Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tamales, Tamales!

A few days ago, I had a vision for making tamales while I was driving back from dropping Adam off at school. I had gotten very far in my masa-filled fantasy when I remembered that, in fact, I had to work late and would be having dinner at work. Alas!

The desire for tamales remained, and the next time we did our shopping for the week, supplies were purchased. I would say that I have room for improvement with this recipe, but I think you can do better than I. For one, I was too impatient with my olive oil (and think I'm going to use corn or peanut oil next time) and didn't let it completely solidify. You'll understand later. The filling, though? Yum. 

Tamales with Pan-Roasted Vegetables:
Corn Husks
3 cups dry masa harina
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed and pulsed in the food processor
1 cup neutral oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder

2 Mexican squashes/calabacitas or 1 zucchini, julienned
1/2 red onion, sliced 
1 1/2 bell peppers of your choice (though green is not recommended), sliced
1 small poblano pepper, sliced really thinly
3 stocks green onion, cut into 2 inch pieces
3 ounces crimini mushrooms, cut into largish pieces
Approx. 1/2 tsp. each garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, Sriracha
Salt and pepper, to taste

Begin by rinsing your corn husks and soaking them in warm water, at least 3 hours before you plan to assemble your tamales. 

Next, prepare your oil. Now, tamales are traditionally made with lard, a fat with a very different texture than your common household oil. In order to even come close to a lard-like texture, the oil needs to solidify in your freezer. This is going to take a while - I would even give yourself 2 hours of potential hardening time, as the one hour that Bittman suggested wasn't even close. As to vessels for containing your oil, I went down the flattened freezer bag route, but would also recommend a Pyrex pan lined with Parchment paper for easy removal.

Once your oil is well on its way, prepare your vegetables as indicated above.

Saute your vegetables over medium-high heat until they are well-cooked and have taken on good color. This technique is is the same as used in the Roasted Tofu and Vegetable Enchiladas.

Next prepare your corn masa, by combining the dried masa flour, salt, baking powder, and the chopped corn in a bowl and mixing well. 

Next, transfer this mixture into your food processor and add in the cubed oil, pulsing well until the oil mixes in and the color of your dough lightens considerably. Here you can see the telltale signs of insufficiently hardened oil in my processor bowl. Le sigh. 

Once all of your filling mixtures are prepared, dry some corn husks and begin filling, first spreading the corn mixture over a four-inch square section of corn husk, and then adding a good portion of the vegetable filling in the center area of corn mixture. Wrap the corn husks tightly, and tie off the ends with kitchen string.

Prepare a steamer and steam your tamales for 35-40 minutes. Let the tamales cool for about 5 minutes before unwrapping. 

Serve it up with whatever sides you fancy. We went for some home-cooked black beans, and topped everything off with a squeeze of lime juice.

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