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.

Spicy Meetball Pitas

I experimented with Sausage Style Gimme Lean first with “Meetloaf” because it had been a long time since I’d had a cold meatloaf sandwich, and that’s good picnic food on hot summer days. A variation on this that I came up with was meetballs, which I wrapped in foil with a bit of sauce and stuffed still warm into pita pocket bread when we went to the outdoor Shakespeare Festival last year. I sprinkled a bit of grated parmesan on top, too, though it hardly needs any embellishment. (The Bota box Cabernet went well with this, by the way.) Between the cold meetloaf and the spicy meetballs — both of which I’ve stuffed into pita bread on picnics — I think I’ve created the perfect vegetarian picnic food. 😀

1 pkg Sausage Style Gimme Lean
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp marjoram
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 6 oz can tomato paste
Oil for frying
Salt & pepper if desired

Mix tomato sauce, and all seasonings except salt and pepper in a medium saucepan, heat until it just begins to bubble. Dip out 1/2 cup of sauce and add to Gimme Lean and panko bread crumbs. Combine with a fork until homogenous. Shape into balls about 1-1 1/2″ in diameter. (Makes at least 16, maybe more if you’re better at guestimating the size than I am.)

Add tomato paste with equal amount of water to what’s left of the sauce (This makes the sauce milder than what went into the balls.) Simmer on low.

Fry balls in small batches in 1-2″ oil (just enough oil to cover when a batch is in). Remove when the outside is brown and put directly into the sauce. Stir so sauce coats the balls. When all of the balls are fried and stirred into the sauce, cover and simmer gently on low heat for 20 minutes.

I don’t usually make “meatballs” or “meetballs” when I make spaghetti, preferring to use Smart Ground in the sauce instead, however this recipe could easily be adapted to go with your spaghetti sauce by using your usual sauce recipe in making this. (This meetball recipe has more of a “kick” to it than my basic version of spaghetti sauce.)

Go Retro with Meetloaf!

Meet (adjective)
1. suitable; fitting; proper.

(Via, which surprisingly — and gratifyingly — did not note this as an archaic usage.)

Meatloaf when I was growing up was made with a jar of Ragu and saltine crackers (not to mention meat). I’m not sure what was used prior to the advent and discovery of prepared Ragu sauce. You could probably make the recipe below using a store-bought sauce, but I hit on the idea of making this meatless loaf (or “meetloaf” as it is “fitting, suitable, and proper” for vegetarians) after one time when I had some filling left from making stuffed bell peppers. I made it into a sandwich the next day, thinking that it reminded me of a cold leftover meatloaf sandwich.

So, if I want to have meetloaf (as I call this soy version) sandwiches, then I had to come up with a meatless loaf. I had used Smart Ground (from LightLife) for the stuffed bell pepper. Lightlife makes another soy meat substitute called Gimme Lean. I decided to try it because it comes in a tube, indicating that its texture is less crumbly than the Smart Ground and might hold together better. It’s very sticky. It comes in at least two versions: I use “Sausage Style” Gimme Lean for this recipe.

For the meetloaf I sauted a chopped onion in a small amount of olive oil, then added 1 15oz can of tomato sauce and a small amount of water (so the sauce doesn’t cook down and thicken too much). I then added 1 tsp marjoram, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp paprika,  and a pinch of hungarian hot paprika, and black pepper. If you want, you can run fresh garlic through a garlic press and saute it along with the onions. I simmered for at least 10 mins, maybe 15.

Combine the sauce with the Sausage Style Gimme Lean in a bowl. Stir and break up the soy thoroughly before added the 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs and 1 Tbls olive oil. Grease loaf pan with 1 Tbls olive oil. Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan and bake 350 for 1 hour. Let sit for 5-10 minutes after taking it out of the oven.

Meetloaf, cooling (slightly) on the counter before serving.

Meetloaf, cooling (slightly) on the counter before serving.

It’s good hot from the oven, but leftovers also make good cold sandwiches. Stuffed into pita pockets, it’s perfect picnic food for hot summer days. 🙂 If you want something warmer and spicier for those picnic pitas, try next week’s recipe for Spicy Meetball Pitas!