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Recipe du Jour III: A Tamale You Don't Have to Unshuck

This entry is part of a series, RdJ»

Fresh Tamales

I like tamales. I must admit, the first few times I tried them I wasn’t sure; those corn shucks sure can be chewy and stringy! Just kidding. (You knew that, yes? Right??) They cook up easy, and you can put all sorts of stuff in them and on top to “adjust” their taste. They’re an integral part of many Tex-Mex dishes, and they also can be found in many standard groceries across the US these days.

Of course, I never had to host a tamalada until I was grown and back from college. Oh, my aching back! What a lot of work. After that, I understood intimately why the whole clan would pitch in when my Spanish-speaking friends made tamales.

What can you do if you want fresh tamales and you don’t have a crowd to help make them? Or worse yet, you’re clean out of those chewy corn husk thingies? Well, here’s one option:

Okay, this really isn’t a tamale. Anything this size can’t be a tamale. However, it does have a cornmeal topping that is surprisingly tasty, and echoes the flavor of masa nicely. You can dress this up most any way you like, too! Serve with sides or without; it’s a casserole, after all, the classic one-dish meal. I do like to put garnishes out on the table: Sliced radishes, green olives, salsa (several kinds), pickles, jalapeño or Serrano slices and more. Even some homemade chili for topping.

If this dish is too mild for you, you can pump up the chile powder quotient. I tried it with chiles in it, and that didn’t seem to work as well; although, I think maybe some canned, hot Hatch chiles might work better than the fresh Serranos I used. Adjust the cayenne/chipotle/ancho balance to move the essence to hotter or smokier. Or just go the easy route and substitute your favorite prepared chili powder for the whole shebang. (Or a couple of packages of taco seasoning.) Don’t forget to leave out salt in this case; most commercial chili powders have plenty of salt. (In fact, I use salt-free powders to help control the sodium content in my zesty foods.)

Replace the cornbread topping with freshly mashed potatoes and you’ve got a kind of a Shepherd’s Pie dish. This thing can be made over and over without boredom setting in, I tell you. In any case, you won’t have to peel it to eat…

Enjoy the (Tasty, Shuck-Free Tamale) Heat!

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2 comments to Recipe du Jour III: A Tamale You Don’t Have to Unshuck

  • pj

    Hey, can you buy the Masa topping and save messing up another pan? Love the recipe…

  • Yes, there are ready-made tamale toppings available, generally called “masa compuesta.” (Composted dough??) However, you probably don’t want to go there! For example, one example can be seen here. It’s a big tub, five lbs. You’d have to eat a lot of this casserole to consider getting five pounds of topping! You could use the rest for regular tamales, I suppose.

    Also: These prepared toppings don’t puff like the topping we had on the casserole. It didn’t puff a lot, but it’s part of the overall effect.

    Next time, I think I kick up the spices a bit!