Christmas Tamales

Christmas Tamales, one still wrapped, one unwrapped with a splash of sauce.

Christmas Tamales, one still wrapped, one unwrapped with a splash of sauce.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican or Latin American Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day meal. Big families often spend a day preparing massive quantities of tamales assembly-line fashion for the holidays. If you don’t have a huge family, it doesn’t take all day (or night). The thing that takes the most time is cooking: the tamales must be steamed for an hour (some recipes call for boiling them). If you’re making more than a dozen and have only one double-decker bamboo steamer, then you have to cook multiple batches. Add to this the time soaking the corn husks, and you should plan on the whole thing taking a few hours from prepping the husk to the plate.

The recipe below makes about 21-24 tamales. That’s 2 batches in a double-decker steamer for an hour each, plus prep time. It takes a bit of time, but not all day — and you’re not in the kitchen the whole time. That’s enough for 7 servings of 3 apiece.

I’ve tagged this post “Tex-Mex” because I’m not Mexican or of Hispanic descent, but rather a Texan. This is my version of this classic dish. 🙂

1 6 oz pkg corn husks
1 pkg Gimme Lean sausage style soy
4 Tbls chili powder
2 Tbls cumin
1.5 – 2 tsp ancho powder
1 poblano pepper
1 small onion
Masa (aka masa harina)
Baking powder
Vegetable shortening

To prepare husks:
Boil for 10 mins, then weigh with plates and let soak for at least an hour. The package contains way more husks than needed. Some husks may not look good so sort and cook as many as needed; handle the dry husks carefully and try not to tear them.

While husks are soaking, prepare the filling, then the masa.

For filling:

Slice and de-seed 1 poblano pepper, slice in strips. Peel and slice the small onion. Simmer the pepper and onion in 4-5 cups of water until the onions are translucent and the pepper strips tender. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, reserving all the liquid. Puree onion and pepper in blender with 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

To prepare filling:

Mix Gimme Lean, chili powder, and cumin with a fork or (pastry blender). Add pepper and onion puree, stirring and mixing well until it’s homogenous.

To prepare Masa:

3 1/2 cups masa
2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 – 2 tsp ancho powder
1 cup (or more if needed) reserved cooking liquid

Mix masa, salt, baking powder, and ancho powder. Cut in shortening until it is evenly incorporated. This will makes a soft mealy mixture. To this add 1 1/2 cups of the still hot liquid the pepper and onion were cooked in. Mix well with the fork, and then with your hands until it makes a soft — not wet — dough. It should have just enough moisture to hold together (not too crumbly), but not be wet or sticky. I think this dough works because it has enough shortening that given an ounce of encouragement it will hold together and it may pull moisture from the husk, and the comparatively wet filling. Also steaming is a cooking method that ensures that whatever you’re cooking will be moist, not dried out. So don’t worry about the dough not being especially wet.

Remove the corn husks from the hot water with tongs. Press a strip of the masa dough just to the left of the center of the husk, spreading it out so that it’s about 4 inches wide and doesn’t go all the way to the top or bottom of the husk. (The ends will be tucked under.)

Spoon (or I use the fork still) one small scoop of the filling in the center of the masa, leaving all edges clear. For a particularly big husk/masa patch you may use more than a forkful. Roll the tamale left to right, rolling the filling up in the masa dough and corn husk.

Tuck ends under when placing the tamales in the bamboo steamer. Steam over a big pot of water for 1 hour. Using a bamboo steamer with two levels, I have to do this in two batches. I can fit about a dozen in the first batch, then steam the rest in the second batch.

Makes approximately two dozen tamales.

I like these plain, as is, but if you want you can dress the finished tamales with a prepared salsa or a light tomato sauce. Here’s what I make:

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatos
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
2 Tbls fried onion flakes
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried cilantro (adjust amount to taste if you use fresh)

Simmer covered over a low heat about an hour.

If you want to serve “Spanish-style” rice as a side dish, prepare plain rice your usual way, then stir in a bit of this sauce a spoonful at a time until it looks right to you.


One thought on “Christmas Tamales

  1. I have always wanted to try making tamales, but I am wary of using shortening (even if it is vegetable). But I doubt there are any suitable substitutes…

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