Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Making Tamales

Making TamalesWhen Grace was about ten she was into the American Girl books and discovered their line of matching cook books, each one with instructions for making food suitable for each character's heritage. How glad I was that one of the girls had Mexican ancestors because otherwise we would have been stuck eating things like hasty pudding. Hmmmm . . .

But as it was Grace wanted to make all the Mexican food Josephina ate and that meant tamales. I'd never made them before and I had this vague notion that they were really, really hard and time consuming because I'd heard about little old women standing in hot kitchens, making tamales all day long for the evening meal.

Apparently I was misinformed because they're really, really easy. As in pie. Grace makes them up and we slurp them right down and we're all very happy about the situation.

Making TamalesAnyway, all a tamale is is a batch of cornmeal dough, usually a combination of masa, lard and water, wrapped around a bit of slow cooked and savory meat spiced with chilies which is tied up inside a dried corn husk just like a little Christmas package and steamed to perfection.

When you unwrap them the cornmeal dough has cooked around the meat and it's oh so tasty. I cook them in my vegetable steamer but you can use any kind of steamer to do the job. I've seen all sorts of recipe variations too--some using mushrooms and some using vegetables--I've actually got this theory that you could make sweet versions, maybe with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled in the dough and a bit of caramel or jam or sliced apples in the middle. I don't see why you'd be limited to just beef and chilies--cornmeal has a certain amount of sweetness as it is so putting applesauce or even some chocolate in there shouldn't be too off-putting.

Anyway, here's Grace's recipe.

For the dough:
6 cups masa harina
5 cups warm water or chicken broth
2 cups lard or shortening
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix masa with water or broth and let set for 20 minutes to soften. Then with mixer mix in the rest of the ingredients until it's a dough consistency.

For filling:
3 cups shredded beef
8 large roasted chiles- skin, seeds and veins removed and coarsely chopped.
1 white onion- peeled and coarsely chopped.
6 cloves of garlic- peeled and crushed.
1 jalapeno- seeded and diced
1 cup homemade chile sauce or store bought.

Roast the above ingredients in a casserole dish at about 300 degrees for several hours until nice and fragrant.

To prepare the tamales, soak dried corn husks (you can get them at the Mexican section of the supermarket) in warm water for about ten minutes. Then dry them and put a couple tablespoons of the masa dough in the husk. Spread it out a bit then put a spoonful of filling in the middle and cover it with the dough. Wrap the corn husk around the package as you see here and tie with a strip of corn husk.

Steam them for about 90 minutes. To eat, you unwrap them and enjoy the treat inside. Serve with a bit of reserved sauce or you can freeze them for later.


I had this awful moment yesterday when I realized that I completely spaced drawing a winner for last weekend's Sugarhouse Ink giveaway. So today I've got two winners to announce. First, Norma was the winner of the $50 gift certificate to Sugarhouse Ink and then Sondra was the winner of the $60 Mikarose gift certificate. So sorry to have slacked off.

Sponsored by Beau-Coup for unique baby shower favors.


Shannon said...

They are time consuming when you make enormous numbers of tamales for Christmas (tamales for Christmas is a south Texas tradition). The work is made easier by having a tamale party where every pitches in with the work. The last tamale party I went to we made 120 DOZEN tamales to e split between 6 households. Took a while and several pitchers of margaritas to get all those done but Oh were they good!

Mom24 said...

They've always intimidated the heck out of me, and frankly after reading this, they still do. ;-) I trust you though, so I've bookmarked these and am vowing to give them a try.

Mom24 said...

Do you really use lard? I can't imagine, yet from what I've read, that should contribute the best flavor. Also, 2 cups of lard/shortening? I'm no health nut, but that is a little off-putting. : )

Shannon said...

Was just looking over your post when I noticed you mentioned sweet tamales. A coworker of mine used to bring in sweet tamales that had raisons, cinnamon and nuts in the filling. She was originally from Mexico and said that was how the tamales were made where she grew up. You could probably find recipes with a quick google search.

Mom24 said...

Okay, last one, I promise, sorry. When you steam them, do you just pile them all on top of another, or do you have to do them in batches? Thanks. I'm looking forward to trying these.

Unknown said...

I am glad you people up north are enjoying tamales. We eat them wrapped in banana leaves in Honduras, and it's a MUST for Christmas.

RoeH said...

You've made my most favorite thing to eat. When you live in Arizona, you learn to love 'em and find the places where they are the most wonderful. Like Safford, Arizona. When I was in CA for two years in 2005-2007 (okay 18 months...it just seemed two years :) a South American woman made me some Columbian tamales. They were very different from what I was used to, but very very tasty. She gave me many to take home and I ate every single one.

The Source said...

Thanks for posting this! I've always wanted to try making tamales, but thought they would be too hard! Now I have no excuse not to give it a go.

Scribbit said...

I know how lard has that bad rep and while I certainly wouldn't eat tons of it (or butter either for that matter) in many ways it makes me feel better than Crisco, which is all manufactured stuff. So I guess it's kind of a give and take--it needs fat so which do you use? For flavor it's lard every time but I suppose the key is not gorging on them, right?

Janelle said...

The reason you hear about them being so time-consuming is because traditionally, when Mexican women make tamales, they make tamales. They make dozens and dozens and dozens of them. Meat ones, cheese ones, chile pepper ones, sweet corn ones, grape ones, pineapple ones, strawberry ones, you name it. (Okay, the sweet/fruit ones are primarily a Christmas/holiday tradition.) When you're making several varieties and making dozens of them, they take a long time.

Thanks for the shortened single-meal proportions, though! I have a question on the second set of ingredients -- what's the difference between the roasted chiles and the jalapeƱo?

Scribbit said...

I believe roasted are like ancho chilies, red and bigger, but jalepenos are small and green and less potent because they're not fully ripe. But I'd have to Google it, I'm not chili expert.

cd0103 said...

Sweet tamales are actually very popular in parts of Mexico.

Here is one recipe.


Heart2Heart said...


Finally a way to make what I love about Christmas! Homemade Tamales! We usually have a friend make them and she is so super busy during the holidays. Now I can give her a break!

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Oldfangled said...

Interesting -- I always thought tamales were hard to make, too!

Jackie @ Lilolu said...

This came at a perfect time. My mother and I have been wanting to try a Tamale recipe. It looks yummy.

Alison Kelley said...

I've always wanted to try making tamales, thanks so much for sharing this recipe! My husband just loves them so much, I think I may surprise him one of these days and make them for him.

Robyn said...

I'm in New Mexico, and for some reason I don't understand, people are just gaga for tamales at the holidays. I think they're kind of blah. I never understood the appeal!

* said...

Homemade tamales are the best. We have some dear friends who make them every New Years Eve. They are fun and so tasty!

threesidesofcrazy said...

I'd always heard they were time consuming too, but then of course found out that those ladies made hundreds at a time.

I have a dessert tamale recipe somewhere that I haven't made in years,but am inspired to dig out now.

I'm back among the living and just popping in to say hello.