Today I wanted to head south of the border to talk about a cuisine which I feel that I have been neglecting here, and that is Mexican food. I love Mexican food and growing up in America, this is something that you can find on almost every street corner for very cheap prices. However, there is so much bad Mexican food out there. Taco Bell and its associated Tex-Mex buddies are threatening to ruin the meaning of good food for everyone. I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with Tex-Mex. It was a cuisine developed as the cultures of America and Mexico combined in the border towns of the Rio Grande. Unfortunately, much of that heritage has been lost in the variety of cheese-covered globs that dominate the menus of many gringo restaurants. Hence when I want good Mexican food, I feel the only good way to get it is to venture beyond the border and into the Mexican heartland. To that without having to actually walk out the front door, would be to make it at home.
Lucky for us, they are just as many good authentic Mexican recipes as they are bad restaurants. The choice of what you want to eat is up to you. When I want to get my fix of Mexican food I go and take a look at one of the many tasty and real recipes from Rick Bayless, owner of three highly acclaimed restaurants, and well-known across the country for his inventive spin on authentic Mexican cuisine. It was my mother who first saw him make these tamales on his television show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, and so over spring break, we set out to make these.
Here in the states we are usually only accustomed to seeing tamales as a heavy mass of corn dough that holds together some sort of pork or chicken cooked in a reddish sauce, but tamales have a rich heritage that stems back to the Pre-Columbian era. Made from corn, which as been cultivated in the Americas for almost 5,000 years, the Mayans and the Aztecs prepared them for feasts and as a portable food that cold be used to feed the armies. Evidence of their preparation in the Incan Empire shows that tamales have been enjoyed all across Latin America for ages. Today tamales are enjoyed not only for lunch and dinner, but tamales dulces (sweet tamales), often filled with fruits and nuts, illustrates that tamales can also be enjoyed for breakfast, dessert, and just about everything in between.
The tamales I made back in March were sweet tamales with guava and cream cheese, yet another example of Rick Bayless’s ingenuity in the kitchen. The tamal dough has the consistency of cake batter and when it is steamed, you get a sweet corncake with pockets full of oozing sweet guava and tangy cream cheese. They are moist, airy, and fluffy, unlike the denser ones that more commonly appear on your dinner plate. Yes they do require some time and assembly to make, but the end result is possibly one of the most delicious tamales that you will ever have.
Recipe: Sweet Tamales with Guava and Cream Cheese
Recipe from Rick Bayless
Makes 24 tamales
- 1 8-0unce package of dried cornhusks
- 1 1/3 cups softened unsalted butter, you can also use pork-lard or shortening if you really want to go all out
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 pounds fresh-ground corn masa or 3 1/2 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water
- 1 cup milk
- 11 ounces guava paste, also known as ate de guyaba, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 11 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
I going to go ahead and post the link to the original recipe by Rick Bayless because if you are a first-time tamale maker, it is best for you have a more detailed explanation which can be found here: http://www.rickbayless.com/recipe/view?recipeID=360
If you have made tamales before, feel free to view my instructions which are little more simplified:
1. First off, you have to submerge you cornhusks in hot water for a couple of hours till they are workable and can be rolled and folded without breaking.
2. To make the tamale batter, first cream the butter and the sugar with the baking powder and the salt in an electric mixer for about three minutes, until light and fluffy. Add in the masa mixture in three additions and continue beating throughout the process. Then add in the milk at a low-speed.
3. To ensure that you tamales will be light and fluffy, drop a 1/2 teaspoonful of batter into a cup of cold water. If it floats, then you will have tender and light tamales. If it doesn’t, keep on beating the mixture till this happens, or refrigerate the batter for about an hour and then rebeat with a little water. What you essentially want in the end is a batter with a soft consistency, much like a cake batter.
4. For steaming the tamales you will need some sort of tamale steaming apparatus. There are Mexican tamale steamers which you can find in speciality stores or you can also use an Asian bamboo steamer, or what I used is a wok with a steam tray on top of it. You can also use a collapsible vegetable steamer set over a saucepan.
5. Forming the tamales: I believe it is best to view the above link that I posted for a good explanation which I believe is done best in the words of the master himself.
6. You have to steam the tamales for something like 1 hour and 25 minutes. You will know they are done when the husk peels away from the tamales easily.
- You can find guava paste, masa harina, and cornhusks in the Mexican aisle of most supermarkets. If you want freshly ground masa, then I would recommend trying a Mexican supermarket, of which they are a couple throughout the Chicagoland area.
- Sorry that I have no pictures of the finished product. As much as I appreciate that my brother takes all these amazing pictures for me, sometimes he gets lazy and does not follow through all the way. Oh well, at least you can see how creamy the batter looks.