9.2.14 Bundle Up
August was not without its moments, many of them enjoyed in the company of good friends. I cooked up a storm and can't wait to share some of my successes with you. (I also puttered in the garden quite a bit, and some recipes emerged from there that are being featured on Gardenista every Friday, so please stop by for a visit.) What I'd really love is to hear about your summer, to be regaled with tales from the shore, or wherever you were at liberty. I could use a little vicarious vacation. In the meantime, let me tell tempt you with tamales...
Tamales with Vegetable Filling
(serves 4-8, depending on what else you're eating)
- — about 18 ounces dried corn husks (available packaged in Latin markets)
- — 10 ounces lard, vegetable shortening or duck fat, slightly softened but not runny
- — Sea salt
- — 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- — 3 1/2 cups dried masa harina mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water
- — 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (homemade is preferable)
- — 2 tablespoons olive oil
- — 1 large red onion, peeled and diced
- — 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- — 1 large jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
- — 1 teaspoon sea salt
- — 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
- — 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- — 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- — 2 cups diced mushrooms
- — 1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels
- — 1 medium yellow squash, diced
- — 3/4 cup diced jack cheese or fresh mozzarella (optional)
Cover the husks with very hot water, weight with a plate to keep them submerged, and let stand for a couple of hours until the husks are pliable.
Meanwhile, prepare the batter. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard or shortening with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa in three additions. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2 teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup of broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think it needs some. Refrigerate the batter for an hour.
While the batter chills, prepare the filling. In a large heavy skillet over medium-high flame, heat olive oil. Add onion, garlic and jalapeño and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, red chile, coriander and cumin and stir-fry for another minute. Add the mushrooms, corn and squash, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the water from the vegetables has been released and absorbed, and everything starts to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Once the vegetables are cool, stir in cheese if using. Set filling aside while you finish preparing the batter. Remove masa from the refrigerator and beat again, adding a little more broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.
When the husks have finished soaking, drain them and separate out 28 of the largest and most pliable—preferably at least 6 inches across on the wider end and 6 or 7 inches long. If you can’t find enough large ones, overlap some to create wide, sturdy surfaces to spread the batter on. Pat the chosen husks dry with a towel.
Now set up your steamer by placing a collapsible vegetable steamer in a large deep pot with a lid. Steaming 26 husk-wrapped tamales can be done in batches if needed. Line the steamer with a layer of soaked cornhusks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between the husks so condensing steam can drain off.
Cut 52 8-10” pieces of cotton string or thin strips of cornhusk.
To form the tamales: Lay out one of your chosen cornhusks with the tapering end toward you. Spread about 1/4 cup of the batter into about a 4” square, leaving at least a 1 ½” border on the side toward you and a ¾” border along the other sides (with large husks, the borders will be much bigger). Spoon about 1 ½ tablespoons of the filling down the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusk and bring them together (this will cause the batter to surround the filling). If the uncovered borders of the two long sides you’re holding are narrow, tuck one side under the other; if wide, roll both sides in the same direction around the tamal. (If the husk is small, you may feel more comfortable wrapping the tamal in a second husk.) Fold up the empty 1 ½” section of the husk and secure it in place by loosely tying one of the strings or strips of husk around the tamal. Do the same with the other end. Stack the tamales in the prepared steamer allowing a bit of room for them to expand.
When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of soaked cornhusks. Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 ¼ hours. Keep an eye out to make sure that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best textured tamales, let them cool completely, then re-steam about 15 minutes to heat through.