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In deep winter, a taste of rich, piquant Mexican food gives you an appetite for more. And so, following our visit to Nuevo, I decided to steam up a good batch of tamales.


They taste better the next day, I think, even though the texture is best on day one.

The tamale is a humble food, and not particularly photogenic. It’s not about looking good on a plate. It’s about flavor and texture.

If you search for tamale dough recipes online, you will hear hymns of praise for the “piggy” flavor imparted by lard. No thanks. Make mine vegetarian! I use Spectrum non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening. It works just fine in Rick Bayless’ Basic Tamal Dough. The dough is made from masa, fat, broth or hot water, and a bit of baking powder. I always expect it to be heavy like bread dough, but it’s amazingly light and fluffy.  Getting your hands into this is good fun.


I keep my masa in the freezer.

Corn husks are the traditional wrapper, and impart extra flavor to the tamale, but it is much easier to use parchment paper. I also use twist ties to close the ends. No doubt they are loaded with awful chemicals, and I should tie the wee bundles with string instead. But I didn’t have any string. Have you ever bought yourself a present, and gift-wrapped it just to have the fun of opening it? That’s the joy of making tamales.


Little packages of goodness. I trim the edges of the paper off before putting them in the steamer.

Choosing the fillings is the best part, because you can use just about anything. I think an Italian “polenta tamale” with a tomato filling would be interesting. I had on hand some frijoles borrachos, so they became filling number one. Number two was a can of refried black beans mixed with diced green chilis. Number three was sharp cheddar cheese with green olives. (I had olive tamales once at a place in Ann Arbor MI, and loved them. I think it was Pilar’s.)


Drunken beans. These are Irish borrachos, made with Guinness!

Rolling the tamales is a bit laborious. I was pressed for time, so I worked fast. I put the whole batch together in an hour and fifteen minutes. Once they’re ready, you steam them for an hour. I use a big stockpot with an open steamer basket at the bottom. I always lose track of which fillings are in which tamales, so when I serve them, it’s the luck of the draw!


Spread the dough to about four by five inches. I use a third of a cup of dough for each tamale.

Last but not least, the sauces. I think salsa verde is indispensable, but I also like tomato salsa. These are a lot of work, but well worth the trouble. Each bite is like a little gift to yourself.


Unlovely but delicious!


Dressed up tamales, from the second batch, which I froze and served a week later.