Suzi and I are now in New Mexico. We’ve hiked our tushes off. And now we are head to Santa Fe and a spa and food. We’ll be consuming tamales by the bushel. They are not the easiest things to make at home. They really are not. But, if you are game, from 2015 is this perfect guide.
Twenty years ago Alice Guadalupe Tapp opened her tamale store in Los Angeles. And thirteen years ago she wrote Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales. Now she has a wonderful new book Tamales: Fast and Delicious Mexican Meals.
How can you not love tamales? Eating them is love for sure. But making them yourself is, as Alice knows too well, a hurdle for many of us. Mention “masa harina” and some of us get cold shivers. Faced with a banana leaf and a tamale needing to be steamed, some of us can be stumped remembering how to tie it all up. Kinda like that first year of tying your own shoelaces.
From years of teaching and writing, and tamale making by the thousands, Alice’s new book is devoted to truly making tamales a do-able meal for us, even on weeknights. She has simplified the process here so that, with the filling prepared, the final tamale staging and steaming is an hour process. And her array of lovely fillings can be made ahead and used throughout the week.
This book is replete with serious advice and education plus recipes both traditional and head turning.
The first chapter, Masa, gets to the heart of the matter. There are many, many ways to prepare masa, from lovingly and lengthy traditional to short and quick with new products that streamline the process. And there are four pages of illustrations for using those banana leaves or the traditional corn husks: different ways to tie your bundle up before steaming.
The Sauces and Salsas chapter suggests very quick ways to generate fresh, authentic garnishes to go in or on your tamales.
Inside-Out Tamales is the chapter that makes this book strikingly new and very productive. Are you tired of tamales that are all masa and no filling? That’s why I’ve stopped ordering tamales at restaurants. Who wants a half cup of masa with just a teaspoon of filling?
These inside-out tamales, called tontos, are not new. Alice enjoyed them as a child and now we all can. A traditional tamale has a filling that is cooked, then put in the masa, and steamed again. Some fillings can be twice-cooked, but others could not. Shrimp, for example, will turn to rubber.
Instead, for inside-out, you make the masa, steam it, unroll the unfilled tamale, and then put a lovely “filling” over the top. Her first example, a Corn Salad Inside-Out Tamale, is a beauty to behold. So beautiful that I will post it later today. Other ideas her for “fillings” that are “toppings” include Mexican Tuna, Ratatouille, and those Shrimp I mentioned.
The Meat chapter will have you ready to attack masa harina on the spot. The ideas here include Chicken and Chorizo, Red Chile Pork Sausage, Red Chile Beef, and even Chorizo and Egg.
There is a chapter called Nose-to-Tail with recipes that you have not eaten but you might make on a brave night: Beef Cheeks, Blood Sausage, Lam Head, Oxtail, and Tripe. I don’t know if Suzen and I will be attempting any of these. Perhaps a margarita or two will inspire us onward.
And for those of you with other culinary tastes, there is a Vegetarian and Vegan chapter. Here are ideas that I know Suzie and I can embrace: Huevos-Racheros-Inspired Tamales, Artichoke, Creamy Mushroom, Fresh Poblano and Potato, and Cilantro Pesto. A mix and match of some of these with other from the Meat chapter will make a complete feast that should satisfy the needs of any guest.
Oh, yes, any tamale feast must end with Dessert Tamales. Here you will find Baked Fig, Oreo, Chocolate Bread Pudding, Dulce de Leche, Brownie, and even — I swear — Bananas Foster.
When you finish scanning this book, your first reaction will be “I need to reread about the masa” before I go to the store. Tamales is far too tempting a tome to simply put down and not try. I’m actually off to the store with a short shopping list: masa and bananas. I’ll let you know.