Authentic Nicaraguan Nacatamales Recipe

The Nacatamales recipe involves the process of step by step preparing and cooking instructions. Nacatamales are a traditional Nicaraguan dish that are usually served during celebrations and special occasions.

These tasty tamales are made of masa (corn dough) and filled with delicious ingredients like seasoned meat, rice, potatoes, vegetables, and spices. They are then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until cooked through. Nacatamales have a wonderful blend of flavors and textures that make them a favorite comfort food in Nicaragua.

In this blog post, I will share my recipe for making authentic Nicaraguan nacatamales at home. I’ll provide step-by-step instructions from preparing the masa dough to assembling and cooking the nacatamales. You’ll learn insider tips and tricks for getting the perfect texture and ensuring the nacatamales are fully cooked. I’ll also suggest some tasty meat, veggie, and spice fillings to try in your nacatamales.

Making nacatamales takes some time and effort, but it’s a fun cooking project to do on a weekend. The Results are well worth it when you take your first bite of the tender masa, savory filling, and complex flavors. With this Nicaraguan nacatamales recipe, you’ll be able to enjoy this iconic Latin American dish in your kitchen. So get ready to make a batch of delicious and authentic nacatamales!

Homemade Nicaraguan Nacatamales Recipe

Making Nicaraguan nacatamales is a time-consuming process that normally involves an entire family working together. It is not uncommon for Nicaraguan families to gather a day before a holiday or celebration to prepare dozens and dozens of these tasty bundles. The effort pays off when you take your first mouthwatering bite of tender masa, savory pork and bright salsa.

This definitive guide will teach you how to make authentic nacatamales from scratch just like a Nicaraguan abuela. Let’s get started!

Nacatamales Ingredients

The main components of nacatamales are the masa dough, banana leaf wrappers, and savory fillings. Here’s an overview of the key ingredients:


  • 3 cups of dried masa harina
  • 2 cups of short grain white rice
  • 1 cup of lard or vegetable shortening
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 4 cups of broth (chicken or pork)

The masa is made from specially treated corn flour called masa harina. It gives the nacatamales their distinctive taste and texture. Rice is also added to the masa mixture.

Nicaraguan nacatamales Fillings

  • 1 lb of pork shoulder or pork belly, seasoned and cooked
  • 1/2 cup of sliced onion
  • 1/2 cup of diced bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup of sliced green olives
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • Sliced ripe plantains

The fillings provide amazing flavors and contrasting textures. Pork is traditional, along with rice, onions, peppers, plantains and olives.

Nicaraguan nacatamales Seasonings

  • 2 tbsp of Nicaraguan recado rojo seasoning
  • 1 tbsp of achiote paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp of oregano
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1 chopped habanero or jalapeño pepper

Recado rojo gives nacatamales their signature reddish-orange color and robust flavor. Garlic, cumin and oregano add depth.

Banana Leaves

Fresh or frozen banana leaves are used to wrap the nacatamales before steaming. Sturdy and pliable, they impart subtle herbal notes.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Nacatamales

Now let’s walk through the hands-on process of assembling and cooking perfect nacatamales. I’ll provide details for making a batch of 6 large nacatamales.

Cook the Pork

  1. Season 1 lb of pork shoulder or belly with 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp cumin, 2 minced garlic cloves, and salt and pepper.
  2. Brown the pork on all sides in a skillet with 1 tbsp oil over medium-high heat.
  3. Add 1 cup of water, 1/2 onion (sliced), recado rojo and achiote paste. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until tender.
  4. Shred the pork with two forks once cooled slightly. Set aside.

Make the Masa

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the masa harina, rice, baking powder and salt.
  2. Cut the lard into the dry mixture using a fork or pastry blender until crumbly.
  3. Add the broth and knead with your hands for 2-3 minutes until a smooth, soft dough forms. Cover and set aside.

Cook the Rice

  1. In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add 2 cups of rice, 1 tbsp oil, and salt to taste.
  2. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes until rice is tender.
  3. Fluff the rice with a fork. Stir in 1/4 cup raisins, 1/4 cup sliced green olives, and a pinch of oregano. Set aside.

Assemble the Nacatamales

  1. Rinse the banana leaves and pat dry. Trim into 15×15 inch squares.
  2. Lay a banana leaf square shiny side down. Spoon 1/2 cup masa in the center.
  3. Top with 2-3 tbsp shredded pork, 2 tbsp rice mixture, sliced onions, peppers and plantains.
  4. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling, then fold up the bottom and top to seal securely. Tie with kitchen string. Repeat for remaining nacatamales.

Steam the Nacatamales

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a steamer basket in the pot and carefully arrange the wrapped nacatamales inside.
  2. Cover and steam for 90 minutes, adding more hot water as needed.
  3. Check doneness by opening one nacatamal. The masa should be firm and cooked through.
  4. Remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes before serving.

And that’s it! Follow this method and you’ll have tender, fragrant nacatamales the whole family will love. The nacatamales are best served warm with curtido, a spicy cabbage slaw. Salsa, queso fresco, and Lizano sauce are also great accompaniments. Enjoy this flavorful taste of Nicaragua!

Helpful Nacatamales Variations and Substitutions

While traditional nacatamales contain pork, you can swap in other meats or make them vegetarian. Here are some easy substitutions:

  • Use chicken, beef or chorizo instead of pork.
  • Substitute roasted jackfruit for pork to make them vegan.
  • Swap the lard for vegetable shortening to make them vegetarian.
  • Use frozen or vacuum-sealed banana leaves if fresh are unavailable. Parchment paper or foil will also work.
  • Substitute recado rojo with extra achiote paste and cumin.
  • Add diced carrots, chayote, potatoes or chiles to the filling.
  • Serve with curtido, gallo pinto, red beans or Nicaraguan cheese.

What Do Nicaraguan Nacatamales Taste Like?

When you take your first bite of a freshly steamed nacatamal, the complex medley of flavors and textures is truly satisfying.

The soft, steamed masa has a sweet corn flavor with a hint of rice and spice. It has a mashed potato-like consistency. The salty and tangy pork filling contrasts nicely with the mild masa. Notes of smoky achiote, garlic, cumin, and oregano come through.

Rice and veggies like plantains and green olives provide texture. Their subtle sweetness balances the savory flavors. The banana leaf wrapping imparts an herbal, vegetal fragrance.

FAQs – Nicaraguan Nacatamales

What are the origins of nacatamales?

Nacatamales date back centuries to indigenous groups in Nicaragua and surrounding regions. They are considered one of Nicaragua’s national dishes along with gallo pinto and vigaron. Their name comes from the Nahuatl language spoken by Aztecs.

How long does it take to make nacatamales?

From start to finish, nacatamales take about 4-5 hours including cooking the pork, making the masa, and assembling and steaming the tamales. It’s best done over an afternoon when you have time.

What’s the difference between nacatamales and Mexican tamales?

While both are masa dough stuffed with fillings and steamed, nacatamales use rice in the masa, banana leaf wrappers, and typical Nicaraguan seasonings like recado rojo. They are larger and take longer to steam than Mexican tamales.

What kind of banana leaves work best in nacatamal?

Fresh or frozen banana leaves are ideal. Sturdy, pliable leaves work better than older brittle ones. If unavailable, parchment paper or aluminum foil can substitute. The banana leaf flavor will be missing.

Can I use instant masa instead in Nicaraguan Nacatamales?

You can, but the flavor and texture won’t be nearly as good. Instant masa lacks the complex corn taste since it skips the nixtamalization process. Making masa from masa harina is worth the effort.

Can I use plantain leaves?

While plantain leaves can be used as a substitute, the authentic flavor and aroma of Nacatamales are best achieved with banana leaves.

Is it necessary to use achiote paste?

Achiote paste adds a vibrant orange-red color and a subtle earthy flavor to the masa dough. However, it is optional, and you can omit it without compromising the taste.

Serving Homemade Nicaraguan Nacatamales

Nacatamales serve, pair, and decorate suggestions for an authentic and delightful feast:

Serving Suggestions for Nacatamales:

  • Nacatamales make a delicious main course, but can also be served as a hearty side dish. For a meal, serve 2-3 nacatamales per person.
  • Cut open the banana leaf wrapper and slide the nacatamal onto a plate. Top with a drizzle of oil or sauce.
  • For a more casual setting, place the wrapped nacatamales in a napkin-lined basket and allow guests to grab them with their hands.
  • Provide small plates, forks, and knives for guests to open and slice pieces of the nacatamal.
  • Spoon curtido, a tangy cabbage slaw, on the side to cut through the richness.
  • Top with crema, queso fresco or shredded cheese for added richness.

Pairing Suggestions:

  • Nicaraguan red beans make a great protein and flavor pairing.
  • Gallo pinto, the national rice and bean dish, is a typical side.
  • Fried sweet plantains or green bananas balance the savory flavors.
  • Fresh tortillas go well with nacatamales for dipping into salsas and drippings.
  • Iced horchata, a cinnamon rice milk drink, helps counter the spicy heat.
  • Nicaraguan coffee or hot chocolate are perfect morning companions.
  • Cold beers like Victoria or Toña provide refreshment.


  • Garnish the plate with sliced avocado, radish slices, lime wedges and fresh cilantro.
  • Top with pickled onions, jalapeños or shredded cabbage for crunch.
  • Drizzle with Mexican crema, queso fresco or crumbled cotija cheese.
  • Finish with a dusting of smoked paprika or chili powder.

With the right sides, sauces, and garnishes, nacatamales make for a colorful, textural, and crave-worthy feast!

How to Store and Reheat Nicaraguan Nacatamales?

Here are some tips for properly storing and reheating homemade nacatamales:


  • Allow nacatamales to cool completely before storing. Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • For longer storage, freeze cooled nacatamales in airtight freezer bags or containers for up to 3 months.
  • Wrap each nacatamal individually in plastic wrap or foil before freezing to prevent ice crystals forming.
  • Label bags or containers with contents and date to track freshness.
  • Refrigerate thawed nacatamales and use within 3-4 days. Do not refreeze after thawing.


  • Microwave: Unwrap nacatamal and place on microwave-safe plate. Microwave on High for 2-3 minutes, flipping halfway through. Check for hot spots.
  • Oven: Unwrap nacatamal, place on oven-safe dish and cover with foil. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes until thoroughly heated.
  • Steamer: Place wrapped nacatamal in steamer basket over boiling water. Steam for 15-20 minutes until hot.
  • Stovetop: Unwrap nacatamal and place in skillet with 1-2 tbsp broth or water. Cover and heat on medium-low, turning occasionally, for 15 minutes.
  • The masa should be softened and the filling warmed through when properly reheated. Be careful not to overheat or the nacatamal will become dried out.
  • Enjoy immediately or hold in a 200°F oven to keep warm for serving.

With proper storage and reheating, you can enjoy homemade nacatamales just like fresh for quick meals and leftover lunches. Simply reheat and add your favorite toppings before serving.

Country-wise variations of nacatamales

Nicaraguans enjoy nacatamales. Other Latin American countries make tamales with their own particular twists. They’re called “Nacatamales” in Nicaragua but taste similar elsewhere. Country-specific tamales like Nacatamales are:

El Salvador: “Tamales Salvadoreños,” like Nacatamales, employ masa dough and plantain leaves. They contain pork, poultry, potatoes, and vegetables. Achiote and annatto can be added to Salvadoreño tamales for color and flavor.

Honduras: Like Nicaragua, “nacatamales” are popular in Honduras. They are made of masa dough, pig, poultry, potatoes, rice, and spices. Wrapping with plantain leaves adds flavor.

Costa Rica: “Tamales Ticos” are a holiday staple in Costa Rica. Masa dough fills Tico tamales with pork, poultry, or vegetables. Banana leaves instead of plantain leaves give them a different taste.

Guatemala: Like Nicaragua, “tamales Guatemaltecos” are popular in Guatemala. Masa dough is filled with meats, veggies, and sometimes olives and capers. Banana or corn husks cover Guatemalan tamales.

Mexico: Tamales are a national cuisine with many regional variants. Though not called “Nacatamales,” they are prepared similarly. Chicken, pork, beef, and even chocolate and fruit fill Mexican tamales. Mexican cuisine includes these corn-husked dishes.

Belize: Like Nacatamales, “bollo” is a special occasion meal in Belize. Bollo is cornmeal dough stuffed with meats and spices and boiled in plantain or banana leaves.

I hope this comprehensive guide has helped explain the history, ingredients, and cooking process for making incredible Nicaraguan nacatamales from scratch. It does take time, but the reward of these hearty, fragrant bundles is well worth it. ¡Buen provecho!

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