A few weeks ago we had a band from Texas play a show in our basement and spend the night at our house. Whenever bands come play, my boyfriend and I always make them a bunch of food. Usually it's a big pot of vegan chili or crispy fried tacos filled with beans or a soyrizo-potato mixture. This time we thought it would be cool to make tamales instead. I love tamales and can never find vegan ones, so I was all for it. We bought a tamalera, masa, and corn husks, and for the next 3 hours I prepared the tamales to be cooked. And then it all went downhill. Tamales should take 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook, but after 3 hours, mine were still a soggy mess. There I was with a house full of hungry people and tamales that looked like crap. There's nothing I hate more than my food not turning out right, especially when I'm cooking for a bunch of people. Finally, in a last ditch effort to save the tamales, I took them all out of the steamer and put them in the oven to try and dry them out. Eventually it seemed to work and everyone told me they tasted great, but I knew I had to redeem myself. That's why, only a week later at my birthday potluck, I made them again. This time they turned out great! See, I knew I could do it!
Now, there's a reason why a lot of families only make tamales a few times a year, and when they do, it's in huge batches. This is because tamales take FOREVER to make! Don't attempt this recipe unless you have a large chunk of time to devote to it. If you do, though, it's totally worth it and everyone will be very impressed. I am by no means an expert tamal maker so I spent a lot of time looking up different masa recipes. They all seemed a little different but the one I finally came up with with was an adaptation of this recipe, which I tweaked a bit to fit my needs. There's a lot of variation out there, so I encourage you to experiment a bit. Have fun!
makes about 30-40 tamales
Corn Husks (soaked in water for at least 3 hours)
Masa (cornmeal dough)
9 Cups Warm Vegetable Stock
2 Cups Non-Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening
12 Cups Dry Masa Flour (I used El Mexicano brand Masa Casera)
1-2 Tbs Salt (more of less depending on saltiness of veg. stock)
2 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Cumin Powder
2 Large Yellow Onions, chopped
4 Medium Green Bell Peppers
5 Medium Carrots, grated
5 Medium Zucchini
4-6 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
2 Jalepeno Peppers, finely chopped, seeds removed
2 tsp Cumin Powder
3 tsp Salt
4 Tbs Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Fresh Ground Pepper
2 15 oz Cans Black Beans (or the home cooked equivalent)
2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
1 tsp Cumin
Salt and Pepper
2 Tbs Vegetable Oil
For the Masa:
Heat the stock until warm, but not hot. In a large bowl, mix the Masa flour, 1 Tbs salt, baking powder, and cumin until well combined. Add the vegetable stock 1 cup at a time, and with your hands (this is the fun part) mix it together until a soft dough is formed. It should be about the consistency of cookie dough. If the dough seems too dry, add more stock, too wet, more masa flour. Taste and add the remaining 1 Tbs salt if needed. In an electric mixer* fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the shortening for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the masa mixture to the shortening 1 cup at a time, beating and once it is all added, beat for about 5 minutes more until a soft paste is formed. The first time I made the tamales, the masa was too wet, which is probably why they didn't work right. If the dough seems too wet, add more dry masa flour. *If you don't have a really large mixing bowl, the masa can be made in 2 batches.
For the Filling:
Quarter the bell peppers, remove the seeds and membrane and cut into 1/4" slices. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and then into 1/4" half circles. Chop the onions, first 4-6 garlic cloves, and jalepenos, grate the carrots, and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, and then add all the chopped vegetables, garlic, and jalepenos.
Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the cumin, salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste. Continue cooking for about 10 more minutes, stirring, until all the vegetables are cooked thoroughly. Add the fresh chopped cilantro, stir, and then remove from the heat.
In a hot pan, sautée the remaining garlic until just beginning to brown. Drain the beans, reserving some of the liquid in case the beans get too dry. Add the beans to the garlic, and mash with a potato masher while continuing to cook. Leave the beans a little bit chunky. Add 1 tsp of cumin and salt and pepper to taste (don't be shy with the salt!). Cook about 3 minutes longer, stirring. If the beans are to thick, add a bit of reserved liquid. Mix the beans in with the sautéed vegetables.The Assembly:
Remove the husks from the soaking water and squeeze out any excess.
With the back of a spoon or rubber spatula, spread a 1/4" layer of masa over the upper half to 2/3rds of a corn husk. Repeat with the remaining husks and dough until all the masa is used up, stacking the masa filled husks on a cookie sheet.
Next, add a couple spoonfuls of filling to the center of the masa. Fold the sides of the husks around the filling and then fold the bottom of the husk w/o masa on it up towards the top. At this point you can tie a narrow strip of husk around the tamal or leave it how it is. Fill the remaining hulks, fold, and set aside.
Fill the bottom of the tamalera or other large pot with water until just below the steaming tray. Carefully stack the tamales upright in the steamer, with the open end pointing up and the folded end on the bottom until all the tamales are in the pot. If you have a lot, it's ok to stack the tamales on top of each other. If you have additional corn husks that didn't get filled, you can line the edges of the pot with them, and cover the top of the tamales with a few layers. I totally forgot to do this, but apparently it improves the flavor of the tamales and allows you to pour extra water in the steamer during cooking without getting the tamales wet. (see here for further info)
Put the tamalera on the stove and cover with a lid. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to medium. Steam the tamales for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, making sure that the water doesn't evaporate completely. Add more hot water as needed. After about 1 1/2 hour, take one tamal out of the pot with tongs and set aside for about 5 minutes. Open the tamal to see if the masa is cooked. When ready, the masa should peel away cleanly from the husk and not be wet of sticky anymore. If it's not ready, continue cooking and test another tamal 10-15 minutes later. Once the tamales are cooked, turn off the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes before eating. Tamales can be served with Salsa Verde and soy sour cream.
Tamales store well in the freezer if you have leftovers. Wrap the cooled tamales tightly in plastic wrap then in foil.