Oh, how quickly a week goes by.  The boys have been here nearly that long and we’ve done all we could.  There was a caroling party with mulled wine by the outdoor fireplace, chill-out time to watch old favorite movies or play at the beach, and a big-bang, Mexican feast birthday dinner.

For festive occasions, I often plan to make homemade tamales.   It is probably partly because I know I can put on a huge pot of pinto beans, braise some falling-off -the bone meats, and simply add a really tasty cooked salsa and a salad and I’ve got the meal.  Then, it’s the little tamale packages that make it special and just a couple per person adds enough of the corny side dish to bring the whole plate of flavors together.
When you make tamales, you have to enlist an assembly-line of recruits.  This is double fun, however, because as you facilitate and begin to steam them off, you get to enjoy all of the hilarious conversation amongst the filler, wrapper, tiers.

Many, many years ago, I bought a cookbook called The Kingston Hotel Cafe  Cookbook.  The subtitle of the book  free-spirited recipes to warm the soul is accurate to the type of recipes within:  inventive takes on comfort foods.
From Judith Weinstock I learned two things about making tamales.  First, for the liquid, use a puree of milk and whole kernel corn to give the tamales some fresh kernel liveliness.  And second, use butter instead of lard.  Lard alone might be the reason many people don’t attempt tamales.  Just use butter instead of lard.  Consequently, this also makes the tamales appealing to vegetarians.
I don’t have my Kingston Hotel Café Cookbook at hand, but I’ve adapted a standard tamale recipe and have had great results.  Making the dough is the main deal.  From there, you can fill them with the smallest amounts of whatever you have that is delicious:  cheese (my favorite is actually goat’s cheese), cooked meat, or roasted vegetables.  You can make up your own fiery salsa (I prefer a cooked one) or even buy an artisan-quality premade jar.  The main point is to get your storytellers around your kitchen counter where tamales will fly.
1 bag of dried corn husks
4 cups masa harina
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups milk
2 cups whole corn (canned and drained, frozen, or fresh from the cob)
1 cup butter, softened
Go through the dried cornhusks, separate them and discard the silk, be careful since the husks are fragile when dry. Soak them in a sink filled with warm water for 30 minutes to soften. 
In the bowl of a mixer, combine the masa harina, baking powder, and salt.  Add softened butter and incorporate well.
In a blender, puree the milk and whole corn kernels.  Add to the masa and beat until the dough has a spongy texture.
Rinse, drain , and dry the corn husks. Set them out on a sheet pan covered by a damp towel along with the bowl of masa dough and your filling.  Start with the largest husks because they are easier to roll. Lay the husk flat on the countertop with the smooth side up and the narrow end facing you. Spread a thin, even layer of masa over the surface of the husk with a tablespoon dipped in water. Do not use too much! Add about a tablespoon of the filling in the center of the masa. Fold the narrow end up to the center then fold both sides together to enclose the filling.  The sticky masa will form a seal.  Alternatively, you can roll it like a cigar and tie the ends with string


Stand the tamales up in a large steamer or colander with the pinched end up. Load the steamer into a large pot filled with 2-inches of water. The water should not touch the tamales. Lay a damp cloth over the tamales and cover with lid. Keep the water at a low boil,  checking periodically to make sure the water doesn’t boil away. Steam the tamales for 20 minutes to an hour, depending on size.  The tamales are done when the inside pulls away from the husk. The tamale should be soft, firm, and not mushy. 
To serve, unfold the husk and spoon about a tablespoon of salsa on top.

          This concludes the home cooking segment of my blog for the year.  I now switch into travelogue mode where you can expect to read about Christmas markets and opera houses in Germany, castles in Prague, and my quest for the best darn pierogi in Poland.  Lots of fun to come.

2 thoughts on “Tamales

  1. Loved your post,and all that was wrapped up in it.My, oh my, best wishes for finding the best pierogis in Krakow! After all, it is comfort and joy we're looking for this holiday season, isn't it?

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