Tamales (singular Tamal, thank you Lin Robinson) is a traditional Mexican dish, I always think of the vendors selling them at the border as we waited to cross back into America, the corn husk wrapper makes them great street food. The history of tamales goes back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. The essential dish, a steamed masa dough stuffed with a filling and wrapped in a corn husk, is open to interpretation, the stuffing can be sweet or savory, based on meats, cheeses, fruits, or vegetables. Aztec variations included turkey, flamingo, frog, pocket gopher, rabbit, turkey eggs, bees, honey, fruits, squash, and beans, today tamales are typically beef or pork, although the Mexican place across the street in South Philadelphia also made them with nopales, or prickly pear cactus. The filling in this recipe is vegetarian, but you can adapt any filling you prefer.
Preparation is time consuming but not difficult, expect to spend three hours putting this together. There are a few unusual ingredients so you’ll want to shop ahead of time, and if you don’t have a large steamer you can make one with a large dutch oven and a colander. Using a food processor to make the dough makes life easier.
2 cups masa flour
2 sticks of butter, cubed
1/2 cup broth (I use a diluted mole (sauce, not the rodent) instead of broth)
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups corn (thawed frozen corn works)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I use Queso Fresco, but Ricotta salata or even cheddar can be used)
4 ounces (and to taste) diced Roasted chiles (I used a mix of canned chipotles in adobo and a pablano I roasted myself)
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and sliced
2 portobello mushrooms, gills removed and diced to 1/4 inch cubes
1 small red onion diced
Soak the corn husks in water, they should be soft and pliable. They’re a little like working with phyllo dough in that they dry quickly.
In a food processor, blend the corn and 1 cup of cheese until it is a rough meal consistency. Add the butter, masa, and baking powder, process to a crumbly dough. Add the broth and mix until smooth.
In a bowl, mix the remaining cheese, chiles, tomatoes, mushrooms and onion.
Make a patty of dough about the size of your hand. Place the patty on a corn husk then put about a tablespoon of filling on the patty, and fold the patty around the filling. Roll the corn husk over the dough and fold in the ends. Tear strips from one corn husk to use as ties to hold tamales closed. Place tamales in steamer for thirty minutes or freeze them for later.
A large dish or bowl with wrapped tamales is a festive presentation, serve remaining chiles and mole as condiments, as well as your favorite salsas. Good side dishes are yellow rice (add 3/4 tsp tumeric, 1/4 tsp cumin. and a dash of cinnamon for each cup of dry rice to the water when making rice) and refried beans (we prefer black beans, adding whole beans to refried beans gives a heartier texture). A dark beer works well with this meal, Modelo Negro would be authentic, we had a chocolate stout last night that went with this very well.