Tamales for Christmas

TamalesTamales, tamales, tamales. I love tamales! Back home in Texas it is a tradition to have tamales for Christmas and/or New Years. At least in my family it is. Here in Colorado you don’t see tamales all that much, except in Whole Foods and that’s because they’re from Texas. I’m sorry but Whole Foods tamales wasn’t going to cut it for me. I wanted some fresh homemade freaking delicious tamales so I decided to make my own. The thought of doing so was very intimidating. I mean, it’s TAMALES! They just seem so difficult and easy to screw up, right? Wrong. They couldn’t be easier.

Traditional tamales are made with pork. Traditional masa (masa is the dough used to make the tamales, if you didn’t already know that. Masa is actually Spanish for dough. Is this parenthesis note too long?) is made with lard. Both simple to make a quick vegan switch. Can you say seitan and Earth Balance?

My recipe for the masa is adapted from the package of the flour I used, Maseca Tamal. The flour is called masa harina which is a finely ground corn flour treated with a lime and water solution. If you can’t find masa harina you could try using a plain corn flour but it won’t have the same flavor.

Masa ingredients and directions:

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cups Earth Balance Soy-free Buttery Sticks (equals 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons)
  1. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, chili powder, cayenne, and salt.
  2. Add vegetable broth and mix using your hands until all is combined and smooth.
  3. In a large bowl cream the butter with a hand mixer.
  4. Add wet flour mix to the large bowl with the butter and mix until the dough forms and the butter is incorporated. The dough should be slightly sticky. Set aside until ready to use.

Now for the fun part of making the filling. I was making these to serve on Christmas to my non-vegan family. Obviously I couldn’t stick with just one filling so I went overboard and made three! They all turned out pretty tasty so I’m going to share all of them with you. I made a roasted poblano and black bean filling, a veggie filling, and a chipotle seitan filling. The men favored the chipotle seitan while the women favored the veggie. I loved all three but my favorite was the bean filling. I think the flavor of the freshly roasted poblano really kicked it up a notch.

Poblano and Black Bean filling:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 cups black beans or 2 cans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • dash of ground cayenne
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place whole poblanos in a baking dish. Roast for 30 minutes or until they have blackened, turning once. Immediately place poblanos in a bowl and tightly cover. Let them sit until they are cool enough to handle, about another 30 minutes. Peel off all the skin, remove stem and seeds. Dice and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet heat oil and saute beans for a few minutes.
  3. Add poblano and 1/4 cup broth. While stirring make an effort to lightly mash the beans.
  4. Add seasoning and saute for another minute. If it starts to get too dry add more broth. Try to use this filling as soon as possible before it dries out otherwise it will be too crumbly to fill tamales with. It’s not impossible to fill tamales with crumbly beans but it is annoying.

Veggie filling:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen, thawed
  • 2 cups Mexican grey squash, diced (about 2 medium)
  • 1 cup onion, diced (about 1/2 large)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • dash of cayenne
  1. In a large skillet heat oil and saute corn, squash, and onion for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add seasoning and cook for another minute. Set aside until ready to use.

Chipotle Seitan:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 cups chopped seitan (I used 2 Steamed Chicky Seitan cutlets from Isa Does It)
  • 5 chipotle chilis with a few teaspoons of adobo sauce (about half of a can)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  1. In a large skillet heat oil and saute seitan a few minutes, until warmed NOT brown. You don’t want to dry it out.
  2. In a food processor mix together chipotle peppers, broth, and seasoning. Blend until a smooth sauce forms.
  3. Pour sauce over seitan. Mix and cook for a few more minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

To make all of these tamales I tripled the masa recipe so I would have a full batch of each kind. You will need a bag of corn husks. To prepare the corn husks soak them in a bath of warm water for at least 10 minutes. After soaking they need to be rinsed to make sure all the dirt is cleaned off. How many tamales you get depends on how big your husks are. The larger the husks, the more masa and filling you use. I made 18 poblano and black bean tamales, 13 veggie tamales, and 12 chipotle seitan tamales. I had a tiny bit of filling leftover from each one after all the masa was used up. If that happens do what I did and toss it all together and eat as a snack or whatever you like.

The trick to making tamales is the masa to filling ratio. It needs to be juuuuust right. Also, don’t make the masa layer too thick or too thin and the thickness needs to be consistent between all tamales so that they will cook evenly. About 1/4″ should be good. I did take pictures of the filling process but they are awful photos. The lighting in my kitchen is awful and we were doing this late at night after Twila had gone to bed.

Rectangle of masa with more husk on right side.

Rectangle of masa with more husk on right side.

Filling in center.

Filling in center.

Press masa sides together over filling and wrap husk around.

Press masa sides together over filling and wrap husk around.

Fold tail of husk over seam.

Fold tail of husk over seam.

  1. Take the corn husk with the wide end facing you and spread the masa into a rectangle going all the way to the edge of the wide end. Larger husks will have a wider rectangle. Leave more space on one side than on the other.
  2. Place filling in a row down the center.
  3. Take left side of husk (or the side that has less husk) and fold over filling, peel back the part of the husk that doesn’t have masa.
  4. Take the right side of the husk (or the side that has more husk) and press the masa into the masa from the other side, then wrap the rest of the husk around. If the two masa sides don’t meet either add more masa on one side or remove some filling. If they two sides try to overlap then add more filling or remove some masa from one side.
  5. Finish by folding the tail over the seam and place tail side down.
  6. Wrap tamales in groups of 6 to 10, depending on the size of your tamales and what your steamer can hold, in foil.
  7. Steam tamales for 2 hours.
  8. If you are making these ahead of time like I did let them cool completely before refrigerating.
  9. To reheat simply take them out of the foil and place in a steamer to steam for a few minutes. Make sure you don’t over steam them or they will become too dry to eat.

You can’t eat tamales without having some queso. We made Isa’s Queso Blanco from Isa Does It to go with our tamales and I thought it was perfect. I also made a big crock pot batch of black-eyed peas with shiitake bacon, and served my freshly made chipotle hummus and roasted red pepper hummus with an assortment of veggies as an appetizer. It was all pretty amazing. Making tamales is definitely a special occasion activity since they are so labor intensive. Or you could make a huge batch and freeze them to have a quick snack. Either way you won’t regret spending the time to make some fresh tamales.

Wishing everyone a happy New Year! May 2014 be filled with enlightenment and compassion.

Twila says, "Have yourself a happy New Year."

Twila says, “Have yourself a happy New Year.”

2 thoughts on “Tamales for Christmas

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