Easy Guatemalan Recipe for Tamales de Chipilin

Simple yet delicious, these Tamales de Chipilin are a traditional Guatemalan food you must try! A variation of the larger Guatemalan tamales, these smaller tamalitos de chipilin are made from corn dough called masa, and chipilin (chepil) leaves. And although there is no meat in them, chipilin leaves deliver an earthy and unique flavor to this Guatemalan dish that will leave you asking for more!

Tamales de chipilin from Guatemala

For any true Guatemalan, the holidays are not the holidays without tamales. So come December, and we Chapines start relishing all variations of this traditional Guatemalan dish, from sweet tamales negros to savory colorados and all in between. We eat them at Christmas dinner, at family reunions, or for no occasion other than enjoying a delicious Guatemalan meal!

A Traditional Recipe for Tamalitos de Chipilin Guatemaltecos

Living outside my home country Guatemala, it is a little bit more challenging to find these traditional Guatemalan foods to enjoy at any time. So, I made it my mission to share easy (or at least easy to follow) Guatemalan recipes. I want to teach my kids about their Latin roots and show them how delicious Guatemalan cuisine is.

Tamalitos de chipilin recipe

I was so surprised to see how easy tamalitos de chipilin are to make at home. But don’t let the lengthy procedure discourage you! I broke down the recipe into easy-to-follow instructions so that I could describe each step thoroughly. I am sharing all my tips to help you get through your possible fears about making homemade tamales at home for the first time… or the twentieth!

What is Chipilin?

Chipilin leaves are used for cooking in many Central American countries. Crotalaria longirostrata (also known as chipilin, chipilín, chepilin or chepil) is a leguminous plant native to the Central America region. Its taste is like a cross between spinach and watercress, with a distinctly earthy flavor that, when cooked, turns mild and pleasant. 

chipilin plant
Wikimedia Commons Photo by Helmy oved

You can steam them and serve as a mixed greens dish, dry them and use them as an herb, or add them for color and flavor in many traditional Guatemalan foods. In addition, you will find chipilin leaves across a few Guatemalan recipes, especially in tamales, tortillas, and soups. And with this easy recipe for tamales de chipilin, you can taste a unique dish infused with Latin flavors!

What is Chipilin Good for?

Chipilin leaves are a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, and iron. However, raw chipilín leaves are considered a laxative. This explains why they are not usually eaten raw and only in cooked dishes. But when cooked, it brings a mild flavor and deliciously unique taste. But on top of its culinary versatility, the chipilín is a nitrogen fixer that enriches soil fertility. So growing chilipin in your garden is a great idea. 

Where do you find chipilin?

Even though it is a popular crop throughout Central America, you can find chipilin leaves in the US, mainly in summer and fall. You can also go to the Walmart site or visit your local Latin food market and look through the frozen section.

Easy Recipe for Guatemalan Tamales de Chipilin:

Ingredients

  • 1 package corn flour, lb. (Maseca)
  • 2 cups of water
  • ½ pound of lard (you can replace it with margarine)
  • 2 bunches of chipilin or chepil leaves stripped from stems (washed and chopped)
  • ½ tablespoon of salt 
  • 2 bunches of tusa (dried corn husks)

How to Make Tamalitos de Chipilin:

  1. Soak the tusa (corn husks) in hot water (not boiling) for about half an hour. Check that the husks are completely submerged, so they become flexible and easy to fold. Drain them well and set them aside.
  2. In a large bowl, pour about 2 cups of corn flour and about 1 cup of water and start mixing using your hands. Be careful not to add too much water. 
  3. Mix in the lard, chipilin leaves, and salt and blend well. 
  4. Add the rest of the flour, one cup at a time, combining it with water to form a smooth dough (masa). It is best to add half a cup of water at a time until the dough has reached the desired consistency.
  5. Mix everything well until the texture of the dough is moist but not wet. Set aside.

Guatemalan tamales de chipilin

Assembling The Tamal

  1. Take one of the husks, rip it into strips along the grain, and use them to tie the tamales.
  2. Open one of the husks so that it lies flat on your kitchen counter. Then, using a big spoon, spread the dough in the center of the husk, leaving a space of about 2 inches on the top.
  3. Fold over the edges in, then fold the bottom up.
  4. Tie it tightly with a strip of corn husk. 
  5. Repeat until you have used up all your dough.

tamales de chipilin

Time to cook

  1. In a deep steamer, a tamalera, or large pot, place 3 Tusa leaves at the bottom and arrange the tamales tied side up.
  2. Fill the pot with enough water to cover them.
  3. Cover with a lid and set over medium heat. Steam the tamales for one hour, adding water as needed.
  4. Drain out the water and serve warm.

Tips For Making the Best Tamales De Chipilin

  • Take it easy with water: When mixing the corn flour with water, add a little bit at a time. Then, when you are about halfway through the flour, mix in the lard. This way, you won’t get a soggy dough or go overboard with water at the end.
  • Use your hands: The best way to scoop and mold these little tamales is to grab a small portion of dough with your hand. It should be firm enough to handle, so make a little ball and place it on the leaf. Don’t forget to wash your hands before you start!
  • Keep them warm: If you plan to serve them within a few hours of cooking, you can leave them in the pot to keep warm. First, drain the water and put a clean, wet cloth on top (preferably heated with water). Otherwise, take them out carefully using kitchen tongs and let them cool down before you refrigerate them.

Guatemalan tamalitos de chipilin recipe

Make Ahead of Time

This recipe is so easy to make that you can do everything on the same day! However, I wouldn’t recommend preparing the masa or dough in advance because it dries out and becomes hard to handle. What I do is schedule at least two to three hours for cooking, as wrapping all the tamalitos might be a little time-consuming. 

Another route is to cook everything a couple of days ahead and keep them chilled for up to a week in your refrigerator. Then, when it is time to serve, set a pot with an inch of water and place the wraps inside. Cover with a lid and reheat them over medium for 10 minutes.

How Do You Freeze Homemade Tamales?

If you made a double batch of tamalitos de chipilin or have leftovers, the best thing to do is freeze them for up to 6 months. The best part about freezing cooked tamales is that you can throw them in a pot and thaw-and-reheat them in one swift move! Add about 2 inches of water and heat them over medium for about 15 minutes.

One final note on freezing tamales: I am less inclined to freeze uncooked food. It is because once you freeze raw corn dough, it tends to fall apart when thawed. It can cause the dough not to hold correctly, causing a mess during the cooking stage and losing some of its texture and flavors. So, it is best to cook this delicious Guatemalan food all the way through and then freeze them, ready to eat on any rainy day!

More Chipilin Recipes:

Want to know what other recipes are out there that you can use chipilin or chepil leaves? Here are some delicious ideas:

What To Serve with Traditional Tamal de Chipilin Guatemalteco?

You can eat them just as is, drizzle them with a bit of recado (tomato-based sauce) or Mexican crema. I love serving the tamales as a main dish with refried black beans and a must-have loaf of pan Frances for the perfect Guatemalan combo. And I like making smaller tamalitos and serving them as snacks for the kids with some guacamole on the side. Yummy!

Other Traditional Guatemalan Recipes

  • Tamales Colorados: Made with corn masa and a chicken or pork filling wrapped in fresh banana leaves, this Guatemalan food is based on my grandmother’s recipe. I have come up with the best recipe for Guatemalan tamales with some personal tweaks, including easy step-by-step instructions.

tamales guatemaltecos recipe

  • Chuchitos Guatemaltecos: Learn how to make these delicious traditional tamales at home! A smaller type of Guatemalan tamal is filled with pork or chicken and a tomato-based recado or sauce and wrapped in corn husks.
  • Pollo en Jocón (Tomatillo Chicken Stew) Recipe from Guatemala: This easy and healthy recipe for Pollo en Jocón, tomatillo, and cilantro chicken stew, is a traditional dish from Guatemala. 
  • Guatemalan Hilachas de Carne: An easy Instapot and slow cooker shredded beef stew recipe for a traditional Guatemalan dish. Similar to the Mexican Ropa Vieja recipe, it is a flavorful and easy-to-make shredded beef stew simmered in a velvety tomato-based recado sauce.
  • Chiles Rellenos: This traditional Guatemalan recipe is somewhat different from the Mexican chiles rellenos. It is made with sweet peppers, filled with a concoction of beef and veggies, served drizzled with tomato sauce.

Chiles rellenos recipe

Nothing beats a steamy homemade tamal de chipilin straight out of the pot! And although you might be worried about cooking tamales at home, preparing this Guatemalan dish is a breeze with my easy recipe! Ask your kids for an extra set of hands to help you make this delicious Guatemalan recipe. Cooking for the holidays is meant to bring family and friends together, carrying on a tradition while enjoying a hearty meal at home.What are tamales de chipilin?

Tamales de chipilin from Guatemala

Guatemalan Tamales de Chipilin

Yield: 20 portions
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours

Made from corn dough, cheese, and chipilin leaves, these tamalitos de chipilin are a traditional Guatemalan food you must try!

Ingredients

  • 1 package corn flour, 2 lb. (Maseca)
  • 2 cups of water
  • ½ pound of lard (you can replace it with margarine)
  • 100 grams of Queso fresco, crumbled (fresh farmers cheese)
  • 2 bunches of chipilin or chepil leaves stripped from stems (washed and chopped)
  • ½ tablespoon of salt
  • 2 bunches of Tusa (dried corn husks)

Instructions

How to Make Tamalitos de Chipilin:

1. Soak the Tusa (corn husks) in hot water (not boiling) for about half an hour. Check that the husks are completely submerged, so they become flexible and easy to fold. Drain them well and set them aside.

2. In a large bowl, pour about 2 cups of corn flour and about 1 cup of water and start mixing using your hands. Be careful not to add too much water.

3. Mix in the lard, queso fresco, chipilin leaves, and salt and blend well.

4. Add the rest of the flour, one cup at a time, combining it with water to form a smooth dough (masa). It is best to add half a cup of water at a time until the dough has reached the desired consistency.

5.  Mix everything well until the texture of the dough is moist but not wet. Set aside.

Assembling The Tamal

1. Take one of the husks, rip it into strips along the grain, and use them to tie the tamales.

2. Open one of the husks so that it lies flat on your kitchen counter. Then, using a big spoon, spread the dough in the center of the husk, leaving a space of about 2 inches on the top.

3. Fold over the edges in, then fold the bottom up.

4. Tie it tightly with a strip of corn husk.

5.  Repeat until you have used up all your dough.

Time to cook

1. In a deep steamer or large pot, place 3 Tusa leaves at the bottom and arrange the tamales tied side up.

2. Fill the pot with enough water to cover them.

3.  Cover with a lid and set over medium heat. Steam the tamales for one hour, adding water as needed.

4. Drain out the water and serve warm.

Notes

If you plan to serve them within a few hours of cooking, you can leave them in the pot to keep warm. First, drain the water and put a clean, wet cloth on top (preferably heated with water). Otherwise, take them out carefully using kitchen tongs and let them cool down before you refrigerate them.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 20 Tamales Serving Size: 1 tamala
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 125

Sharing is caring!

2 thoughts on “Easy Guatemalan Recipe for Tamales de Chipilin”

  1. I would to eat Guatemalan food. I left aprox. 55 years ago. I lived in California aprox. 40 years. I live in South Carolina, aprox. 20 years and I currently living in Henderson, Nevada for the last 3 years.
    I would to buy Cambrayes, cuchitos, Pepian, Reyinitos, I wondered if You can out to selling
    Them ??

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to Recipe