Guest Post: Tamales

Hello friends and family of Leftovers For Lunch! I am Claudia, a friend of Leah who resides in Orange County, California. I know how much Leah is a fan of ethnic food, so this Christmas, I asked my mother if I could document her tamale making adventure and share it with all of you. My mother is from the capital of Mexico; Mexico D.F. and raised in Baja California. My mom has been making tamales for at least 55 years of her 60 year life; you learned to cook before anything.

Tamales. They are what my mother calls the original present to unwrap for Christmas. Before unwrapping gifts, we unwrap one of these delicious little treats to eat. Tamales originated in Mesoamerica, Central America. To date, there are apparently close to 1,000 ways to make tamales; depending on the region of Mexico they come from. Our family uses corn husks, but a lot of people use banana or plantain leaves. Corn husks can be purchased dried and packaged. Before using them, we leave them soaking overnight so that they are manageable and soft. When preparing to use a leaf, you have to check both sides to see which is the ‘smooth’ side and which is the ‘rough’ side; the importance here to know to use the smooth side. Why? The smooth side allows for the dough to have a surface to attach itself while cooking. The rough side is not ideal as the dough does not stick and therefore becomes a ball of mess.

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The filling is really the most optional. There are HUNDREDS of recipes to mixing your meat of choice, a red or green base and vegetables. We use a little secret combination of green and red! My mom wouldn’t give up the recipe, but it’s an even
mix of California red peppers steamed, cleaned for seeds, put in the blender and strained to be pure. Green tomatoes are also chopped, sautéed with onion and mixed in later with the red sauce. Our family makes chicken tamales; they are the
most economical and the meat that cooks the fastest. You can also make a sweet batch with raisins, crushed pineapple and coconut.

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The masa is a mix of crushed hominy, baking soda, lard and salt. The consistency is key. We test it by dropping a dollop into a glass of water. If the mix rises, it is done. If it falls to the bottom of the glass, it is too heavy and needs more lard. There is no easier way to ruin a tamal than with a bad mix. We buy pre-crushed hominy; to make this at home in the amount we need is gruesome work and requires hours of preparation. Once you’ve got everything set up, you start making tamales! My mom is a pro, obviously. She started teaching us how to wrap these when we were about 7 years
old. We’ve all got pictures of us being kids and making tamales; it’s at tradition.

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We like to add jalapeños and carrots in vinegar as well as green olives to our mix of chicken and sauce. Another thing we like to do is add our friends and family to the mix of helping hands! My brother’s girlfriend is from PA and this is a treat for her! She turned out to be a great tamales wrapper/maker! Tamales are no joke, you must set aside an entire day of cooking and the day before for preparing. See the morning and night shot here! It’s why we only do it once a year and usually make enough to last into the New Year (they keep frozen very well).

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Once you’ve got a good batch ready to cook, you must get these amazing tall steamers that will do the trick! They have a space at the bottom that allows for water to steam through! We top the pots off with a wet towel and extra corn husks to
help lock in moisture.

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There are at least 30-40 tamales in each pot and they take anywhere from 1:15-1:30 to cook; depending how large of a tamale you packed. I can’t recall how many we got out of this batch of chicken, cheese with chiles and sweet tamales. My mom ordered 20 pounds of masa and used at least 2 whole deboned chickens, a pound of Monterey jack cheese, about 6 pounds of green tomatoes, a bag of red California chiles, a tall jar of olives and a large can of jalapeños in vinegar. It’s
intense labor and a day spent with your family.

The best part is enjoying them fresh out of the steamer! To reheat tamales, you wrap them up in a paper towel and stick it in the microwave. What we use to do in Mexico, while visiting my grandmother for the holidays, is place them on a cookie sheet and stick them in the oven at about 300º for a good 10 minutes. The microwave is the fastest of course.

Tamales are good at any time of the day. For Breakfast, we pair them up with refried beans for a great meal.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas this year!

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4 Responses

  1. 3 of my faves! Claud, Leah & Mexican food! ❤ you 2 🙂

  2. YAY! I am pleased to say I am still eating Tamales from Christmas! Thanks a bunch for letting me tell my tale of Tamales LOL ❤

  3. Claudia, thanks for sharing, I wish your Mom would have gave up the secret! I am so in love with tamales and the whole preperation part! I have not been brave enough to give them a go myself but I will, some year….

  4. I love tamales!

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