Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tamales for Christmas Eve

Let me start out by saying I am not a ethnic heritage is a veritable gamut of Eastern Bloc nations. To make it simple, when people ask, I say I am "half Polish and half Russian". On Christmas Eve, my nationalities dictate abstaining from meat - as a kid, we'd have fish of some kind. In recent years, I have put on a veritable seafood fest for my family. But this year, I decided I'd try to make tamales.I love tamales. I first had them at a now defunct Ann Arbor restaurant called La Pinata. They had a menu item that said "Tamales - In Season". I had no idea when tamale season was...but as it turns out, tamale season is Christmas time. Any chance I see tamales on a menu, I have to order them. I decided this year was the year I'd give them a try - there was a wonderful article about tamales in this month's Cooking Light magazine. By the way, if you haven't yet started reading Cooking Light, I'd highly recommend it. For years I resisted it because I thought it would be full of recipes that included stuff like Splenda and light margarine, but it isn't. It's got wonderful recipes, as well as exercise ideas and food related travel. If one of your goals in the new year is to lose weight (mine is - I currently have a bad case of muffin top), it will inspire you!

Anyway, back to tamales. I improvised them based on a couple recipes - the one in Cooking Light, which featured corn kernels and ancho chilis in the masa, and the one on the package of corn husks I bought. I actually used lard, as Cooking Light suggested, to improve the flavor. Their philosophy is using fat judiciously as a flavor enhancement, therefore, they use real butter, olive oil, bacon, etc. whenever possible. I had some corn kernels that I preserved by freezing last summer, so I used those in my masa. For the filling, I used a recipe based on the one in the corn husk wrapper, but I used chipotle chilis instead of the New Mexico ones it called for, because I didn't have any, and I used pork tenderloin, because it is a leaner cut than the pork shoulder the original recipe called for. I also modified it to make it in the slow cooker, which worked really well.

I found all my ingredients at Meijer - they have a huge Mexican food selection, much better than any other grocery store in town. My guess is because they were founded on the west side of the state, where there is a higher migrant worker population. I really liked the Mexican tomato sauce I found there - El Pato brand.

Making tamales is a two day affair. On the first day, make the filling. Here's how I did it:

Tamale filling
7 lb. pork tenderloin
4 medium onions, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 chilis in adobo sauce, cut in small pieces
1 T. cumin
2 t. oregano
2 T. salt

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover with water. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred pork, reserving broth. Add pork to broth and refrigerate.

On the second day, make the masa dough and the tamales.

1 16 oz. pkg. corn husks
8 c Masa Harina
1 1/3 c. lard
2 tsp. salt
2 cans beef broth
6 dried ancho chilis
3 c. corn kernels
Mexican tomato sauce

Soak corn husks in water in a bowl weighted down with a can for 30 minutes. Place anchos and broth in a microwave safe bowl and cook on high for 4 minutes or until chilis are soft. Reserving broth, remove stems, and place peppers in a blender with corn kernels and salt. Blend until smooth. In a large bowl, mix together lard and masa. Add ancho blend and reserved beef broth and mix with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

To make tamales, separate corn husks, removing any corn silk. Put a dish towel on the counter top and lay down a leaf. It will be triangle shaped. Scoop a couple spoonfuls of masa on the wide end of a corn husk, and form a 3 inch wide inch bar that lines up with the bottom of the husk. The bar should be about 4 inches tall. Along the right hand side of the masa, place a couple spoonfuls of the pork filling. Roll from right to left, and then fold own the pointy top.

Place tamales on a rack (broiler rack, cookie cooling rack) that has been covered with an old wet dish towel. When you have the rack full, cover it with another wet dish towel. New cloth diapers are just the right size for this, by the way. Place the rack over a jelly roll or broiler pan. Put the pan in a 450 F oven and add water to the pan to steam the tamales. Steam for 55 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve tamales peeled from their corn husks covered in Mexican tomato sauce. Or, tamales are an ideal food to make for the freezer. To reheat a frozen tamale, reheat in a microwave on high while wrapped in a damp towel. This recipe makes about 50 tamales - plenty to freeze!

For those of us that will be starting back on the Weight Watcher's Points program come the new year, by my estimates, two of these tamales are 6 points.

1 comment:

Jeni's Mini Kitchen said...

Thanks for posting this! My friends and I are thinking of doing a tamale party next year for christmas instead. this will be bookmarked. I love it that you have estimated the tamale weight watchers points. I wonder if there is anything we can do beside using all the lard?