Paches: Traditional Guatemalan Potato Tamales

When it comes to traditional Guatemalan tamales, Paches are one of the most popular tamales in Guatemala. Made from mashed potatoes mixed with bread and sometimes corn flour and a savory tomato-based recado sauce, these potato tamales are wrapped in banana leaves. This post shows an easy recipe for making Guatemalan paches de la capital version of these Guatemalan potato tamales. It includes easy and detailed step-by-step instructions for making this delicious Guatemalan food.  

Pache Guatemalan potato tamal recipPaches are among my favorite traditional Guatemalan foods, a potato Tamale packed with flavor that is relatively easy to make. I remember sitting in my grandma’s kitchen and watching her make this delicious Guatemalan recipe from scratch. And since my kids love potatoes, this has become one of my family’s favorite Guatemalan dishes. 

“Jueves de paches” (Pache Thursdays) is a  popular Guatemalan tradition, sort of like a Guatemalan version of the famous “Taco Tuesdays.” But once you have made these delicious tamales, you’ll probably end up craving them on Saturdays and Sundays too, maybe even on Wednesdays!

What is Guatemalan Pache?

Paches are a traditional Guatemalan dish very similar to the corn-based tamales colorados. However, paches are potato-based dough mixed with bread crumbs (usually from Guatemalan pan francés bread) or corn masa to achieve the right consistency. You usually stuff the paches with meat and tomato-based recado sauce, then steam them in banana leaves. 

Pache tamal from Guatemala

The origin of these unique Guatemalan potato tamales can be traced back to the Quetzaltenango region due to the abundance of potatoes in the area. The original paches from Quetzaltenango (or Xela as the city is known locally) are referred to as paches de Xela made with a masa that combines potatoes and bread (usually pan francés). A different version of paches, traditionally made in Guatemala City and known as paches de la capital, combines potatoes, bread crumbs, and corn flour to make the masa for the tamales. I am sharing the recipe for the paches de la capital version of these potato tamales. 

 

Why Are They Called Paches?

In Guatemala, the word “pache” refers to something flat or outstretched, and this traditional Guatemalan food gets its name from its flattened shape. You can’t put a whole potato on a banana leaf and call it a tamale; it must be mashed, grounded in stone, or crushed; Hence the name.

In Guatemala City, you will find some references to potato tamales, which are the same thing as paches. This centennial recipe from Guatemala is a regional variation on the original corn dough tamales.

Guatemalan paches potato tamales

What are the Ingredients for Guatemalan Paches?

Paches are mashed potato-based tamale dough wrapped in banana leaves. The dough is blended with the recado and often stuffed with chicken or pork meat and mild or sweet peppers. 

  • Potatoes
  • Bread crumbs
  • Corn flour 
  • Tomato-and-pepper-based recado (sauce)
  • Pork or chicken meat
  • Guajillo peppers or other mild or sweet peppers

There are different versions of paches originating from various regions in Guatemala. For example, some recipes use corn flour combined with potatoes and bread crumbs, while others only use potatoes and bread to make the dough.

Potatoes for making potato tamales

What is the Difference Between Traditional Guatemalan Tamales and Paches?

The main difference between these two recipes is that traditional tamales colorados are made with corn masa while paches are potato tamals. And although both dishes are made from corn flour and wrapped in banana leaves, that is as far as the similarities go.

In the classic Guatemalan tamal recipe, the recado (sauce) and the meat are in the tamal center. At the same time, paches blend the potato dough with the sauce, giving it its singular taste and reddish color. In addition, their cooking methods are also slightly different: paches are only steamed once, whereas tamales colorados are first cooked and then steamed. 

Guatemalan Pache tamal recipe

How to Make Guatemalan Paches:

Yields about 40 portions

To make things easier for you, I broke down the sections of this recipe into clear step-by-step directions.

Ingredients

For the Recado (sauce):

  • 2 lbs. Tomatoes (ripe)
  • ½ lb. Miltomates (tomatillos or green tomatoes)
  • 4 Red bell peppers
  • 1 Onion
  • 3 Garlic cloves
  • 1 Guaque pepper (Guajillo pepper)
  • 1 Pasa pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of Achiote (Annatto paste)
  • 1 teaspoon of chicken bouillon powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Meat Filling:

  • 2 lb. of boneless pork meat (shoulder) or chicken
  • 1 oz of lard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Dough (Masa):

  • 8 Guatemalan Pan Francés (1/2 loaf of Cuban or Puerto Rico bread roll)
  • 10 lbs. of Potatoes
  • 1 cup of lard
  • 1 cup of instant corn flour
  • 2-4 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of chicken bouillon powder
  • Additional water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For Assembly and Garnish: 

  • 40 Banana leaves (2 lbs.)
  • 2 Bunches of Cibaque 
  • sweet or mildly spicy peppers

How to make recado sauce:

  1. In a large pot, pour water and boil the tomatoes, miltomates, red peppers, onion, garlic, and the Guaque and Pasa peppers.
  2. When finished boiling, peel the tomatoes to avoid having any coarse flakes. Put everything in a blender until smooth (it should look like a thin sauce).
  3. Fry the sauce in a pan, add the achiote (annatto) paste, chicken bouillon, and check the seasoning.
  4. If the sauce is very watery, you can thicken it using two tablespoons of corn flour. Then, cook it until you get a sauce with a thick consistency.
  5. Set aside for blending with the dough (when ready).

Guatemalan tamales how to make the sauce

Making the meat filling:

  1. Cut the pork into cube-shaped pieces and rub them with salt and pepper.
  2. Fry the meat in a large pan with one ounce of lard or butter and a little recado sauce until fully cooked (about 10-15 minutes).
  3. Set it aside for assembly.

Making the dough (masa):

  1. On a toaster oven or grill, toast the bread until brown on both sides (about 5 minutes). Next, transfer the bread into a deep bowl and cover it with water. Let it soak for about an hour.
  2. Cut around the middle of each potato to make it easier to peel and boil them (with skin) in hot water. The potatoes should be well cooked but not too soft that it becomes undone. 
  3. Carefully peel the potatoes while they are hot. Add the lard and mash them to form a thick purée. Add the rest of the recado and blend.
  4. Take out the bread and squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands. Place it in a large bowl and mix in the corn flour. Add 2 cups of water, pouring half a cup at a time, careful not to overdo it. 
  5. Add the chicken bouillon and blend until you make a soft ball of dough. Add more water if needed.
  6. Combine the dough with the potato purée until well blended. Check for seasoning if necessary.
  7. Set aside for assembly.How to make Guatemalan tamales colorados

How to assemble homemade Paches:

  1. Slice the thickest part of the vein of the banana leaves (lengthwise, about halfway towards the trunk).
  2. Toss all the leaves in boiling water, cleaning them thoroughly. Use tongs to help get them completely immersed in the water. Stack on a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
  3. Soak the cibaque in water and cut it in half when it is already wet (to make it yield).
  4. Gather the garnishing ingredients, potato dough, and pork, and set them up on your kitchen counter or a worktable to start assembling.
  5. Place a large banana leaf on the counter. With a soup ladle, scoop the dough and place it in the center of the leaf. Then press the center of the dough with a smaller spoon to make a small opening.
  6. Place a piece of meat in the center of the hole and a Jalapeño pepper (optional). Then, using the smaller spoon, cover the hole with the dough you placed first.

How to fold a banana leaf for tamales:

  1. Fold the banana leaf side closest to you over the dough and bring the side farthest from you towards yourself. You will end up with a long, skinny rectangle. How to fold banana leave tamales
  2. Carefully wrap the dough by folding one long end under and the other long end over it.
  3. Use the cibaque to tie up the wrap, making sure it is tight enough. Repeat until you go through all the dough and leaves.

Guatemalan banana leaf tamales recipe

How to Cook Paches Guatemaltecos:

  1. To cook, place a steam basket on the bottom of a large pot. Add about 2-4 cups of water (depending on the size of your container). Line the basket with some extra pieces of banana leaves.
  2. Place the tamales in the basket and cap them with the remaining leaves. Cover the container and bring it to a boil. Add more boiling water if necessary.
  3. Steam over medium heat for 30-45 minutes until the dough easily separates from the leaf and is slightly firm (they will continue to harden after being removed from the heat).
  4. Remove the paches from the pot and let cool slightly. Then, unwrap the Pache and serve it hot or at room temperature with a lemon wedge.

The best recipe for Guetemalan tamales

Make Ahead of Time

As with most tamal recipes, making paches requires a bit of a time investment.  But don’t worry, there are some shortcuts you can take to simplify the process. Start by making the recado sauce a couple of days in advance, leaving more free time to focus on the rest of the recipe.

If you decide to cook the recado sauce ahead of time, I recommend making a double batch. Then, freeze the sauce in separate bags. Recado can be used to make lots of Guatemalan recipes from tamales colorados to chiles rellenos. You can even use  recado sauce over fried eggs to make  huevos rancheros or huevos divorciados!

Another helpful tip is to cook the meat a day before and keep it in the refrigerator in an airtight container until ready to use. It is a great way to free up some prep time to speed things up during the tamal assembly stages.

Tips on How To Make Paches Guatemaltecos:

  • Potato-Peeling Life Hack I learned this helpful tip from a great cook: my grandmother. Instead of wasting time peeling each potato, you simply make a superficial cut around them. Then, boil the potatoes (with the skin) until cooked and set aside for a few minutes. Finally, remove the skin; it should come off easy! Click here to learn how to do this easy peeling trick.
  • Banana Leaf Substitutes: You can use aluminum foil instead of banana leaves for the wrapping. The downside is that you will miss out on the sweet flavor the banana leaves infuse into the dish. Another great substitute is corn husks that may be easier to find and add an earthy taste.
  • Keep it all centered: Don’t spread the potato-corn dough all the way to the edges. Instead, leave enough room to fold the wrapping, about 2-3 inches from the top.

How to make Guatemalan paches tamales

Can You Freeze a Guatemalan Pache?

Tamales can be frozen, which is a great thing because when I make paches, I always make enough for an army so I can freeze a bunch of them! And since this recipe yields about 40 portions, you will indeed find yourself with a lot of leftovers. Store them in the fridge for a few days or freeze them for up to 6 months. I wouldn’t recommend freezing them uncooked because the wrapping could lose some flavors and consistency. 

Here are some helpful tips on the right way to freeze a Pache:

  • After steaming, remove the wrapping from heat and place them on a flat surface. Let them cool down at room temperature before freezing.
  • Place the tamales in a freezer bag or airtight container, gently stacking them on top of each other to provide an extra layer of protection against other frozen foods.
  • Label the bag to know how long they have been in your freezer. The paches can remain in the freezer for about six months.

 

How to Reheat Guatemalan Paches

  • To thaw the potato tamales, move them down to your refrigerator and let them defrost overnight in a cool environment. Food should not be left out at room temperature because harmful bacteria could grow if it gets too warm while defrosting.
  • When you want to reheat, place a steamer basket inside a pot and add an inch or two of water, careful not to get the tamales wet. Cover the pot with a lid and place it over medium heat for 10-15 minutes.

 

How to Reheat Frozen Paches

The simplest way to reheat frozen paches is to use a steamer or tamal pot. It is the same process as above; increase the reheating time by about 20–30 minutes.  Remember to open one tamal to check if it is fully defrosted and hot enough to eat before taking the whole batch out of the pot.

 

What To Serve with Traditional Guatemalan Paches?

You can serve these paches with a lemon wedge, freshly made corn tortillas or pan francés, and a cup of traditional Guatemalan Ponche de Frutas (hot fruit punch)or atol de elote. Another great idea is to toss a refreshing tomato and cucumber salad into a bowl to cut through all the starchy flavors. 

Other Guatemalan tamal recipes:

Guatemala has so many different tamal recipes. Here are a few of the most popular Guatemalan tamales.

  • Tamales Colorados: Made with corn masa and a chicken or pork filling wrapped in fresh banana leaves, tamales colorados are the most popular Guatemalan tamales.
  • Chuchitos Guatemaltecos: A smaller type of Guatemalan tamal, chuchitos are filled with pork or chicken and a tomato-based recado or sauce wrapped in corn husks.

best Guatemalan Chuchitos recipe

  • Tamalitos de Chipilin: These small corn-based tamales don’t have a meat filling and are filled with chipilin (chepil) leaves and wrapped in corn husks. 
  • Tamales de Cambray: A Guatemalan dish made for special occasions, these sweet tamales are a meatless variation of the classic tamales wrapped in tusa or corn husks.

 

Other popular traditional Guatemalan recipes: 

If you’re looking for other Guatemalan foods you can cook at home, check out these recipes for some of my favorite Guatemalan foods. 

  • Pepián De Pollo, Guatemalan Chicken Stew: Pepián de pollo is Guatemala’s national dish and one of the oldest Guatemalan chicken recipes. This Guatemalan chicken stew has a tomato-based sauce with roasted seeds and peppers.

Chicken pepian from Guatemala

  • Pollo En Jocón (Tomatillo Chicken Stew): This easy and healthy recipe for Pollo en Jocón, tomatillo and cilantro chicken stew, is a traditional dish from Guatemala. Delicious and easy to make, it’s the perfect cold-weather comfort food.
  • Guatemalan Enchiladas or Jardineras: A traditional Guatemalan dish, it is a fairly easy Guatemalan recipe. Made with a toasted tortilla topped with a vegetable mixture or escabeche, ground beef, and tomato sauce, it is one of my favorite authentic Guatemalan foods.
  • 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

Whether you have eaten patches before or are trying them for the first time, these potato tamales are a delicious Guatemalan traditional food that is a must-try. I hope you found this recipe easy to follow for these traditional Guatemalan tamales. If you decide to make Guatemalan paches at home, leave me a comment and let me know how they came out!

Pache tamal from Guatemala

Paches: Traditional Guatemalan Potato Tamales

Yield: 40 paches
Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours

Made from mashed potatoes, bread, and a savory tomato-based recado sauce, these potato tamales are wrapped in banana leaves.

Ingredients

For the Recado (sauce):

  • 2 lbs. Tomatoes (ripe)
  • ½ lb. Miltomates (tomatillos or green tomatoes)
  • 4 Red bell peppers
  • 1 Onion
  • 3 Garlic cloves
  • 1 Guaque pepper (Guajillo pepper)
  • 1 Pasa pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of Achiote (Annatto paste)
  • 1 teaspoon of chicken bouillon powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Meat Filling:

  • 2 lb. of boneless pork meat (shoulder) or chicken
  • 1 oz of lard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Dough (Masa):

  • 8 Guatemalan Pan Francés (1/2 loaf of Cuban or Puerto Rico bread roll)
  • 10 lbs. of Potatoes
  • 1 cup of lard
  • 1 cup of instant corn flour
  • 2-4 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of chicken bouillon powder
  • Additional water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For Assembly and Garnish:

  • 40 Banana leaves (2 lbs.)
  • 2 Bunches of Cibaque
  • 2 cans (7 oz) of La Morena® Whole Jalapenos (optional)

Instructions

How to Make Recado Sauce:

  1. In a large pot, pour water and boil the tomatoes, miltomates, red peppers, onion, garlic, and the Guaque and Pasa peppers.
  2. When finished boiling, peel the tomatoes so as not to have any coarse flakes. Put everything in a blender until smooth (it should look like a thin sauce).
  3. Fry the sauce in a pan, add the achiote (annatto) paste, chicken bouillon, and check the seasoning.
  4. If the sauce is very watery, you can thicken it using two tablespoons of corn flour. Then, cook it until you get a sauce with a thick consistency.
  5. Set aside for blending with the dough (when ready).

Time to Fry the Pork Meat Filling:

  1. Cut the pork into cube-shaped pieces and rub them with salt and pepper.
  2. Fry the meat in a large pan with one ounce of lard or butter and a little recado sauce until fully cooked (about 10-15 minutes).
  3. Set it aside for assembly.

Start Making the Dough (Masa):

  1. On a toaster oven or grill, toast the bread until brown on both sides (about 5 minutes). Next, transfer the bread into a deep bowl and cover it with water. Let it soak for about an hour.
  2. Cut around the middle of each potato to make it easier to peel and boil them (with skin) in hot water. The potatoes should be well cooked but not too soft that it becomes undone. 
  3. Carefully peel the potatoes while they are hot. Add the lard and mash them to form a thick purée. Add the rest of the recado and blend.
  4. Take out the bread and squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands. Place it in a large bowl and mix in the corn flour. Add 2 cups of water, pouring half a cup at a time, careful not to overdo it. 
  5. Add the chicken bouillon and blend until you make a soft ball of dough. Add more water if needed.
  6. Combine the dough with the potato purée until well blended. Check for seasoning if necessary.
  7. Set aside for assembly.

How to assemble Homemade Paches:

  1. Slice the thickest part of the vein of the banana leaves (lengthwise, about halfway towards the trunk).
  2. Toss all the leaves in boiling water, cleaning them thoroughly. Use tongs to help get them completely immersed in the water. Stack on a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
  3. Soak the cibaque in water and cut it in half when it is already wet (to make it yield).
  4. Gather the garnishing ingredients, potato dough, and pork, and set them up on your kitchen counter or a worktable to start assembling.
  5. Place a large banana leaf on the counter. With a soup ladle, scoop the dough and place it in the center of the leaf. Then press the center of the dough with a smaller spoon to make a small opening.
  6. Place a piece of meat in the center of the hole and a Jalapeño pepper (optional). Then, using the smaller spoon, cover the hole with the dough you placed first.

How to fold a Banana Leaf Pache:

  1. Fold the banana leaf side closest to you over the dough and bring the side farthest from you towards yourself. You will end up with a long, skinny rectangle.
  2. Carefully wrap the dough by folding one long end under and the other long end over it.
  3. Use the cibaque to tie up the wrap, making sure it is tight enough. Repeat until you go through all the dough and banana leaves.

How to Cook Paches Guatemaltecos:

  1. To cook, place a steam basket on the bottom of a large pot. Add about 2-4 cups of water (depending on the size of your container). Line the basket with some extra pieces of banana leaves.
  2. Place the tamales in the basket and cap them with the remaining leaves. Cover the container and bring it to a boil. Add more boiling water if necessary.
  3. Steam over medium heat for 30-45 minutes until the dough easily separates from the leaf and is slightly firm (they will continue to harden after being removed from the heat).
  4. Remove the paches from the pot and let cool slightly. Then, unwrap the Pache and serve them hot or at room temperature with a lemon wedge.

Notes

Banana Leaf Substitutes: You can use aluminum foil instead of banana leaves for the wrapping. The downside is that you will miss out on the sweet flavor the banana leaves infuse into the dish. Another great substitute is corn husks that may be easier to find and add an earthy taste.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 40 Serving Size: 1 Pache
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 419

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