Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mexican Tamales

My obsession over International cuisines continue as I take a quick stop at Mexico.

According to the Wikipedia, "A tamale is a traditional Meso-American dish made of Masa (a starchy dough, usually corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can be filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned."

I wanted it to be as authentic as it could be. So I stuck to the original recipe and seasonings as much as I could. But catering to Indian and American households, I have also provided the substitutions wherever possible.

My Tamales are made with a basic Corn Masa Flourand not the powdery-fine, corn flour/ corn starch that is commonly found and is used as a thickening agent in soups and gravies. Try to find a flour with a high fiber content to keep them nutritious and healthy.
This is a pretty straight forward recipe and feel free to add your own twists and customization.

Here it goes:

Step 1- Filling:- 
First we start with the filling. I had some leftover rotisserie chicken from Costco which I deboned and chopped up fine. Here is the spice mix you can use to cook your choice of chicken, pork, ground beef or beans, depending on your preference.
1 lb or approximately 1/2 kg of partially cooked black and kidney beans/chicken/pork/ground beef
3 dried Pasilla chili (Substitution: Chipotle or Paprika powder ~2 tbsp, soaked in 1/4 cup warm water)
1 tbsp Corn oil
1 tbsp garlic paste or 1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp roasted cumin powder
1 cup water
Salt to taste

In a sauce pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic paste if you are using it for a minute, then add the protein that you are using. Now add all the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil and simmer gently, on low for 1 hour. (If you are using raw beans, you could use a pressure cooker to cook it in the same mixture.) The goal is to get the spice into the meat or beans and make it really tender.
Once the water thickens up stir gently and remove the lid and make it mostly dry.
Keep it aside.

Step 2: Readying the Corn Husks:-16 Corn husks or Tamale leaves  (you could use banana leaves, which are also used traditionally to make tamales)
1 lemon

This is simple. Boil a large pot of water, then squeeze the juice of a lemon into it. Soak the leaves/ husk into this water and let soak for 10-15 mins. After 15 minutes drain them well. This step removes small bugs or germs from the leaves and also softens the leaves so that they become more pliable.
Keep aside.

Step 3: Making the Masa or the corn dough mixture for the Tamales:-
2 cups Masa or whole corn flour
1 tsp baking powder
Salt to taste
1/2 cup lard/ butter or corn oil (I used oil though lard is preferred)
2 cups of vegetable/chicken stock or water

Stir together the flour, salt and baking powder well. Then using clean hands, knead in the butter/lard or oil that you are using. Lastly use the stock or water and knead it into a soft and  slightly sticky dough. It should be spreadable by a spoon.
Keep aside.

Step 3: The Assembling of a Tamale
Take a drained Corn husk, and using a spoon, spread a thin layer of Masa batter on the smooth side of  the husk, leaving a little space on the top and bottom.
In this, at the center put a small or large amount of filling, but always just enough to get coated by the Masa batter from all sides. The mixture must be enclosed, in the Masa.
Now gather the top and bottom ends and gently press along (from outside) the seams to seal the mixture in, and using a chef's cord or a thin strip of corn husk, securely tie the ends, holding the shape.

Step 4: To cook the Tamales:

In a large lidded pot, add about 1/3 part of water. Then using an inverted bowl, elevate and place a steamer to keep the tamales out of water. Stack the tamales carefully and cover with lid. Steam for an hour. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Step 5: Serving Suggestions:

These flavorful goodies can be eaten as is, after peeling off the husk. But you may also serve them with Salsa, hot sauce and Sour cream on the side.
I served mine with a dollop each of Sriracha and Sour Cream. 

Enjoy! :-)

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