For the best tamales, you should use your abuela’s recipe. In my case, not having an abuela of my own, I borrowed the recipe from Stephanie’s abuela — Marie E. Salazar.
At first, I thought that making tamales would be difficult and agonized over the proper ingredients and procedure. I wondered whether the effort would pay off and whether the tamales would taste like those tamales we once had from a street vendor in Santa Fe. And most of all, I wondered whether I had the energy to embark on a two-day adventure of stewing, cooking, folding, and steaming, all by myself.
In her write-up, Stephanie recounted the history of her grandmother’s tamales. She also noted how tamales were a family affair, how the family would gather in the kitchen for hours on end, working the corn flour while sharing stories.
In the end, the answer to all of my questions was a resounding yes. The tamales were worth it. They were delicious. And they were worth the two-day cooking effort, even without a team of siblings, cousins, and other extended family members working by my side.
Homemade Tamales with Black Beans and Spanish Rice
Recipe adapted from Grandma Salazar
Prep Time: Requires two days
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Yield: 40 Tamales
WHAT TO GRAB: FOR THE MEAT 3 pounds pork or beef roast (I used a pork shoulder cut) 1 large onion 2 cloves garlic 2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder (divided) 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin (divided) Kosher Salt Black Pepper FOR THE TAMALES 2 cups masa harina (see here) 2 teaspoons chili powder 1 teaspoon Kosher salt 1 1/3 cups broth (from the meat) 4 tablespoons butter 1 package of corn husks (soaked overnight)
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Add the pork or beef (or both), onion, garlic cloves, one teaspoon of chili powder, one teaspoon cumin, salt and pepper to a large pot of water. Cook over medium-low heat for four hours. The meat should be very tender and shred easily.
2. After the meat is cooked, remove from pot, set aside to cool. Strain the broth and reserve.
3. Shred the meat finely with two forks, and store covered in refrigerator separately from broth.
4. Soak corn husks in water overnight.
5. Rinse and clean corn husks thoroughly. Drain well and pat dry.
6. Season the shredded meat with chili powder, salt, and cumin to taste. As you season the meat, add a small amount of broth to moisten meat, but it should not be runny.
7. For every two cups of masa harina (meal), add four tablespoons of shortening, one teaspoon of salt, and two teaspoons chili powder. Add the broth a little at a time to masa and mix with your hands to get a smooth, spreadable consistency. If you run out of broth, you can use hot water, but you will wish you had plenty of broth.
8. To assemble the tamales, spread masa about 1/8 inch thick* on corn husk with fingers, leaving about ½ inch border along the sides and two-inch border along the top and bottom of husk. Use about two tablespoons of shredded meat to fill the tamal (like a cigar). Fold sides until they just overlap, fold narrow end under, and place tamal folded side down.
*The masa will expand greatly during the steaming process. For that reason, you really do want to spread the masa very thinly. Too much masa and you will feel overwhelmed by the masa, with not enough filling.
9. For extra presentation points, you can tear a thin strip of the corn husks to tie a “little belt” around each tamal to keep it secure. Although this is not necessary, it does help keep the tamales from opening while being steamed.
10. Finally, to cook, steam fresh tamales for 15 minutes or until masa is no longer sticky.
Endnote: Tamales will store well in the freezer. To defrost, steam frozen tamales for 20 minutes. A real treat once the effort is long forgotten!
Recipe from Simply Recipes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 3 cups
WHAT TO GRAB: 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, chopped fine 1 garlic clove, minced 2 cups of medium or long-grain white rice 4 cups* chicken stock or vegetable stock *Check instructions on rice package 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste Pinch of oregano 1 teaspoon salt
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. In a large skillet brown rice in olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook the onion rice mixture, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes, or until onions are softened.
2. In a separate sauce pan bring stock to a simmer. Add tomato paste, oregano, and salt. Add rice to broth. Bring to a simmer, then cover. Lower heat and cook 15-25 minutes, depending on the type of rice and the instructions on the rice package. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff, then serve.
easy BLACK BEANS
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
WHAT TO GRAB: 2 16-ounce cans of black beans 1 large onion, diced 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper Salt and Pepper
HOW YOU DO IT:
Drain and rinse the black beans. Melt the butter over medium heat in a saute pan. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beans, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper, and saute for another 5 minutes, until the onions are soft and the beans are hot. Serve warm!