Posts Tagged ‘tamales

20
Oct
10

mis segundos tamales de elote

Still not right. I made them a little while ago, all excited, thinking that omitting the cornmeal would lead me to a triumphant post about how awesome they were. It was not to be. Leaving out the cornmeal did improve the texture…but not the flavor. That left my (probably stale) stash of Maseca as the culprit. I let the post go, and put the tamales in the compost bin. Add masa harina to the list of things (like non-direct flights home) that I’ve gotten to old to tolerate.

On Monday night, I had tamales from the Tamale Lady as she made her round at Zeitgeist. So, so, so good! They were California-sized, so I expected to be peeling off excess masa, but no–the corn was tender but not soggy, and it tasted just right. Four dollars per was a bit steep, though.

The experiences renewed my quest for good tamale masa, especially if I’m going to make pork tamales around the holidays. I’ve heard that La Palma at 24th and Florida sells fresh masa. I’ll pay them a visit this week and let you know how things turn out.

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17
Sep
10

tamales’ elopments with mid-American cuisine

After the Chicago World’s Fair introduced the rest of the country to Texas Mexican food in 1893, tamales ran off and eloped with multiple US regional cuisines. They turned up in the South, gravy-drenched and wearing nothing but cornmeal masa. They also gave birth to tamale pie, the hot-dish version of themselves that only the Midwest could have sired. In Texas, we continued to eat our nixtamal dumplings filled with puerco con chile. (No need to say chile colorado, since there was only one color of chile in Texas). It wasn’t until the 1990s that California came to us, bearing what it swore were authentic Mexican tamales, and therefore much better than ours. Despite their sneering tone, some of us wiped the orange grease from our fingers and had a taste, deciding that black bean tamales and chicken-and-green-chile tamales might be alright, too.

24
Aug
10

mis primeros tamales de elote: a Tex-Mex/Sonoran/Guatemalan fusion

Today’s lunch is tamales de elote (sweet corn tamales), mostly following Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison’s recipe in The Border Cookbook. They label the recipe Sonoran; I first had these in Guatemala, so they can’t be limited to Sonora, at least.

I followed the Jamisons’ recipe for the masa almost exactly, but I left out their filling of mild cheddar and strips of peppers. I had the idea of filling the tamales with a sauce made of our household’s favorite (and Guatemala-inspired) corn-on-the-cob fixins: mayonnaise, lime juice, and Texas-style chili powder. When Glenn was over last week for BLTs and corn on the cob, we set these things out on the table. He looked bemused and asked, “Where’s the butter?”

sauce ingredients

As I started to prepare things, I had second thoughts about the filling. Steamed mayonnaise… It could: A. Run; B. Curdle; C. Kill us. None of these possibilities were appealing, so I saved the sauce for a topping.

I also deviated from the Jamisons’ recipe in how big I made my tamales. They claim that their masa recipe yields enough for 10-12 large tamales. I don’t know where they’re getting their corn husks, or worse, how much masa they’re cramming into each one, but I opted for a couple dozen wee guys, instead. I’m getting the impression that it’s very Tex-Mex to make small-ish tamales.* Some in Guatemala were small, too, but many were overstuffed by my standards. I’ve had a few in California, and they’ve all been overstuffed. It makes the masa gummy and the whole package just kind of gross. So small it is in my kitchen.

ready to steam

Also, I don’t know who the Jamisons’ hypothetical eaters are, but neither J-P nor I could get through more than three little guys in one sitting. With those size and serving caveats in mind, here’s the Jamisons’ masa recipe and my sauce recipe.

Masa for tamales de elote

  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4-5 ears; reserve the husks by cutting off the stem and peeling carefully, then keeping moist in a damp kitchen towel)
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp sugar, if the corn isn’t very sweet (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1-3 Tbsp milk, if needed

Puree two cups of corn kernels with the butter. (I added the cream, which I used instead of milk, at this point, because our tiny food processor couldn’t handle the corn and butter alone.) You might be tempted to stop here (this stuff is good).

manna

Add the other ingredients and mix well. Then smear the masa into your reserved corn husks, wrap up the husks, and steam the tamales for 40-50 minutes. They’re done when they don’t stick to the husk anymore.

sauced

Next time, I would leave out the cornmeal (it gave too much of an uncooked taste and crumbly texture) and up the overall proportion of fresh corn, trying to approach the soft, sweet ideal I have from Guatemala. The sauce stays, though.

Sauce for tamales de elote

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp Texas red chili powder

Combine and mix well.

sauce
Even the bowl it’s in is part of a Guatemalan-made set. More pics of the process here.


* My mother remembers my great aunt Antonia chiding my great-grandmother for putting so much meat in the tamales they were going to sell to gringos. As soon as Antonia looked away, my great-grandmother was back at it–she just couldn’t give up the norm that plenty = quality for the norm that stinginess = profit. Even so, these weren’t as big as the huge California-style tamales that turn me off.

17
May
10

Corn tortillas and Bay to Breakers

Chez Cervantes-Ferguson was culinarily busy, and full of runners, this weekend for Bay to Breakers. All of which partly explains how I found myself, at 5:50 yesterday morning, breakfasting on two stale corn tortillas and some cherries because they were the most readily available food in the house.

A little over an hour later, I was standing at the corner of Howard and Spear, corn tortillas whizzing through the air around me. Apparently this is a Bay to Breakers tradition. It took me three tries to get the hang of making one fly like a frisbee.

The tortillas got me to telling Courtney about atol and the changing availability of fresh corn masa in my grandparents’ neighborhood in Houston when I was growing up. When I was very young, there was a woman in the neighborhood who had a wet mill and ground her own nixtamal. She would make extra for any neighbors who wanted to buy it. Usually there wasn’t much demand, except in December, when everybody wanted to make tamales. Maybe someone would buy fresh corn masa if they were making a big batch of enchiladas, but almost everyone preferred flour tortillas and thought of corn tortillas as poverty food.

The holidays were also the only time I experienced champurrado–a sort of hot chocolate thickened with fresh corn masa. I had no idea that champurrado was part of a whole matrix of drinks known as atol: sweetened milk or water thickened with a grain, usually corn masa or old corn tortillas, but sometimes fresh corn, rice, or oats. Like champurrado, horchata and my grandmother’s sweet, milky preparation of Cream of Wheat also belong to the atol matrix, but I didn’t know what to call it until I lived in Guatemala for a while as an adult. When I came back and mentioned it to my grandfather, he said that atol was often all his family had to eat during the Depression, and that he couldn’t stand the stuff, or the memory of it. So it was no wonder neither I nor my mother had ever heard of it.

When a Fiesta supermarket opened up at the end of my grandparents’ block in the early-to-mid-80s, its mill put the neighbor lady out of business. It was able to run at large volume all the time because of a fresh wave of immigration–the newcomers preferred corn over flour tortillas. I’m sure they knew all about atol, too.