Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bean and Cheese Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa

Yesterday was Mexican Independence Day, and I was craving tamales, so that was as good of an excuse as any to make them. Tamales are a bit labor intensive, so normally I make them on special occasions. Also I typically make a big batch and freeze the extras if I am not making them for a party. Yesterday though, I only made small batch of a dozen.

The reason I was craving tamales was because of the September issue of Gourmet Magazine. It has some wonderful looking grilled tamales on the cover, and the entire issue focuses on Latin American cuisine. If you haven't seen the issue, I recommend checking it out. Not many of the recipes are vegetarian though. The cover tamale recipe, for instance, contains lard. But, I think I could adapt the recipe to be vegetarian. It would certainly be worth a try, as it looks delicious.

1. To make corn tamales, the first thing to do is to soak corn husks in warm or hot water for at least thirty minutes, usually longer is needed. The husks need to be well hydrated and pliable. I soak mine in my sink and put a dish drainer on top to keep the husks submerged, seen above. Note, I soaked way more husks than I needed out of habit, forgetting I was making a small batch.

2. While the husks are soaking, prepare the tamale filling, if you are going to use a filling. I used refried black beans and shredded cheese. There are so many ways to make vegetarian tamales, and I will share more recipes in the future.

3. If you don't have access to a tortilleria where you can buy freshly made masa dough, you can make your own tamale dough. Actually, making your own masa may be the only way to ensure that it is vegetarian, as tamales commonly contain lard. Below is the recipe I used for these 12 tamales. [Click here for an alternate vegetarian masa recipe for a bigger batch]

Masa for Vegetarian Tamales
makes 12

1 cup masa harina (I used Maseca brand corn flour)
1/2 cup yellow corm meal (I used Arrowhead Mills brand organic)
1 cup (low sodium if possible) vegetable broth
1/2 cup warm water (or more if needed for the right consistency: dough should be well hydrated)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Nama Shoyu or Tamari or low sodium Soy Sauce

Keep masa covered with a wet towel so it doesn't dry out while forming the tamales.

4. Now put water in the bottom of a large steaming pot, set in the steaming basket, cover, and put it to boil. When the water starts boiling, turn to low and keep simmering, covered.

5. To make the tamale bundles: take one corn husk at a time out of the sink, rinse if needed, and set down on work surface. Place two spoons of masa on the corn husk and pat down to form a rectangle. Place one or two spoons of filling in the middle of the masa. See photo above. Then fold the long ends of the corn husks to the center over the masa, and when the sides meet, the masa will enclose the filling. Then fold the short ends of the husks toward the center of the bundle. Tie the bundles closed with either strips of torn corn husks or with string. I find it is easier to use string. Really you only need to put the string around the fattest part of the bundle.

6. As you make the tamales, you can either keep them under a wet towel so they don't dry out, or you can just place them one by one into the steam pot. I usually just keep adding them to the pot. Be sure not to burn yourself as the steam escapes.

Here you can see I am putting tamales into my steam pot. Some of the bundles are secured using two strings to make a perfect rectangles. Others I only tied a string around the fat bottom portion of the tamale and left the top flap unfolded. Either way works, as long as the tamale is sitting in the basket on its end that is secured. This is to make sure the tamale dough won't fall out of the bottom of the corn husk.

7. Let the tamales steam, covered, for about an hour. Make sure there is always water in the bottom pot as they are cooking. Add more water to the bottom if needed. Sometimes it can take an hour and a half to completely cook them.

8. You can test if they are done by taking one out of the pot and opening the corn husk. You don't need to untie the strings, they will slip off the ends if you push them off. If the tamale holds together and isn't sticking to the corn husk, it is done.

9. Serve in the corn husks, and let your guests unwrap the bundles as they eat them. They will stay warm that way. Top them with your favorite salsa if desired. I used tomatillo salsa.


Amy said...

Wow, those look tasty. I've never actually had a tamale - I haven't ever seen vegetarian ones! Where do you get corn husks? Can they be made in something else? (I dunno - foil, wax paper...?)

Kathleen said...

I don't know about where you live, but in Florida, I am able to find corn husks with the Mexican/Latin American foods, in the ethnic foods isle, of my local grocery chain(Publix). Also, they are sold in the small Mexican and Latino grocery markets. I have even seen them at our farmer's market.

I have seen tamales wrapped in foil and waxed paper. Haven't tried it myself, but I have seen it done. Also, banana leaves are very popular to use. Actually banana leaf tamales are my favorite, as they add such a nice flavor. I have a banana tree in my yard, so I will be making tamales with my leaves and will post them on this blog eventually. I can find packages of frozen banana leaves in the freezer section of the Mexican/Latino markets. Asian markets sometimes also carry them. The trick with banana leaves is that you need to soak and then heat them to get them pliable. There are usually instructions for doing that on the package. Hopefully in English...

I am sure that you could also find dry corn husks online, and they are very light, so probably wouldn't cost much to mail.

Amy said...

Cool, thanks for the info! I will hunt around and see what I might find (I live in New Orleans).

Kathleen said...

Hi Amy! New Orleans, cool. In the same Gourmet magazine they talk about the recent popularity of taco trucks in that area and that they serve great food. (Didn't sound very vegetarian though). So, if you don't have luck finding the husks in the markets you know, you could try asking the taco truck cooks where they get their ingredients.

Amy said...

Yeah, apparently the taco trucks really filled a need when the restaurants were gone... now restaurants are back or coming back and there's some controversy about allowing the taco trucks to stay (I think they should be allowed to - why not?).

I also just remembered there's a Hispanic lady at the farmer's market. Although she makes Mexican cheeses, she might know where to buy corn husks too.


Amy said...

Believe it or not... I was in Walmart yesterday (not a lot of choices with shopping here) and happened upon corn husks! $2.50 for a little bag. Next week I will try tamales with your recipes.

Amy said...

Believe it or not... I was in Walmart yesterday (not a lot of choices with shopping here) and happened upon corn husks! $2.50 for a little bag. Next week I will try tamales with your recipes.