7.26.2014

Christmas in July: ¡Tamales!

One of the best Christmas traditions in Tucson comes from our regional Mexican culture. Green corn tamales.

If you are lucky, as Mark and I are, you know someone who makes and brings you some every year. They are the greatest gift.

I used 'greatest' not to mean that a gift of tamales is a wonderful or totally cool gift (both true), but that it is really a gift of greatness...

Great food. Great tradition. Great friendship. Great work. As in, a lot of work.

I had always heard they were time consuming and hard work, but I didn't know exactly what that meant. Not until our friends Lynn and Lee were visiting from New York, and we decided to ask our friend Pamela and her daughter Valeria to teach us their family tradition of making green corn tamales.

She warned us that it would be a lot of work and, while it was, it was much more a celebration of being together with friends - new and old - and sharing the process of making something beautiful, traditional, and flavorful.

I can assure you that I will make them again, but, as at was this time, it won't be me alone in the kitchen. It will be a shared time with friends. A time to celebrate a wonderful cultural heritage.

Today's photos are not mine. They were taken by Lee when he wasn't shucking or grinding corn. Thank you, Lee, for these great shots!

Being new to me, there were some things I didn't know. I had no idea that the green husks directly off the corn were used to form the tamales. I always assumed dried ones are used.

I also had no idea that they were made with corn fresh off the cob. I always thought they were made with dried, ground corn. I also didn't know - but I pretty much guessed - that they taste so good because they are made with a lot of love... a lot of love, lard, and butter/margarine.

Margaritas, a pitcher of horchata, green chile crema, and a melon salsa completed the table. We ate and laughed, laughed and ate... We shared stories, hopes and dreams. Valeria is excited about her new major in Middle Eastern Studies. Sofia (who tagged along) enjoyed watching Disney's Frozen. Pamela is excited about many things, but mostly about having good health and a wonderful, loving family. The day went by all too quickly.

Even though we are less than half a year from Christmas, my first bite into these tamales made me think that I had just received the best Christmas present ever. And, you know what? I had. Thanks, Pamela and Valeria - your day with us was a gift that none of us shall ever forget.

Only 150 shopping days till Christmas!

~ David

Green Corn Tamales

3 dozen ears white dent corn *
18 ounces butter (Pamela and Valeria use margarine)
13 ounces lard
1 cup (7.5 ounces) Morena pure cane sugar
1 heaping teaspoon salt
2 pounds queso fresco
2 pounds orange cheddar (you may have leftover)
12 large green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into strips **


Remove the first outer layers of husk from the corn and discard. Save all remaining layers (your thigh is a good resting place, as seen in the photos). Set reserved husks aside and discard the corn silk.

With a sharp knife - or a plane like Pamela is using in the picture, if you are lucky enough to have one - cut kernels off the cob into a large bowl. Purée the corn kernels well in a food processor to make the masa. Or, you can also us a hand cranked mill if you are a masochist! Set masa aside.

Mix the butter/margarine and lard in a large bowl and massage them together with your hand, until no lumps of lard are left. Add the reserved masa and mix well. Add the sugar, salt, and queso fresco.

Cut the orange cheddar into batons - 1/4-inch x 1/4-inch by 3 inches - and set aside.

Put a heaping 1/4 cup of masa in the center of the wide base of a reserved corn husk - about 1/2-inch from the bottom. Add a baton of cheese and a strip of chile, then wrap one side of the corn husk over the masa, then the other, and finally fold in the thin end to form a packet; set it folded-side down on a tray. Repeat until all masa is used up.

Place about 2 inches of water in a large pot with a steamer insert. Starting in the middle, place the tamales - open end up - in the center until the steamer insert is full. Cover with the tamales with a plastic bag (or waxed paper), then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes. Tamales are done when the masa doesn't stick to the husk.

Serve them immediately. Uncooked tamales can be frozen for later; they take a bit longer to steam - perhaps 40-50 minutes.

Makes 8 dozen tamales.

* Dent corn has so high a moisture content that when dried its individual kernels collapse, giving each a dent. This moisture makes it juicy and suitable for eating “in the milk,” right from the cob, the form best known to most of us in summer. For this recipe, fresh white, rather than yellow, dent corn is used. “Dent” is a contrast to “flint” corn, which is so low in moisture content that when dried each kernel keep its rounded form. This type is suitable for grinding into corn meal, and is familiar to many as multicolored “Indian corn” used as door decorations in autumn. 


** We used Hatch (New Mexico) chiles that I had roasted and frozen last winter.

 

32 comments:

  1. thank you for taking us (your readers) on another beautiful food journey through photographs! looks amazing.

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    1. You are welcome, Ahu! It isn't something most people can get in other places, and it is fun to share with the world!

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  2. Great post! Loved the photos. :)

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    1. Thanks, Robin - it was a really fun day!

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  3. I'm I too have taken green corn tamales for granted. I've made 'plain ole' tamales plenty of times, those do use dried husks and masa meal. I think the extra work and the special fresh summer corn is what makes these such a treat. I'll never let them go unappreciated again. GREG

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    1. Greg - I love getting a new appreciation for something... and that definitely happened here. I will no taste every GCT with reverence.

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  4. I love this! Actually, I'd have loved it even more if I was part of that fab production line. Great work, guys!

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    1. Next time you come to the States, John, swing through Tucson and we will do our best to wow you!

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  5. For as many years as I have enjoyed tamales--I'm a native Californian whose family went to Mexico every summer for years--I did not know the details of making them. Wow!
    Today, I still bring home tamales (from California to New Hampshire) that a friend's mother makes--nothing beats the ones made at home by loving, experienced hands. Really nice post!

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    1. Susan, they are time-consuming but definitely worth it! Maybe sometime when you and Towny come out, we will make them again!

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  6. Hey, I KNOW those electric blue talons!!! It's so much fun to see and read, after being in on the inception vial email! And I know what I want when I come for a visit!! xoxo

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    1. Like I said to Susan and Towny, come on out and we will have a blast making these! (And eating them, if we have to...)

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  7. I must claim complete ignorance on the tamale making process I had no idea it was so involved. What a great idea to share the workload and have some great fun at the same time.

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    1. Karen, this is a lot of fun as a party! Thanks, as always, for your comments!

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  8. I've made tamales before and agree with you about the work involved. Mine were not made with fresh corn or husks….your tamales sound wonderful and would be a wonderful gift indeed. :)

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I am not sure, if I made them again, if I would be able to give any away!

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  9. That is a lot of wok! But so worth it. Tamales are something I have always wanted to make, but am waiting for the chance to have a native guide. Maybe I'll just wing it now that I have your Rx, David. xoxo

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    1. You should definitely try them, Colette! I know you would make a hot tamale! xox

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  10. Great job David! I think that when you cook together with other people, you love that process and share emotions, feelings and stories. Also the tamales look great :-)

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    1. Thanks, Marco. Can you get tamales in the Veneto? We have friends who live in Venice and they went to the University of Arizona. They miss tamales!

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  11. David, never seen or tasted tamales ever - they do look like a lot of work! Fun idea for a post!

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    1. Andrea - I was wondering if they were ever available in Europe - or elsewhere, for that matter. hey are not fancy, by any means, but they are really tasty!

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  12. Hi David, sounds like you had a wonderful day cooking with your friends. I never realized that you could use fresh corn husks for the tamales either, how interesting.

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    1. Cheri - I got the impression that it is just for the green corn tamales, but I should check and get back to everyone!

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  13. What a wonderful time! I've never heard of green corn tamales, but they sound delicious!

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    1. Susan - I would have thought that living in Southern California you would have had your fill of green corn tamales. You must try them sometime!

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  14. What an incredibly post, David! The photos lead me through a beautiful culinary journey. Is it Christmas yet? ;-)

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    1. Almost Christmas, Valentina! And isn't this a great way to use Hatch chiles?

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