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Tamales, to me, are a food made with family, infused as much with spice and flavor as with the love and labor that is put into them. That said, these tamales, made with tamale flour, are simpler than you'd think. Here in Southern California, tamales can be found in a Mexican restaurant on every corner, but that fact made them no less impressive to the huge group that enjoyed them.
All over the Latin world, tamales are wrapped in both corn husks and banana leaves, each imparting its own flavor. The husk version reminds me of the social gatherings that took place in Mexico while my host family chatted in the kitchen, everyone adding their own bit -- more or less masa, heaping meat, or a minimal serving, tied husks or expertly folded -- they were a product of family and friends. Each person claimed that their tamale would be the tastiest, though we never knew who had crafted each one. Perhaps we just didn't care ... they were so delicious.
Thanks to the ancient Aztecs, from whom it seems tamales originated, these portable, tasty packages combine starchy corn masa and nutritious fillings that are packed with flavor. Mexican cooks, thankfully, carry on this tradition today, and are always certain to make an abundance -- everyone will want to bring some home.
So, on goes the tradition, my daughter in the kitchen with me, spreading the masa, then I add the topping (she didn't want to get her hands "dirty"), then into the sauna they go. A tamalera is your best bet for steaming, the fragrant process that cooks your tamales, and makes mouths water in anticipation.
Tamales can be filled with chicken, beef or pork for the carnivores, black beans or vegetables, or even served with sweet toppings as a dessert. This flavorful pork filling can be replaced, but I love the lightened up masa recipe, which can be used for vegetarian and meat-eating guests alike. Traditional tamale recipes call for lard as the fat, but canola oil replaces it for a much more convenient, already-in-your-pantry alternative.
Makes 16 tamales
2 cups Maseca or other instant tamale flour
1¼ cup warm water
¼ cup canola oil
1 tsp each paprika, garlic powder, chili powder and cumin
¼ tsp salt
1. Boil water in a kettle and pour in a pan. Add dried corn husks, soaking them for 30-45 minutes. After soaking, tear one or two husks lengthwise into 16 strips, to be used to tie the tamales together. Set your tamalera, or tamale steamer to boil on the stove with water a few inches below the basket.
Puerco a la Frontera
Makes enough for 16 tamales, plus leftover
2 lbs pork loin roast or pork shoulder
1½ tbsps cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
½ onion, chopped
½ can pickled serrano chiles or mild green chiles, peppers only, chopped
water to cover
Other recipes by Carolyn:
Camarones a la Criolla (Shrimp Creole Style)
Bistec Encebollado (Steak and Onions)
Coctel de Camarones (Shrimp Cocktail)
Tacos de Carnitas
Sopa de Lentejas (Lentil Soup)
Pan de Bono
Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Snapper Veracruz)
Mil Colones Stew
Mofongo Relleno de Camarones
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