Ideally, I would’ve posted this two or three days ago, when the timing was more appropriate. But y’know, stuff gets in the way. I’m sure he won’t mind…
So I realized the cusp of October and November will from now on be particularly special. Dad’s birthday is October 31st (Halloween!). And the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) takes place November 1st and 2nd. (Um, duh, Dad was Mexican.)
Among a bazillion other things (including but not limited to: how to drive, how to get achieve a good credit score, how to give an obviously homeless person something to eat, how to break someone’s nose should they attempt to molest me, etc.), Dad taught me how to make tamales.
It starts with love. Like the immediate love one feels for a rescue puppy…
Okay, sort of. And no, that’s not my puppy… But for reals, it starts with a very finely ground cornmeal known as masa. And traditionally, it is mixed with some kind of soup broth and… LARD. Ugh. Well, I don’t really mean that. When it comes to old-time standards, one would raise a happy pig, kill it (hopefully as quickly as possible), and use all parts of its body– meat, organs, fat,and bones. Food chain ethics, y’ know? That ain’t the case today :(
But I find non-hydrogenated palm shortening works. Try Spectrum. Or if you have an ethical source of lard…? I dunno, I eat lettuce for lunch, I’m not really the person to ask about this…
Anywho. Then the masa dough gets spread into soaked corn husks, and filled.
I filled the masa dough with roasted butternut squash and Mexican farmer’s cheese.
(In the last couple of years, Dad would frequently buy buy butternut squash for his rabbit girl.)
Then you wrap it up so the dough seals itself around the filling:
And tie it up, and steam it up.
Tequila shot, optional.
Basic Tamale Recipe
3 cups masa harina*
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
3 cups vegetable broth
25-30 dried corn husks, soaked in water for a couple of hours*
heatproof, food-safe twine or string (or if you want to deal with tying corn husk strings, be my guest)
filling of your choice, but nothing too runny
*You’ll probably have to go to a Latin or Mexican grocery store to find the masa harina and corn husks. If you want to try tying the tamales with the husk itself, once you’ve soaked them, take a few and just tear them into strips. It takes a little practice to efficiently tie a corn husk string, which is why I suggest twine. But whatever floats your boat.
1) In a small bowl, whisk together the masa and baking powder. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the shortening until fluffy. With a rubber or silicone spatula, start mixing in the masa. Once it’s getting too dry and difficult to mix, start mixing in the broth. You want to end up with a soft, kinda pasty dough, so add the broth gradually, until you have a good consistency.
2) Place a steamer basket at the bottom of a large, deep pot. The higher you can place the basket, the better, so if you want, put some kind of heavy objects that will survive being boiled underneath. Fill with water to just below the bottom of the basket.
3) Assemble the tamales. Spread a few tablespoons of dough onto the center of a corn husk. Your husks might be large enough to put more dough. Just make sure you stay in the center so the husk can fully wrap around. Leave enough empty husk at the bottom to be able to fold it up and tie. Place a bit your filling on the dough, just enough so that the dough will still be able to encase it. Wrap up the corn husk so the dough covers the filling. Fold the bottom tail up and tie it securely. You can leave the top open. Set aside and repeat until all your tamales are ready for steaming.
4) Place the tamales in the steamer basket, standing on their bottom. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and steam for about an hour, adding more water as necessary. They’re ready when the dough is firm.
Serve with sauces and sides of your choice– salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, guacamole, etc. For fillings, you can try spinach, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, different types of cheese, etc. Whatever you use, make sure it’s cooked already. You don’t want liquid seeping out the dough while the tamales steam.
This recipe makes enough to feed four people, maybe more, depending on appetites. You can store leftovers in the fridge or freezer, and heat in the oven. So it makes a good weekend project to be able to have tamales at your disposal. Awesome? Yes.
Oh, and Happy Belated Birthday, Dad.
P.S. These are by far the hottest chipotles I’ve ever tasted:
La Morena indeed…