Saturday, January 26, 2013


Tamales get labeled under "Bold" as they aren't particularly beautiful or bright compared to the other stuff I cook. I made them over Christmas and had a blast!

For those who don't know, I grew up in Tucson Arizona on four acres of raw desert. We played our pants off most days - throwing cactus around like it was no big deal, catching lizards, and getting scared by spiders. Most years at Christmas we'd visit a neighborhood called "Winter Haven" and drove around looking at all the Christmas lights on palm tree's and cactuses that adorned peoples front yards. Additionally, this time of year is when my paternal grandmother pulled out all the stops and stuffed us full of tamales. She'd lay out everything assembly line style, line us up, and we'd crank out tamales like nobody's business. Also, as I think about it, I realized she's Southern Bell by birth, so I'm not really sure when Christmas Tamales started in our family. However - they're delicious either way, and I hope you enjoy them if you embark on making them!

Because tamales are a little bit difficult if you've never made them, I've posted this in a picture tutorial type post. Recently I hosted a tamale making party where my friend Mandi was kind enough to take pictures.

We made beef, pork, and sweet (dried figs and almonds).

Savory Tamales 

Carne Mix
3.5 lb meat (pork, beef, chicken)
5 cloves garlic
1 med onion, cut into hunks

Slow cook meat with garlic and onion. Shred, and add salsa. 


1 can chipotle chilies in adobe sauce
6 cloves garlic
1/2 medium onion
1 T ground cumin
1 T chili powder
2 T salt
2 T Olive Oil

2 cups broth

Pulverize in a food processor. Taste.

TASTE!!!! If you don't taste your salsa, and pour it over your meat, you run the risk of ruining all that beautiful meat. So taste your salsa at every. step. of. the. way. Make sure you like it, and it's strong. 

Mix broth into pepper puree, taste again.

Pour over shredded meat, and refrigerate overnight. 

3/4 c lard or crisco (room temp)
6 c broth
6 c masa harina (corn flour)
1 1/2 t baking powder
3+ T salt (likely you'll add more)
Corn husks

Soak corn husks in hot water (ziplock bags work best). Rinse and separate. 

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl (harina, salt, backing powered); add lard and broth.  Mix until combine - add water or flour as needed until the consistency is like a soft Play-Dough. It should not be runny or overly sticky. 

Taste - add salt as needed. 

Spread about 3 T masa on corn husk, fill with meat, and fold corn husk to form the tamale. Leave about 1/2 inches as the top, and 4 inches at the bottom to allow expansions and proper folding/sealing, respectively. (This image is a good reference:

Because there are various steps in the process, figure out a system that works for you. I typically lean my steaming basket on it's edge, and keep everything within reach. From left to right - masa, husks, meat, basket.

Stack tamales, seam side down in steaming basket.

Bring water to a boil*, add tamale basket, turn down to a simmer, and steam for about 50-60 mins. 

We tried wrapping some in parchment paper. The one of the left is the original corn husk, and you can see the traditional texturing that are halmarks of tamales.  Parchment paper doesn't change the way they taste, just how they look. 

Served well with refried black beans, topped with sour cream or fresh salsa, and lime

Served with a little extra carne on top, cilantro and a wedge of lime. Amazingly delicious! 

Sweet Tamales:

2 c water
2 c masa harina
1/3  c lard
1/2 t baking powder
1 c sugar
dried fruit and nuts as desired

We used chopped dried figs and pecans, pictured below. Rasins and walnuts are amazing also.

Mix everything together. Place 3 T masa mixture into small corn husk, wrap, and steam. These traditionally do not have filling, but have the dried fruit and nuts mixed in with the masa.

Steam 20-30 mins.

*Penny Trick - place a penny at the bottom of your pot. When the water starts to boil you'll hear it rattle. If you don't keep water in the bottom of the pot, you'll burn your tamales, so the penny allows you to know if you need to add more water. If it's rattling - you're good. If it starts to slow - check water levels. If it stops - act quickly!! Get some water in that sucker and save the tamales! 

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