Saturday, January 14, 2012

Daring Cooks Challenge #8: Tamales!

Wow!'s been a long time. I mean a reeeeally long time. Anybody miss me in the blogging world? I know I've missed connecting with everybody :( I know being busy is no excuse because ALL bloggers are crazy busy and I was busy before! It has been really hard for me to get back into posting in the last few months was strange. I'd start a new post, get about half-way through and come to a block. My writing sounded dull and confusing and not at all like what I wanted my friends to have to read. I feel even guiltier thinking of all the fun cooking adventures that I've had in my absence that I have SO wanted to share and I think you all would have enjoyed, even if my writing skills are blah. I really am going to try to do better, but these next few months are going to be some of the craziest EVER (not exaggerating) so bear with me, send me messages of encouragement, and enjoy the pictures, since I'm better at keeping up with those! :)

Okay! Enough of the past, we're moving right along here. I'm determined to finish this post! I saw a few too many DC challenges slip through my fingers recently, but maybe it when I saw the January challenge was tamales, I knew I COULD NOT allow it to pass me by! I'd never made tamales before, and only eating them once, so I was eager to try my hand at making some. Ironically enough, when I went to the store and got all my ingredients and I excitedly walked to the place where I had seen bags of corn husks being sold and had many times longed to find a use for them, now that I was actually going to buy some...they were gone! Wouldn't you know? The only choice I had was to buy a tamale kit, which I wasn't too pleased about, but I decided it would just have to be part of the fun and the challenge.

I used the recipe given by our host, Maranda from Jolts & Jollies, and, as usually, added a few touches of my own. They really were quite fun to make. Even though I did a horrible job of mentally-scanning the extra tips and directions at The Daring Kitchen, it was a peaceful afternoon and I had the house (and kitchen!) all to myself and I just put on some music and got to work, tasting, feeling, smelling, taking it all in. It had been far too long since I had cooked. REALLY cooked (as in, besides my usual salad, smoothies, and veggies). The tamales really were quite simple and easy to make, but they would have been a whole lot easier if I'd read the folding instructions thoroughly instead of just guessing and assuming I could figure it out. I got through them, but my less-than perfect corn husk origami did hold up very well in the steamer and I only ended up getting one or two nice looking tamales from the batch of 12. All the same, they tasted mmmm so yummy and it was a successful first attempt :) My other mistake was forgetting to buy avocados for guacamole and chilies for a spicy sauce which would have MADE this dish, but like I said, next time :)

Just a few notes before I give you the recipe so that you hopefully won't have as many challenges as me! :p
  • DO NOT FORGET that the corn husks need to soak for 3hrs-overnight or else they won't be flexible enough for you to easily work with! I totally forgot this step, but luckily my tamale kit had pre-soaked husks (imagine that!).
  • If you cannot find/do not have enough corn husks, the other authentic option is banana/plantain leaves, buuuut those are often even harder to find, SO, you can ALSO use parchment paper or plastic wrap (I personally haven't tried any of these though).
  • Don't let your steamer boil dry - not good. If you don't have a steamer, I've also seen these grilled...give it a whack!
  • You can use cut strips of corn husk to tie your folded tamales, but you need them to be fairly long so if you only have small husks, just use sting. It will hold better and be much less of a pain.
  • I'm usually use cooking in the kitchen as my time of peace and aloneness, but if you're more the party type, this is a great activity to do with friends, kids, neighbors, etc. You can talk and laugh and get the work done quickly all at once! :) (just make sure you have a large enough steamer to hold all the tamales that you plan to feed your helpful guests!)
  • If you anticipate being busy (ha, like we're not ALWAYS busy :p) you can help yourself out by making the filling a day or two ahead and just letting it keep in the fridge (or freezer depending on the type of filling)
  • Did you know tamales can also be for dessert?? Chocolate, banana, caramel fillings...oh yeah. Tamales for dinner AND dessert - DELICIOUSNESS!
  • Depending on how much/little you fill your husks, you may have extra masa dough or tamale filling. The solution? Make it into soup and eat it, like me, ooorrr make tamale pie. I'm totally doing that!
Spicy Black Bean Tomato Tamales

§  1 bag dried corn husks (at least 13 for this recipe) or see notes for other options
For the masa dough:
§  4 c masa harina (corn tortilla mix, not the same as cornmeal or polenta)
§  ½ c olive oil
§  1 tsp salt (season to taste, use less or none if your stock contains salt)
§  2 ½ c vegetable stock
For the filling:
§  1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
§  1 14oz can diced spicy red pepper tomatoes (or fire-roasted or other), drained well
§  1 10oz can diced green chilies, drained well
§  3 chopped scallions or ¼ c minced onion
§  3 cloves garlic, minced
§  1 tsp salt (taste to season)
§  1 tsp cumin
§  ½ tsp chili powder
§  A few dashes of hot sauce (if desired)

1.       Before you start cooking: soak your corn husks for at least 3 hrs or overnight. You can also make your filling ahead if you want to have it out of the way. You can also set up your steamer at this time.
2.      To make the masa dough: Whisk together the masa harina, olive oil, and optional salt in a bowl (or use mixer if desired) until smooth. Gradually whisk in the vegetable stock. You can add more stock or water if your dough seems dry. It should be somewhere between cornbread batter and cookie dough, if that helps. Let the dough sit for a few minutes to thicken-up.
3.      Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients and gently mix. (You don’t want it to be wet and runny, so drain excess juices as needed)
4.      To form the tamales: take one of the longest corn husks and cut it into strips about ¼ - ½ inch in length or cut lengths of string for tying the tamales. Take a soaked corn husk (or parchment paper or banana leaf) and cover it with the masa dough, about ¼ - ½ inch thick, leaving about an inch or so of border (I don’t know the exact amount of dough used, but you can do more or less to taste and you’ll start to get a feel for it after you do a few). Spread a thick strip of fillings in the center of your dough and then gently fold the sides of the husk towards each other so that the masa dough folds over the filling. Keep the tamale in the folded cylinder shape and then take the thin, open bottom and fold it upwards. Secure this end with a strip of corn husk or string and leave the top open.
5.      Repeat this process until you run out of husks for dough or filling and then place the finished tamales in a tall steamer, open ends facing up so that they are all standing and nestled in with each other. If you need to fill in spaces, you can used crumpled foil.)
6.      Keep covered with a lid and let steam for 40-50 min, until the dough as deepened and color and easily pulls away from the husk (my tamale kit instructions said 1 hour. I think I went about 50 and they were fine.)
7.      Serve the tamales hot or warm or store them for later, they reheat quite nicely. There is no one condiment to go with tamales as they are eaten all over the world and made with all kinds of ingredients, so you can do some research and pick a country you want to represent, or just go with your favs like I did: fresh tomatoes, cilantro, plain yogurt, hot sauce. Mmmm :)

Not my ideal choice, but still a fun experiment

Using veggie stock over water, was def a good choice.
HUGE flavor enhancer!

This is a corn case you didn't know...

This is the amount of dough/filling
I used for mine and it worked well.
Like I said, you get the feel for what
works and what you like.

Unfortunately....I didn't pay very close attention
to how to fold these correctly. I tried to seal them
up like burritos, but really, the top should be open.
This will make your like SO much easier.

It's not that burritos aren't cute, buut
this was the only one that really worked out,
plus it's just a pain in the butt to fold a corn
husk more than you need to.

I don't know how steaming masa dough turns it
into this cool cooked substance that is really yummy,
but whoever thought of it was pretty genius.

It's like Christmas all over again! Did I
mention my brother ate like 4 or 5 of these in
one sitting? - my brother who just got back
from Costa Rica and ate tamales made my
locals?? He said these were gooooood.
He could have been lying. Or just hungry
like most army boys, but for messing
around with these and not doing them
quite right I'll take what I can get :)

Thanks for reading, it's good to be back :) happee cooking!

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