Festive Tamale Recipe for Christmas Celebrations

Welcome to my kitchen, where I’ll be sharing with you one of my absolute favorite recipes for the holiday season – Ecuadorian Tamales De Navidad. As a chef specializing in South American and Brazilian cuisine, I can attest that this dish is one of the most beloved traditional Christmas desserts in Ecuador.

Growing up, my family would spend nine days leading up to Christmas preparing these delectable tamales together. The aroma of the spices and ingredients filled our home, while laughter and love were exchanged over kneading the masa dough and filling each tamale with flavorful ingredients. It’s a memory I cherish to this day, and I believe this recipe will help you create your own cherished holiday memories.

In Ecuador, tamales are often served during special occasions with family and friends. They are a symbol of unity and togetherness, which is perfect for the holiday season. This recipe has been passed down for generations in Ecuadorian families, and I am excited to share it with you today so that you too can enjoy the delicious flavors and experience the essence of traditional Ecuadorian cuisine.

So, let’s get started! With a little bit of time and love, you’ll be able to discover the delightful taste of these Ecuadorian Tamales De Navidad for yourself.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Ecuadorean Ecuadorian Tamales De Navidad - for Christmas
Ecuadorean Ecuadorian Tamales De Navidad – for Christmas

Are you looking for a unique and flavorful recipe to celebrate the holidays and impress your guests? Look no further than Ecuadorean Tamales de Navidad! This traditional Christmas dish from the South American country is beloved for its blend of savory and sweet flavors, with ingredients like garlic, red bell pepper, raisins, and allspice.

Not only are these tamales delicious, they are also a significant part of Ecuadorean cuisine and culture. During the nine days leading up to Christmas, many households come together to prepare tamales in large batches as a way of bonding and celebrating the season. By incorporating this dish into your own holiday traditions, you are connecting with and appreciating a different culture in a meaningful way.

As an added bonus, tamales de Navidad are incredibly versatile. You can make them with chicken or ground beef, or even substitute in mashed potato filling for vegetarians. Plus, they can be stored in the freezer and reheated easily for a quick yet satisfying meal.

So why will you love this recipe? Not only do these tamales taste amazing and have cultural significance, they also offer endless personalization options and convenience. Give them a try this holiday season and experience the deliciousness of traditional Ecuadorean cuisine for yourself!

Ingredient List

 Unwrap these delicious Ecuadorean tamales and reveal a magical Christmas feast!
Unwrap these delicious Ecuadorean tamales and reveal a magical Christmas feast!

Here are the ingredients you will need to prepare these delicious Ecuadorean Ecuadorian Tamales de Navidad:

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the masa:

  • 8 oz peanut butter
  • 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 2 cups masa harina (corn flour)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To wrap:

  • Corn husks, soaked in hot water for at least an hour or overnight

For the filling, you can use a combination of ground beef and vegetables, or keep it simple and stick to just chicken. The secret to great flavor is in the seasoning. Be sure to add enough onion, garlic, and red bell pepper for a rich and savory taste. Don’t forget the raisins for a touch of sweetness!

The masa is made from peanut butter and butter for added richness. For the best results, be sure to use softened butter and mix the masa well until it’s smooth and fluffy. Masa harina is readily available in most grocery stores in the international aisle.

Finally, you’ll need corn husks to wrap the tamales. These can be found at most Latin markets or online. Soak them in hot water for at least an hour before using to make them pliable.

The Recipe How-To

 Nothing screams
Nothing screams “Feliz Navidad” like Tamales De Navidad.

Now that you have all the necessary ingredients, let’s get started with the recipe. For this Ecuadorean Tamales De Navidad recipe, we will need to provide enough time for the mixture to marinate in order to properly cook and soak up all those flavors. As you prepare to tackle this traditional Ecuadorean dish, keep in mind that it is well worth the effort once you take those initial bites.

Step 1: Soak the Coarse Masa Harina

First things first, we will need to hydrate our 2 pounds of masa harina with 6 cups of boiling water or until all the masa has absorbed enough water to make a moist dough easily spreadable on a banana leaf or parchment paper. It is important not to have a dry masa that will later crumble and make an overly dense tamale.

Step 2: Make the Meat Filling

For our meat filling, wash and season a whole chicken with salt and pepper before boiling it with sliced garlic cloves, chopped onions, chopped red bell pepper (use one), and just enough hot water to keep everything submerged. Once cooked, take off the bone (discard it) and shred until you have roughly 6 cups of shredded chicken.

Next step is to sauté finely chopped onions and garlic with vegetable oil until translucent. Add our shredded chicken over high heat along with soaked raisins previously softed, parsley, chili powder or paprika according your preference, plus sugar, salt and allspice to season. Stir well for 10 minutes or so; then add peanut butter as a binding agent and stir for a few more minutes.

Step 3: How-to Form the Tamales

Corn husks are commonly used in other South American/ Mexican tamales, but for this Ecuadorean tamales de navidad, the use of banana leaves or parchment paper is noteworthy.

Get several banana leaves and cut them into 12-inch squares, or get a roll of parchment paper that can be easily cut to size of the same length before putting it over a work counter. Add a spoonful of chicken broth into your masa dough and mix well before spreading it evenly over the banana leaf/parchment paper. Add a scoop of meat filling over the middle of each tamale then create nice neat roll-ups by folding up the sides before tying both ends.

Step 4: Cooking Time

Finally, place the Ecuadorean tamales de navidad into a large pot preferably with a steamer insert, add some whole peeled potatoes (previously boiled) on top, cover with water and cook for 1 hour on high heat or until all Tamlaes are set and cooked firm to the touch. Do not open lid while cooking as it causes steam to escape and prolongs cooking time which could result

Substitutions and Variations

 Get ready to tantalize your senses with a Latin American twist on a holiday classic.
Get ready to tantalize your senses with a Latin American twist on a holiday classic.

Substitutions and variations are great ways to make this traditional Ecuadorian dish unique to your taste preferences. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Meat options: Instead of the whole chicken in this recipe, you can use ground beef or pork as the filling for your tamales. Vegetarian options like black beans, lentils, or tofu can also be a delicious and hearty filling.

2. Dough: While masa harina is typically used in this recipe, you can substitute it with regular cornmeal or flour for a different texture and flavor.

3. Spices: You can vary the spices used in the recipe by adding in oregano, cumin, or smoked paprika to enhance the flavor profile.

4. Sweet or savory: Tamales de Navidad typically are savory; however, if you have a sweet tooth you can add raisins and cinnamon instead of chicken and peppers to make these tamales into a dessert.

5. Gluten-free options: Substitute wheat-based ingredients like flour and bread crumbs with gluten-free alternatives such as chickpea flour, almond flour or coconut flour for those with allergies.

Remember that the authentic taste of traditional Ecuadorian Tamales de Navidad comes from the combination of ingredients used in this recipe with its specific seasonings and other traditional methods passed down from generation to generation. Nonetheless, improvising on the ingredient list gives a fun room of trying different flavors that might make the tamales more enjoyable and personalized for you as well as ones loved ones!

Serving and Pairing

 If you haven't had Tamales De Navidad, you're missing out!
If you haven’t had Tamales De Navidad, you’re missing out!

One of the best things about these Ecuadorean tamales de Navidad is that they can be served and paired with a variety of dishes to create a hearty and satisfying meal.

Traditionally, these tamales are served as part of a festive Christmas dinner alongside other traditional Ecuadorian dishes. For a complete Ecuadorian dinner experience, I highly recommend serving these tamales with humitas, which are sweet corn cakes made with fresh corn, milk, and cheese. The combination of the soft, savory tamales with the slightly sweet and moist humitas is truly divine.

However, if you want to experiment with other pairings, try serving them with a fresh cucumber and tomato salad or rice and beans. These sides complement the rich flavors of the tamales quite nicely.

As for drinks, pair these tamales with a refreshing glass of iced tea or lemonade during warmer months. If you are serving these during the holiday season, warm apple cider or hot cocoa would be perfect choices.

No matter how you choose to serve them, these Ecuadorean tamales de Navidad are sure to be a highlight of your meal. Their unique flavor and soft texture make for a fantastic addition to any table.

Make-Ahead, Storing and Reheating

 Share the love this holiday season by serving up some Ecuadorean tamales!
Share the love this holiday season by serving up some Ecuadorean tamales!

One of the best things about tamales is that they can be made ahead of time and reheated easily. In fact, tamales are traditionally made in large quantities so that they can be enjoyed throughout the holiday season.

After your tamales have been cooked and have cooled down, wrap them tightly in parchment paper and then in foil. This will help to keep them moist and prevent any freezer burn. The great thing about this recipe is that you can store these tamales in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze them for up to 3 months.

When you’re ready to reheat your tamales, you have a few options. You can steam them as you did when cooking them or pop them in the microwave for a quick fix. If your tamales are frozen, make sure to thaw them completely before reheating.

To steam, simply place in a steamer basket over boiling water and cover with a lid for about 10-15 minutes for refrigerated tamales or 25-30 minutes for frozen ones. To microwave, wrap each tamale in a damp paper towel and heat on high for about 1-2 minutes depending on their size.

Make sure to check the internal temperature of your tamales before serving to ensure they have been heated through properly. You want your tamale to feel hot all the way through, but not burning hot.

Remember, these tamales not only make great holiday treats but also make perfect snacks or meals anytime with the convenience of being able to make them ahead of time and store them until needed!

Tips for Perfect Results

 Ditch the traditional holiday dishes and add a little spice to your table.
Ditch the traditional holiday dishes and add a little spice to your table.

To make sure your Ecuadorean Tamales de Navidad come out perfectly every time, follow these tips:

Firstly, when preparing the filling for your tamales de navidad, be sure to generously season the chicken with salt and pepper. This will give the chicken a savory flavor that pairs well with the other ingredients.

Secondly, make sure to sauté the onions, garlic, and red bell pepper until they are caramelized. This will deepen their flavor and add a touch of sweetness to contrast with the savory chicken.

Thirdly, be sure to soak the raisins in hot water for at least an hour before adding them to your filling. Soaking them helps to soften them and also intensifies their natural sweetness.

Fourthly, don’t be afraid to make substitutions or variations in your recipe. For instance, you could try using ground beef instead of chicken or even add some peanut butter for a nutty flavor.

Fifthly, when wrapping your tamales in parchment paper, be sure to fold them tightly so that none of the filling escapes while they cook.

Sixthly, before cooking your tamales in a steamer basket, be sure to line it with some soaked corn husks or parchment paper. This will ensure that the tamales don’t stick to the basket and are easy to remove once cooked.

Seventhly, don’t skip any ingredient in the recipe as each one plays an important role in making this traditional Ecuadorean dessert so special.

Last but not least, allow plenty of time for preparation and cooking so that you won’t feel rushed during the process. Remember that this dish is traditionally prepared during the nine days leading up to Christmas day in Ecuadorian culture so it can make for a fun activity with family or friends. By following these tips you’ll be able to create delicious Ecuadorean Tamales de Navidad that will have your loved ones coming back for seconds.


As with any recipe, it’s common to have questions about ingredients or the cooking process. Here are some frequently asked questions that will help you make these traditional Ecuadorian tamales de navidad with ease and confidence.

What are Ecuadorian tamales?

Humitas, a traditional dish from Ecuador, are similar to tamales as they consist of steamed corn and masa wrapped in banana leaves. These delicious treats come in savory or sweet variations, although during my trip to Ecuador, I only had the chance to try the savory option. Some humitas can be enhanced with ingredients such as onions, cheese, or eggs.

What are Christmas tamales called?

Mexican cuisine has a long-standing tradition of serving tamales during various celebrations and festivities, with Christmas being a prominent occasion. The practice of indulging in these delectable treats has been passed down for generations, with talalada being a popular Christmas-related celebration.

What to serve with tamales for Christmas?

Before diving into the main course, it’s always a good idea to offer some appetizers to stimulate the palate. These little bites can be quite satisfying, especially when paired with complementary side dishes. For starters, a giant bowl of yellow, blue or white corn tortilla chips is always a crowd-pleaser. Another tasty option is chicharrones, which are crunchy and savory fried pork skins. To add a kick to your appetizers, serve them with a variety of dips such as salsa, guacamole, queso, pickled jalapenos, or even candied jalapenos.

What to serve with tamales?

In this recipe article, I’ll be sharing with you some delicious and authentic dishes that blend Brazilian and American cuisine. Get ready to satisfy your cravings with a few of my favourite dishes! You will learn how to make Avocado Cucumber Salad, Air Fryer Plantains, Elotes (Mexican Street Corn) Salad, Papas Con Rajas, Refried Black Beans, Gallo Pinto, Roasted Chili Corn Salsa, and Arroz Borracho (Beer Steamed Yellow Rice). These dishes are perfect for a night in with friends, a family gathering, or just a craving for some flavourful food. Follow my easy-to-follow instructions and tips for the perfect result every time.

Bottom Line

I hope that this recipe has inspired you to try your hand at making traditional Ecuadorean tamales de Navidad. Not only will it be a delicious addition to your Christmas meal, but it also offers a unique insight into the rich and diverse cuisine of South America.

With its combination of savory meat, sweet raisins, and warm spices like allspice, these tamales are a real treat for the taste buds. And aside from being delicious, they are also steeped in tradition and history.

So why not take the opportunity to explore a new cultural tradition this Christmas by incorporating these tasty tamales into your festive spread? With their mouth-watering aroma wafting through your home and their amazing taste on your tongue, you won’t regret it!

Whether you’re hosting a traditional Ecuadorean feast or simply looking to try something new this holiday season, these tamales de Navidad are sure to delight. So why not embrace the spirit of adventure and whip up a batch today? Who knows – you may just discover a new favorite holiday dessert!

Ecuadorean Ecuadorian Tamales De Navidad - for Christmas

Ecuadorean Ecuadorian Tamales De Navidad - for Christmas Recipe

This is our family recipe for traditional Christmas tamales. They are nothing at all like Mexican tamales. The dough is smoother and slightly sweet. The filling is also completely different from any other kind of tamale I have ever eaten. I have given the family recipe but, of course, I have made a few changes to it. I use all butter instead of using any lard, though everyone says that they taste better if you use the lard. I usually use 4 lbs of masa flour and 12 cups broth. I use 2 large whole chickens for that quantity of masa, and 2 1/2 lbs butter, no lard, and it works out well. Of course you have to increase all other ingredients accordingly. Some stores carry Maseca instead of Masa Harina. It is just as good. Though these are very fattening and very labor intensive, they are worth it. I make the increased quantity so that I can give them away. Even the people at work like them. We make them only once a year, so forget about the diet. We all love these!
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Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 2 hrs
Course Main Course
Cuisine Ecuadorean
Servings 6 tamales
Calories 1786.2 kcal


  • 3 cups chicken broth (from chicken you cook)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 lb masa harina (DO NOT use ready made masa, it has lime which will not work in this recipe)
  • 8 ounces butter
  • 8 ounces lard or 8 ounces additional butter
  • 6 ounces sugar
  • 2 ounces peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup raisins, black, soaked in
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1/2 onion, cut lengthwise into thin slices & parboiled & drained
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced finely
  • 1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, in jar
  • 4 eggs, hard boiled & cut into eighths lengthwise
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced very thinly
  • 1 small whole chicken
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 -8 6 -8 if not available use aluminum foil or 6 -8 parchment paper, cut into 10 inch squares. My family doesn't use corn husks for this kind of tamale


  • Place whole chicken in large pot with water to cover. Add 1 whole onion, 1 garlic clove, 2 sprigs parsley, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cook on medium heat until the chicken is falling off the bone.
  • Remove chicken from water & cool.
  • Strain broth and reserve 4 cups.
  • When cool, skin and bone chicken. Shed chicken meat.
  • Add 2 tbsp oil in skillet and add 1/2 diced onion. Sauté over low heat until very soft. Add peanut butter and mix until melted, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tbsp sugar, milk and allspice. Cook until almost ready to boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In large heavy pot, place masa flour and 3 cups cooled broth. First whisk and then continue to mix with strong wooden spoon. Cook over medium high heat, do not let lumps form. Turn often with wooden spoon. When a thin dark brown crust forms on the bottom of the pot, it is done.
  • Let masa cool in pot until lukewarm. Turn masa out onto board or waxed paper.
  • When cool enough to handle, add butter, and lard if you are using it. Knead in by hand. Add 6 oz sugar and knead it. Taste a bit of masa for salt. If your broth was not salty, add 1/2-3/4 tsp salt. Add in the 3 eggs, one at a time. Knead well.
  • Separate out balls of dough, about the size of a small lemon. Place in center of each banana leaf or foil or parchment paper square wrapper and pat out with your hand until each is about 6" round.
  • Place about 1/4 c chicken filling onto each masa round.
  • Place one piece of hard-boiled egg, one olive, 1 slice red bell pepper, 3 pieces of parboiled onion and 3 raisins on top of chicken mixture on each masa round.
  • Fold over each round into half-moon shape and press edges together well.
  • Fold over wrapper and tie with kitchen twine if using banana leaves. if using foil or parchment paper, seal edges well.
  • Place tamales, in batches, in steamer and steam for 30 minutes.
  • Serve with wrapper still on. Each person opens their own.
  • If you want to omit a certain filling ingredient from some of them, you can tie different colors of thread around those to identify them later.

Add Your Own Notes


Serving: 723gCalories: 1786.2kcalCarbohydrates: 106.5gProtein: 59.4gFat: 126.3gSaturated Fat: 50.1gCholesterol: 502.6mgSodium: 1521.2mgFiber: 7gSugar: 41.4g
Keyword < 4 Hours, Chicken, Chicken Breast, Christmas, Ecuadorean, Meat, Poultry, South American, Whole Chicken
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Dora is a chef well-versed in Brazilian and American cuisine. After a hard day's work in the kitchen of her restaurant, she finds the time to jot down recipes for her food blog. Her recipes are sure to delight foodies everywhere, as she strives to make each one unique and enjoyable to read.