Yesterday (the 16th) was the beginning of Las Posadas in Mexico. It is a nine day celebration where people travel from house to house carrying candles and singing traditional songs. Each house is suppose to refuse the pilgrims entrance until the final destination is reached (the house where the party is being held). It is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's troubles finding lodging on that Christmas Eve so long ago.
In honor of Las Posadas I am posting my Tamale recipe... I am also posting a link for a recipe for Champurrado ... which is a chocolate beverage that is often served with tamales at this time of year.
The Tamale Experience
Growing up in Texas it is impossible to escape Tex-Mex influences in diet and tradition. One of my favorite holiday traditions has always been consuming tamales in large quantity every Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. When I became a vegetarian I thought that this tradition had come to an end. While I am no longer a vegetarian I still enjoy and in fact prefer vegetarian tamales. In Texas there are a few commercial pre-made vegetarian tamales on the market, but for the most part tamales are made with lard and filled with pork. In central Mexico, however, I found that a mixture of chilies and cheese is a very popular fillings. However you like your tamales the following recipe will help you get started. Just remember tamale making is no easy task. It takes a lot of time and a lot of willing hands in the kitchen.
“The creation of tamales requires several key things: A kitchen with adequate counter space, several people with long attention spans who are willing and happy to work together, about 12 pounds of corn masa, whatever wild fillings you might come up with and a full day of HARD work.” Paul
12 lbs wet masa
2 cans of vegetable or chicken broth
plenty of vegetable oil, shortening or lard
6-6oz bags of corn shucks
2 T. chili powder
8 T. paprika
6 T. salt
2 T. garlic
2 C. water blended with jalapeno peppers, or just increase the broth
Fillings-prepare a day before and leave in fridge overnight.
LOTS of big cooking pans.
The day before: Prepare the filling. The traditional filling in Texas is shredded pork (you can even add in some raisins). You can also use seasoned pinto beans, New Mexico corn and zucchini, lentils (seasoned with chipolte peppers, onions and garlic), chilies and cheese (a common filling in Central Mexico), shredded chicken (for an interesting flair throw in some spinach, pine nuts and feta cheese), or refried beans… Just about anything goes.
Early the next day: Put the corn shucks in sink or tub filled with warm water. Weigh them down. Soak for a minimum of 2 hours. Save the shucks that are not big enough for tamales. They will be needed for steaming the tamales.
The Masa: Place the masa on the counter top or in a large mixing bowl. Mix the broth with oil to make approximately 8 cups (if you are using shortening or lard add them separately). Gradually add oils and broth to the masa. Sprinkle with the spices and add the jalapeno water. You want the masa to be a spreadable consistency. The main idea is to make it thin enough to spread, yet thick enough not to be sticky or unmanageable. You want to work air into the masa until it is smooth and fluffy. It is impossible to over mix.
Spreading: Assemble helpers around the table and continue the experience. Everyone should have a plate and a butter knife or a spoon. A friend’s mother had a special spreader, but I preferred to use a spoon Take a shuck and hold it in the palm of your hand with the small end up opening toward you. Take one heaping tablespoon full of masa… spread on lower 2/3 of the shuck. Concentrate most of the masa on the right 4 inches of the shuck. The thickness is determined somewhat by personal choice…Just don’t spread it so thin that you can see through the shuck.
Filling: Next spread the filling down the middle of the masa. Form an assembly line with some people spreading and others filling. The tamale is then rolled. The right side is folded over the filling and then the left (remember most of the masa should be in the right side…so you want it close to the filling.) Then fold the unfilled end over to the middle. A family I made tamales with rolls their tamales up like an enchilada. Both methods enclose the filling inside the masa so I guess how one does it is based on tradition and preference. Roll until you run out of masa. Use canned refried beans if you run out of fillings, or just make unfilled tamales to drop into soups and beans.
The Stacking and the Cooking: Spread some of the remaining corn shucks on the bottom of the pot or use a metal rack. Place a coffee mug open end down in the middle of the pot (this is unnecessary, but it makes it easier). Stand the tamales shoulder to shoulder (open end up) around the cup. After filling the pot with tamales, add 1 cup of water (you may need more or less depending on the size of the pot), cover the tamales with more shucks and put the lid on the pot. Steam for about an hour. You will need to add water throughout the cooking time. Don’t forget to check them often. The tamales will burn if you let the water evaporate completely, and after all that hard work there is nothing worse than burnt tamales. Tamales are ready to eat when the shuck peels away from the masa with ease. Cool for 10-15 minutes.
Eating Tamales: Tamales are best eaten straight out of the pot. Just make sure and peel the shuck off first. Tamales can also be frozen for future enjoyment. To reheat just steam or cook in a microwave.