Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I Did While I Was Snowed In

I promised Larissa I would experiment and make tamales to see if I could maybe make them for our Xmas Eve dinner. Our tradition the last few years has been to have tamales on Xmas Eve. I lately found out that the traditional tamales that we buy every year from the Mexican restaurants, have 1 and 1/2 cups lard per 5 cups of masa. I went on the Internet and found a recipe that substitutes ricotta cheese
and a bit of canola oil for the lard.
This was my first time ever making tamales. I made vegetarian tamales
with a filling of black bean, butternut squash and goat cheese. I also made some with shredded turkey meat and diced green chilis. They needed to be steamed one hour. Our house smelled so good.

What I learned:
Make your ties twice as long (by tying 2 together with a square not)
and ahead of time so you can easily wrap and tie each tamale.

Soak more than enough corn husks to make sure you have enough good ones...some rip in the middle as you handle them, some are too small.

Take a break now and then from the busywork or you will get tense back muscles.

Making tamales is not for whimps!
Here is the recipe I used:
Squash, Black Bean & Goat Cheese Tamales
Makes 16 tamales
4 ounces dried cornhusks (see Note)

1 ¾ cups masa (see Note)
1 ¼ cups hot water
1 ½ cups part-skim ricotta cheese
¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups quick-cooking grits or cornmeal
½-¾ cup vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth

20 ounces frozen winter squash, thawed (about 2 cups; see Tip)
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup crumbled goat cheese

Squash, Black Bean & Goat Cheese Tamales Instructions

1. To prepare wrappers: Place cornhusks in a large bowl, cover with hot water and weight with a heavy plate or pan to completely submerge them. Let soak for 30 minutes.

2. To prepare batter: Put masa and 1 1/4 cups hot water in a large bowl; stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Beat ricotta, oil, baking powder and salt in another large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add grits (or cornmeal) and mix until combined. Add the ricotta mixture to the masa mixture and stir until smooth. Stir in broth 1/4 cup at a time until the batter is very moist and spreadable, but not runny.

3. To prepare filling: Place squash puree in a fine-mesh sieve and gently press on it to extract excess liquid. Transfer to a medium bowl and add beans, chiles and salt; stir until combined.

4. To assemble tamales: Drain the cornhusks and pat dry. Sort through and pick out 16 large, unblemished husks to use as wrappers. Cut about 2 dozen thin, long strips from the remaining husks to use as ties (or use kitchen string instead). Cover the husks and ties with a damp towel to keep moist.

5. Working on a clean surface, unfold one of the large cornhusks so its completely flat. Spread 1/3 cup of the batter in the center of the husk in a 4-inch square, leaving a wide border at the top and the bottom. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling in a thin strip down the length of the batter. Top the filling with 1 rounded teaspoon goat cheese.

6. Bring the two long sides of the cornhusk together, causing the batter to completely surround the fillingbut dont fold the sides over the tamale yet. Fold the cornhusk ends in, then fold the sides around the tamale. If a cornhusk splits while youre folding the tamale, just wrap a second husk right over the first and finish rolling. Tie the tamale closed using a thin strip of cornhusk. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 15 more tamales. (You may have a little batter and/or filling left over.)

7. To steam tamales: Fill a large Dutch oven with 1 inch of water. Place a steamer basket in the pot and loosely place the tamales upright in the basket. Cover and steam over medium heat for 1 hour. Check the water level periodically and add more boiling water if necessary. The tamales are done when the batter is firm and easily pulls away from the wrapper.

Squash, Black Bean & Goat Cheese Tamales Tips
The batter (Step 2) and filling (Step 3) will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Steamed tamales will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat tamales in a steamer or in the microwave on Medium power.

Notes: Cornhusks are traditionally used as tamale wrappers. They are sold dried and need to be reconstituted in water to make them pliable enough for tamales.

Masa is ground dried corn treated with lime, sometimes called masa harina or instant masa mix; it is used for making tamales and tortillas. Masa can be found near the cornmeal or flour and dried cornhusks in the produce department of most well-stocked supermarkets or Mexican grocers; both can be found on

Tip: To make your own squash puree, halve and seed one medium acorn or butternut squash. Place, cut-side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven until soft, about 50 minutes. Cool, then scrape out the flesh with a fork. Or simply use frozen (thawed) or canned squash puree. Find frozen squash puree near other vegetables in the freezer section and canned squash near the canned pumpkin.

Squash, Black Bean & Goat Cheese Tamales Nutrition Information
Per tamale: 232 calories; 7 g fat (3 g sat, 3 g mono); 10 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 8 g protein; 4 g fiber; 612 mg sodium; 130 mg potassium.
Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (25% daily value), Calcium (15% dv).
2 Carbohydrate Servings
Exchanges: 1 medium-fat meat, 1 fat