Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nothing says Christmas like TAMALES

Hello everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back with a delicious dish that I've adopted.

I had tamales when I was younger, maybe once or twice, but since hubby is from waaaayyyyy down South, I've learned to enjoy them a lot more often. Like, at least once a month from the 'tamale lady' who goes door to door in our neighborhood. And at Christmastime.

Making tamales is a labor-intensive process and I'd tried it once before. Once. That tells you something. It was a tamale fail.

But I was ready to try it again.

Because hubby really loves tamales. And misses his family. And feels very far from home this time of year. So, I went to our local big box store and bought this...
You can't make tamales without a special pot. Well, you can try. but I'd been down that road before and I was ready to put my money in with my desire to make some edible ethnic food.
There's the insert on the inside. It comes out, and you fill it with water up to that line. The lid is glass and has a special little hole for steam. So it doesn't explode.
Corn husks. Because otherwise it's just not right.
And a bag of masa instante FOR TAMALES. Now, while I was in the store, I grabbed a bag labeled 'masa' and was going to put it in my cart.

 A Hispanic woman in the aisle next to me, shook her head and said in Spanish, 'No, that's for tortillas.' She took it back out of my cart and put it on the shelf. Then she grabbed THIS bag and put it in my cart. Then she patted me on the shoulder and said, 'Buena suerte'. ('Good luck')

  My daughters were cackling at this exchange. True, I did have a big tamale pot, pork, seasonings, and corn husks. But still. I was a little startled at her powers of deduction.

  And I almost followed her home. I just love bossy old ladies. LOVE THEM. She saved our tamales. Bless her. I wonder if she'd adopt me if I asked nicely.
Here's the pork coming out of the oven. It's very spicy, or seasoned, because it's going to be wrapped in bland mush.  Doesn't that look delish??? Mmmm. So, 2 tsp black pepper, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp oregeno, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder mixed in a bowl for every 4 pounds of meat, sprinkled over the top in one layer. Bake at 350F for sveral hours or until cooked to death.

I used pork because hubby asked for that or 'cabeza' which is cow head.

I was not cooking a cow head. Nuh-uh.

(Kav, dear, I also made sundried tomato and cheese tamales and they were delicious! I thought I got pictures, but noooo. Just hunks of meat photos. So use your imagination. For those I mixed 2 c grated cheese and 1 c. sundried tomatoes and 2 tsp salt, then added it to the masa mix. Perfectly not spicy for the little guys.)

I like a bit of chile flavor but not too hot, so I added 1/2 cup of this to the pork. Hubby can add his own burn-your-lips-off salsa.

Make the masa according to the package instructions (which includes butter, salt, baking powder, 5 cups of chicken stock.). It says mix by hand. Ick. Edna was laughing the whole time. So barbaric of me.
After we've washed, soaked and dried the corn husks, we're ready to assemble. Spread the masa mix in the center and add the meat. Roll completely and fold. If it's the veggie version you can just spread a layer of the mix and roll.

Oooh, helpers. This should go really quickly. I think.

Some people layer the tamales flat, like so. Some put them end down, with the open end at the top. But my mother in law lays them flat, so therefore THEY MUST LAY FLAT. You know we don't mess with the family recipes. It would cause marital strife.
Let them steam (simmer) for one hour or a little less. Until I took them out of the pot, I wasn't sure if they'd even turn out. But the angel of the big box food aisle had rubbed some of her tamale magic on me and TA-DAH! Edible tamales!!
Mmmm, time to eat. The good thing about tamales is that they freeze well. So I've heard. Ours were gone the next day, but I think they save well in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for several months.
And for dessert, fresh pineapple! Num.

 I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas full of peaceful time with family and many blessings.

 See you again next week when Edna returns from her vacation and insists on making an impossible dessert. Because she's that type of girl. Demanding the impossible. And getting results.

Until next time!


  1. do you eat the corn husk? Never really had mexican except something wrapped up in something and it wasn't spicy.

  2. Nope, corn husks are just to keep the insides from falling out. And it helps the breading steam nicely so it's not wet or gooey.

    But your comment reminded me of watching my husband eat an ice cream cone when we first met. He threw the cone away and I asked him why. He didn't know you could eat it! It does look sort of like styrofoam, I suppose!

  3. LOL -- I was going to ask the same thing as Jenny -- about the corn husks.

    Thanks for the vegetarian option! :-) I've never had tamales. Trying to figure out how they differe from tortillas. Are they a little more bready? Or is it because you cook the filling inside the dough part at the same time? Does that question make sense?

    Glad Edna is enjoying her vacation and so kind of you to keep her entertained!

    1. Well, think of bread in a loaf and dumplings. It's steamed bread, so it has that sort of texture, but it's also from corn, so there's the added flavor. Sort of like a cornbread peppery dumpling. Should be fluffy and soft, and very flavorful!

      Yes, Edna got quite the work out last night. :) Pictures to follow.

  4. I learned the hard way about the husks..sigh..broke 3 plastic forks until I gave up and tossed the husk away - found out later it wasn't supposed to be eaten. thought they were just tough! only recently started liking them but it's a lot of mush - they take stretching the meat to a whole new level! guy at work used to sell them and coworker would get cheese and pepper and they were soooo good! had tomato and cheese too a long time ago and they were good. the guys at wrok also make 'dessert' tamales - pink colored with raisins or pineapple - not too sweet but not the regular kind though they're in husks and have the mushy stuff around them.
    Kav the ones I've had have a lot of 'dough' - mushy and more chewy - comparing to a tortilla it's kinda like comparing brownies to fudge in texture - big difference. you can choke on the tamale mush! I think my coworker likes them so he can drink a lot of beer to wash them down! I think they're a lot of work when the filling is my favorite part LOL!

    1. Oooh, Susanna, I think there are about a hundred different ways to make them. I don't enjoy the super thick tamales. It's like being handed a plate of giant dumplings with no broth.

      Around here it's about 1/2 inch of dough around the meat, and the tamales are very small. And I agree- they're all about stretching the meat! But since it's so flavorful, it seems wise to wrap it in masa.

      My husband thinks the dessert variety is a travesty. :)

    2. I think I work with a bunch of cheapos...I still prefer a bowl of the meat with a dollop of the masa stuff LOL! like chili with a little bit of crackers - tamales remind me of cornbread with a dollop of chili...I've also learned to ask if it's 'regular' meat and if they hemhaw around or say 'just try it' then it's nuh un no way.

  5. I had never had tamales until last year when my father in law passed away. While he was in the hospital, hospice, and then during the days following (funeral home, know the drill), my niece's friend (one of those bossy ladies you love so much, Virginia) took it upon herself to keep the family supplied with tamales.

    My husband is from a large Catholic family. Multitudes of people, all hungry, all eating...including our family of refugees from out west.

    We had all the tamales we could eat, and they lasted all week long. They were absolutely delicious.

    But no one could answer the eat-or-don't-eat-the-husks question. I tried eating one, and then decided I didn't care if you were supposed to eat them or not - I wasn't going to!

    Thanks for the recipe and the answer to the question :)

    Do you know if there's an alternative to a tamale steamer? The ones we had last year came in a crock pot, but I have a feeling that was just to keep them warm.

    Would a steamer basket work? The kind you use for veggies? What do you think?

    1. The crock pot was probably for warming. I don't think there's a way to cook them without steaming. As for the basket..I think so. I was considering using a strainer at the bottom of a pot, but I didn't have one that was big enough to sit out of the water. The biggest issue is to steam, and not boil! The failure tamales were boiled. Too much water got in at the bottom and they just fall apart. Ick.

      Hubby is still laughing over the 'eat or not eat' the husks question. He said to say it's good for the digestion, lots of fiber.

      He's teasing. Do NOT eat the husks. Blah. Would probably give you a gut ache.

      I'm glad you had a bossy old lady there at the end of your father in law's life. Tough times need tough people! Bless her.

  6. Love will make you cook some things you might not cook otherwise. I ensnared my husband by making batches of banana pudding--with the meringue. Now, he's lucky if he gets some--always meringueless. Poor dh. Your tamale recipe makes me want to purchase ripe bananas and nilla wafers. Thanks!


    1. Heehee! Piper, that is SO true! I would never crave tamales. Way too much trouble.

      I'd definitely go for banana pudding, though. Take pictures!!!

  7. I'm overwhelmed.

    Clearly I have been bested. I must WALK AWAY from the busyness of this amazement and try to wrap my head around these tamales.

    You are a good wife.

    Dave married a slug.


    1. you're not a slug! he probably wouldn't like them anyways!

    2. Ruthy, you were talking 'love languages' one day and how Dave is an acts of service guy. So is mine. And I realized I need to 'serve' a little more. So he knows the love.

      and yes, you're a slug! (Now please stop working so hard. You make the rest of us look bad.)

  8. Wow, a lot of work, Virginia! But well worth it, I suspect. I've had legitimate tamales at a party for my son's soccer team. One of the moms brought them. YUM!

    1. It WAS a lot of work. But I'm thinking of making a much bigger batch next time and freezing some. That should make it worthwhile.