Every summer my son and I make tamales.
It was originally his idea. As a Jewish girl growing up in New Jersey, I didn’t really know a heck of a lot about Mexican food. I knew where to get the best bagels and lox, pickles and pastrami, ice cream and candy. Mexican food was not something I thought much about.
But after living in California for 18 years, we eat a lot of it. And love it. There are more Mexican restaurants in San Francisco than bagel shops. My kids eat more burritos than pastrami sandwiches. (However, this is changing. There is a burgeoning Jewish food scene happening here. Yippee!)
After searching online, I decided to use The Mayo Clinic’s recipe for tamales because it doesn’t contain lard, pork or beef broth as most other recipes do. It’s vegan and pareve (unless you add cheese) and gluten free. The original recipe calls for sautéed peppers as a filling, but we didn’t use them because my kids don’t like peppers. You can get creative with the fillings—we make beans sautéed with onions for some and sautéed squash, fresh corn and onion for others. But the ideas for fillings are limitless. (I’m just waiting for the day my kids ask for chocolate or marshmallow.)
Making tamales is really easy and a fun project to do with your kids. They are delicious and healthy too!
Serve with a side a salsa.
Tamales adapted from The Mayo Clinic
A package of dried corn husks (you can find these at most Mexican markets)
3 cups fresh corn kernels (you can use frozen corn, but fresh is much better!)
2 cups masa harina (most health food stores and Whole Foods have masa harina—I like the Bob’s Red Mill brand best.)
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons diced yellow onion
We made four fillings: black beans with sautéed onions; sautéed squash and onion with the remaining corn; plain cheese; and bean and cheese. (You can spice up the fillings to your liking with sautéed chile peppers or chile powder. We keep ours pretty simple because not all of my kids like spicy foods. We buy or make salsa with a little heat instead.)
Place the corn husks in a bowl of water to soften while you make the tamales.
In a food processor, process 2 1/2 cups of the corn kernels until coarsely pureed.
In a large bowl, combine the pureed corn, masa harina, lukewarm water, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and oil. Mix until well blended. Your kids can use their hands to mix.
To assemble a tamale, drain and rinse corn husks and pat dry.
Place 3 tablespoons of masa mixture in the center of a soaked corn husk. Flatten with your hand and form a small well in the center. Add 1 tablespoon of the sautéed vegetables to the center well. Fold the long side of the corn husk over the filling to cover, and then fold over the ends, overlapping them. Tie with a thin strip torn from an extra-soaked husk. Repeat until dough is finished.
In a large pot fitted with a steamer basket, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Layer the wrapped tamales in the steamer basket. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and steam until the filling becomes firm and the tamales are heated through, about 50 to 60 minutes. Add more water as needed. This is important. I forgot to check the water once and it all evaporated, burning the pan.