food...and tamales was one of them...miss the island and the food and the people...who I never hear from hardly any of them....

hi third shift! it's masa harina cooked in chicken stock.

hi judy! (laughing) yeah, we're bad that way. maybe it's the distance, the isolation, but you sort of forget there's a whole world out there....

My mother in law taught me how to make several native island dishes and from what I learned from her I thought achote was something like a paprika seed? I absolutely love island food and am trying to keep my hand in. I don't think anything is made in a small quantity:) When you put so much effort into the food prep it's good to make a LOT. I don't make any less than 250 lumpia at a time. It all freezes well. I remember cooking with my mother in law and making tapioca pancakes back in the islands, on Rota...so very good:) Coconut fresh off the tree.

hi emily! paprika is made from grinding the dried fruit of capsicum (sweet peppers), but achiote is annatto, which comes from the seed of the plant bixa orellana. achiote can taste like paprika, but they are not the same.

250 at a time! i don't have a freezer big enough! do you have a recipe for tapioca pancakes? they sound tasty!

Hi Santos,
Could you possible share the large quantity recipe? I like to make a lot a one time and freeze them.

thank you so much,

hi wenie! i'll look for it, it's in an old notebook...somewhere.