A 13-hour post and then some.. with a lot of help from some friends.
Tamales are not hard to make. They are just a tad labour intensive.
After gathering a few friends for a tamalada (tamale making party), the hardest part did not occur while making the tamales. Frankly, the hardest part is now writing up the (very lengthy) recipe. Kidding aside, for the tamale execution, the hardest part was not overstuffing my steamer. If I were still in Toronto, the hardest part would likely be locating dry corn husks.
I first made these tamales with Rob when we were still in Toronto. I originally thought about making tamales after we had bought a bunch of fresh corn and had all these corn husks. Ever the thrifty type, I reasoned they would be great for tamales. Let it be known that Ontario corn husks do not make for good tamale wraps: they are just too small and/or require too much precision to rip the husks off without making the pieces too small. In any case, the seed was planted and Rob eventually tracked down corn husks at Kensington Market.
We sat together in our new kitchen, made the sweet potatoes, the black beans and the corn dough… and even a red sauce (Rob definitely made the red sauce). And then delicately wrapped each tamale. I counted 50. After an hour of steaming, they were delicious but we worked late into the night. We vowed to make this a group effort next time.
Fast forward a few years later, where a Mexican Farmer’s Market is our supermarket of choice in Houston and we see corn husks all.over.the.place. For a fraction of the price of what we paid in Toronto, too. $2 bought us a big bag of corn husks (a pound, I checked). (Should I peddle corn husks across the border??). I knew it was time to resurrect the tamales!
Between 6 of us, it took no time to roll and wrap the tamales. I didn’t even wrap any! The whole ordeal was finished before I had cleaned up the kitchen. The corn husks were also probably larger as we only made around 25-30 this time.
A bit about the recipe. It is a mashup from a few cookbooks. Thankfully I found a few online sources to help me cobble together my notes from a few years ago: Tess’ corn fluff stuff from RHIW with the beans and sweet potatoes from Viva Vegan. Tamales are known to be quite heavy with a lot of oil (even Terry’s original recipe calls for a cup of shortening/margarine) but I cut the oil by incorporating the black beans directly into the masa dough.
The black bean mixture and sweet potatoes both added nice flavours and worked well with the corn fluff stuff. We didn’t bother with a red sauce this time and instead (happily) resorted to Trader Joe’s corn and chile tomato-less salsa.
This was a fun experiment because we had a bit of trouble getting the tamales to cook all the way through in the steamer. The tamales we took out later were more cooked, whereas some of the earlier ones were still a bit mushy. Still edible and delicious, but not exactly what we were anticipating. I photographed leftover tamales and the last photo here is Robbie-style so you can see all the nooks and crannies in the tamale from the corn husk mold. Perhaps steaming them in smaller batches would be a better solution.
With still many corn husks remaining and even more masa harina, there will be another tamalada. Perhaps I will finally make those chocolate tamales after all. Have you ever made tamales before?
For those who blog: How long would you say it takes to make one post? When you factor in shopping for ingredients, cooking, photographing and editing in addition to the post, it certainly adds up!
Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tamales
25-50 dry corn husks
2 lbs sweet potato
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil of choice
1/2 lb yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 dried Ancho chile, soaked, deseeded, destemmed and chopped
1/4 cup water
1 tsp nutritional yeast
1.5 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained if canned
1/4 cup Earth Balance vegan margarine
2.75 cups dry masa harina (aka corn maseca)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups plus 2 tbsp water
1 tsp granulated garlic
1. Begin by hydrating your corn husks. Using a large casserole dish, submerge in water for at least 30 minutes, if not more.
2. Next roast your potatoes: Preheat oven to 375F. Pierce sweet potato several times with a fork, wrap in foil and bake for 45 minuted until soft. Once baked, remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, remove skins and place sweet potato flesh in a large bowl and combine with cumin. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
3. Now make your beans: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Once hot, add onions and saute until softened, around 5 minutes. Add garlic, chopped Ancho chile and saute until fragrant, around 1 minute. Add water to deglaze and add nutritional yeast. Stir in black beans and Earth Balance. Cook for 5 minute until the liquid in mostly absorbed.
4. Now prepare your masa dough: In a large bowl, mix together the masa harina, baking soda and salt until well combined. Stir in the water until evenly mixed. Add the black bean mixture to this and mix until combined.
5. Now make your tamales: Use a wet tamale and place around 1/4 cup of the corn filling in the middle of the corn husk. Add 2 tbsp of the sweet potato filling to the middle. Bring the bottom of the corn husk up and wrap the other sides together like a log. You can use a portion of another corn husk to tie everything together. Or use 2 ties to tie it up like a candy. Some good pictures are here. Continue until your filling or dough is used up.
6. To cook, place tamales folded side down, standing up vertically, in a steamer basket. Steam for for an hour. Make sure you still have water in your steaming apparatus. You will know they are ready when the filling is firm. The filling will continue to firm up once chilled, too.
7. Enjoy with your choice of salsa, sauces, or other toppings. Tamales freeze well.
Makes 25-50 tamales, depending on the size of your corn husks.