If we have grandmas for no other reason, this one is enough: to cook the things that only taste good when cooked by a grandma. We've all got a grandma who could make (fill in the blank) better than anyone else. Right? My dad's mom made fried stuffing. I'm sure she did a lot of other things to, but her God-given grandma talent was to make fried stuffing on Thanksgiving. That's my classic American food heritage. But I can think of other things that really are best when cooked by a grandma: Spaghetti sauce, lumpia, tamales... and probably fried chicken.
It doesn't mean other people can't make these things well. But when you hear "so & so's grandma made these tamales and it took all day" you know they're going to be amazing. And that it probably meant a full kitchen, with grandmas, aunts, sisters, (and of course uncles, fathers, brothers) all sitting around a table chattering away while rolling lumpia or folding cornhusks around masa.
It also means that any attempt at making "said item" yourself just won't be the same.
It can't be- unless you can borrow a grandma and all her people to fill your kitchen with all the smells and sounds and love that make a dish authentic.
These tamales however, are as close to authentic as can be for a couple health-minded cooks who don't speak much more Spanish than "tamales!" We've also had a lot of experience eating tamales- from food carts, friend's grandmas, and a street vendor in Mexico.
We know good tamales.
The right balance of masa to filling, vegetables that keep their texture, meat that melts in your mouth, and masa that isn't gummy, but is light and flavorful.
The reputation around tamales is that "they're so hard to make" or "they take all day", which we considered before attempting to make our own. With that in mind, the beef was cooked and cooled the day before, and the cornhusks were soaked in water overnight.
We set aside a whole day to prepare the fillings, assemble the tamales, and steam them in big pots of water.
And they turned out amazing!!!
There really can only be one reason though- we had a grandma in the kitchen with us. And though she wouldn't claim to be a cook, there's something about a grandma that makes a dish authentic!
Authentic Tamales - Masa
30-40 corn husks, soaked overnight in water*
3 cups masa harina
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter (non-dairy or dairy), room temperature
2 1/2 cups warm water
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside
Add shortening and butter to a mixer bowl and beat until creamy
Add 1/4 of the masa mixture and 1/4 of the water to the butter mix and beat until well incorporated. Continue adding 1/4 of masa and water until all has been added.
Continue to beat the masa until soft and fluffy. You will know the masa is ready when a small piece, dropped into water, floats. If it doesn't float continue to mix. You may need to add a bit of additional shortening or water to get the masa to float. It will take several minutes for the mixture to get fluffy enough to float. Stop the mixer every 1-2 minutes to do the "float" test.
Fill a large soup pot with 1-3" of water. Place a coin in the bottom of the pot and then add a steamer basket. You want the water to reach the bottom of the basket but do not water in the basket. The coin will rattle while the water is boiling. If the coin stops rattling you will know to add more water to the pot.
Lay a corn husk onto a flat surface and spread masa into a 1/4" thick rectangle that is 1" from the wide end of the husk and 3" from the pointed end.Spread 1-2 tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa and then fold in the sides and then fold the pointed end toward the wide end. Set aside, seam side down, while you prepare the other tamales.
Line the steamer basket with corn husks and then set your tamales into the basket with the open end of the tamales facing up. Cover the tamales with foil and then put the lid onto the pot.
Steam tamale's for 1 hour. Tamale's are done when the husk easily separates from the masa.
Shredded Beef Filling
3 pound chuck roast
1 medium onion
6 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Season roast with salt, pepper, and cumin.
Place in a crock pot with onions and garlic, add enough water to barely cover top of roast. Cook on low for 6 hours or until easily shreds with a fork.
Let cool completely, then remove meat to a cutting board., reserving garlic for chili sauce. Using two forks, pull meat into shreds, alternately, you may use a knife to finely chop.
Ancho Chili Sauce
Place chilies and cumin seeds in a small pot, cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until chilies are soft.
Remove chilies from pot and place in a blender of food processor with the vegetable oil and garlic (you may also add any reserved garlic from the meat). Blend until smooth, adding reserved cooking liquid 1/4 cup at a time until a thick sauce consistency. Season to taste with salt.
In a medium saucepan or skillet, combine shredded beef and chili sauce. Stir and cook over medium heat 5-10 minutes until excess liquid is absorbed. You do not want meat to be watery.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup onion, minced
2 carrots, minced
2 medium zucchinis, minced
1 poblano pepper, charred and finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Melt coconut oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add onion and carrot and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add zucchini to skillet and cook for 1 minute and then add pobalno, cumin, garlic and salt. Continue to cook until vegetables are just beginning to soften but are still quite crisp. The vegetables will continue to soften while the tamales are steamed
*dried corn husks for tamales can be found in ethnic section of most grocery stores (we got ours at Fred Meyer)
*Thanks to Wild Hare Organic Farm for the amazing vegetables. We couldn't create these amazing recipes without the lovely vegetables we get in our weekly CSA share. Two Kitchen Collision received no compensation for this post and the recipe idea was entirely our own.