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What's Cooking? - Posted December 25, 2015 9:48 a.m.
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Recipes courtesy of Roy and Betty Bara, La Fiesta Grande Mexican Restaurant Photos by Shannon Richardson

Homemade Holiday Tamales

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Almost every family has a favorite traditional Christmas dish, from a classic holiday ham to spicy shrimp gumbo to the much-maligned fruitcake. But in Texas and the American Southwest – as well as among Hispanic families throughout North America – Christmas means tamales. If it’s early December in Amarillo, that means it’s almost too late to place your tamale orders at some of the city’s most popular Mexican-food markets and restaurants.

Since part of the joy of holiday cooking is time spent in the kitchen with loved ones, why not branch out this year and make your own tamales at home? We asked Roy and Betty Bara, owners of Amarillo’s popular La Fiesta Grande Mexican Restaurant, to teach us how to prepare this ancient, beloved dish.


La Fiesta Grande Tamales
3 ½ pounds pork shoulder or pork butt, trimmed of fat and cubed
10 cups water
1 medium onion, quartered
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 ½ teaspoons salt
6 cups guaillo chile sauce
6 cups water
1 cup shortening or lard
3 pounds masa harina
½ teaspoons baking powder
50 dried corn husks (about 8 inches long)

In a 5-quart Dutch oven bring pork, water, onion, garlic and 1 ½ teaspoons salt to boil. Simmer covered, about 2 ½ hours or until meat is very tender. Remove meat from broth and allow both to cool. (Chilling broth will allow you to easily remove fat if you desire to do so). Shred meat using two forks; discard fat. Strain broth and reserve 6 cups. Prepare guajillo chile sauce. In sauce pan, place 6 guajillo dried chiles and 6 cups water. Boil on medium-high heat until chiles are soft. Remove from heat and let cool. Puree in food processor or blender until smooth; set aside. Soak corn husks in warm water for at least 20 minutes; rinse to remove any corn silk and drain well. In large sauce pan, heat half of the red chile sauce and add to meat; simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. To make masa beat shortening on medium speed in large bowl for 1 minute. In separate bowl stir together masa harina, baking powder and 2 teaspoons salt. Alternately add masa harina mixture and broth to shortening, stirring well after each addition. Add just enough broth to make a thick, creamy paste. Add chile mixture to masa to taste. To assemble tamales, spread 2 tablespoons masa mixture on center of corn husk. Each husk should be 8 inches long and 6 inches wide at the top. If husks are small, overlap 2 small ones to form one. If it is large, tear a strip from the side. Place about 1 tablespoon meat and sauce mixture in middle of masa. Fold in sides of husk and fold up bottom; squeeze end to close. Place mound of extra husks or a foil ball in center of steamer basket placed in a Dutch oven. Lean tamales in basket, open side up. Add water to Dutch oven just below basket. Bring water to boil and reduce heat. Cover and steam 40 minutes, adding water when necessary. To freeze for future meals, leave in husks and place in freezer bags. To serve thaw, wrap in wet paper towel, and reheat in microwave for 2 minutes for one or two, or re-steam just until hot.

Makes 50 tamales

Watch a step-by-step video.


Christmas Sangria
3 cinnamon sticks (plus more for garnish)
2 apples, chopped or sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
6 cloves
1 (750 ml) bottle red wine (like Real Sangria)
1 ¾ cups homemade apple cider or store-bought
½ cup brandy
Club soda
Optional: for sweeter sangria add 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar, honey or agave

Place cinnamon sticks, apples, cloves, wine, and orange slices in large pitcher; let sit for 6 to 24 hours. Once wine has steeped add apple cider and brandy. Taste. If you'd like it to be sweeter, add sweetner. If you'd like a cinnamon-sugar rim (recommended), moisten rim of glasses with water, turn upside down and dip into mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Pour in sangria with fruit over ice; add splash of club soda (this unsweetened fizz is wonderful with sangria!). Garnish with cinnamon stick, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Meet the Cooks: The Bara family


When Roy and Betty Bara moved to Amarillo in the early 1980s, there were very few Mexican food restaurants – authentic or Tex-Mex – in the area. They opened their first La Fiesta Grande Mexican Restaurant location in 1983, across from the T-Anchor Flea Market on Ross Street. In those early years at the original location, Roy would cook while Betty waited tables.

A few years later, in 1987, the family expanded into southwest Amarillo with a La Fiesta near 45th Avenue and Bell Street. After that, they moved the original location a few blocks down Ross, south of I-40. “Those were very good moves for us, and doubled our business overnight,” Roy says. By 2000, La Fiesta had transplanted its southwest Amarillo location to a new building at 7415 SW 45th Ave.

“We were kind of a groundbreaker back then, because Amarillo was considered a smaller market,” Roy remembers. That’s not the case anymore. Today, La Fiesta faces competition in every direction. “Especially in west Amarillo, within a mile of our location there’s a Mexican food restaurant every which way you look,” he says. “And everyone does well.”

For the Bara family, the restaurant remains a family business. Their daughter, Jennifer, manages the Ross Street location, while daughter Ashley Bara Paredes serves as La Fiesta’s marketing director and catering specialist.

“The Hispanic culture is big on family and family get-togethers,” says Roy, who was born and raised in Muleshoe. “My mom did a lot of cooking all the time. They didn’t really have a restaurant or a commercial kitchen, but my grandmother tells stories of how they used to go out into the fields and sell tamales and burritos. Mexican food was really popular back then.”

Today, nearing retirement, both Roy and Betty volunteer for a number of local organizations and are considered prominent leaders in the local Hispanic community. He says the success of the family restaurant is just an extension of the foundation his parents laid back in Muleshoe. “I thought we could follow in their footsteps,” he says. “We love what we do. It’s all we know how to do, but we love it.”

In this issue, Betty Bara shares her family recipe for tamales, using traditional stone-ground masa and other authentic ingredients. “In our culture, every family has their own tamale recipe,” Roy says. “They might be different in one or two ingredients, but every one of them is really delicious.”

The Christmas sangria recipe is another family favorite. “It’s a traditional sangria wine, but mixed with some Christmas flavors you usually find in a hot drink,” says Paredes. “These are in a cold drink, which throws your palate for a loop.” She says the Christmas sangria isn’t served at either of the restaurants – at least not yet – but is simply a favorite enjoyed by the family

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
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