Sunday, January 2, 2011

A recipe for veggie tamales

Here is a pretty simple recipe for veggie tamales. A lot of it is improvised according to judgment and taste, so feel free to experiment. None of this is set in stone. For example, you can use a different vegetable mixture than the one used here. You can add carrots or broccoli. You can add cheese if you want. There is no end to where you can take it! This recipe is meant to give you ideas (not to say that the tamales won't be perfectly delicious if you stick strictly to this recipe). Also, these tamales are not made-from scratch tamales. We are using store-bought masa here. You can find many good masa recipes online if you want to make the tamales entirely from scratch. But, you can get perfectly good masa at a quality "molino," or tortilla factory. Note that some masa that you buy at the store is not vegan-friendly since some contain lard. This masa is vegan friendly. We are using olive oil here instead of lard. The finished product here is not vegan friendly however since we are using chicken stock to boil the tamales in. However, you may be able to use vegetable stock instead for a pure vegan product! Have fun!

8 pods chiles anchos (dried red peppers)

6 lbs fresh masa (you can buy this at a tortilla factory called a "molino")

1 large package of corn husks ("hojas para tamales")

A 1 oz. small package of chile powder mix (the mix has other seasonings than chile powder)

1 3 oz. bottle of plain chile powder


Black pepper

One cup of olive oil

6 Zucchinis

2 Green bell peppers

2 Red bell peppers

1 Bunch green onions

A half gallon of chicken broth


1. Prepare the chile ancho paste to season the masa.

The following can be prepared a few days before making your tamales:

Remove stems from each pod of chile ancho.

Tear open each pod and discard all the seeds.

Soak the hallowed out pods overnight in hot water to soften them.

When completely softened, discard the water and puree the pods and set the paste aside in bowl.

2. Spice the masa.

The following can be prepared a day or two before making your tamales:

*Note: this is the fun part. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and don't be afraid to taste! Remember, none of this is set in stone, so feel free to add seasoning as you see fit.

Place the masa in a very large pot.

Add the pureed chile ancho, chile powder mix (1 oz.), half of the bottle of chile powder (1.5 oz.), and salt and pepper to taste.

Mix thoroughly with clean hands. Make sure to break up all those little clumps of masa. You want a completely evenly spiced and textured masa mix.

While mixing add about one cup of olive oil. Here, you want to get the masa to a soft and manageable texture, not too stiff and not too thin. Go by feel. If the masa seems to dry, just add more olive oil.

3. Prepare your corn husks.

The following can be prepared a day or two before making your tamales.

Open each corn husk.

Remove any corn silk (the hair-like fibers from the husk).

Soak the Corn Husks in a large pot with hot water. This makes the corn husks soft and flexible for when you spread the masa on them.

Leave them in the water overnight or until soft.

4. Cut up your veggies.

The following can be prepared a day or two before making your tamales:

Chop all the veggies to a desired size and mix in a large bowl. You can dice them up into small pieces or you can even julienne the bell peppers and zucchinis to about inch long.

Set aside or refrigerate until ready to cook.

5. Make your tamales.

Now that you have done all your prep work, you are ready to assemble and cook your tamales. This is a tough day. Spreading the masa on the tamales can be tough work, but it is well-rewarded work. One suggestion: the more people you can get in on this process of spreading masa and stuffing the tamales, the better. You can even make a party of the whole business. These tamale-making parties are called tamaladas. Sit around a large table with your friends and family and have a blast!

Drain the corn husks completely, stand them upright on drain board or in a pan so that all the water can come out. You can even shake them off to get rid of any excess water.

"Sautee" the vegetables in a non-stick skillet. Do not add any fat or oil; you won't need it. The vegetables will release their own water in which to cook. Just put the vegetables in a pan and set them at a low to medium heat. You want them tender but not too soft because they will get more cooking time when you stuff them in the tamales. Make sure most of the water in the pan is evaporated because you don't want the vegetables too watery.

In a separate pot, bring half a gallon of chicken stock to a boil. You will use this later to cook your tamales.

Take a corn husk and cup it in your palm. The corn husk naturally cups itself into a bowl-like shape. You are going to spread the masa on the inside of that "bowl."

Using a spoon, place about a golf ball size hunk of masa onto the corn husk.

Holding the husk in one hand, spread about a golf ball size of masa onto the bottom portion of the husk with the back of the spoon. The bottom portion is the wide part (do not spread any masa on the upper (tapered) part of the the husk). This is all about technique and judgment. You can place the corn husk on a flat surface and spread the masa like that, but you get more control when you cup the husk in your hand. Find out the technique that works for you. You want the masa to be spread with an even thickness across the bottom portion of the husk. How thick a layer of masa you want is up to you. A thicker layer will make a really fat, "doughy" tamale. I personally like the fat tamales, but you may not. Experiment. And remember, practice makes perfect!

When finished spreading, stack the husks with masa on top of each other.

Spoon enough vegetables, length-wise, on the masa, but don't spread the veggies all the way to the top and bottom of the masa. Rather, leave about half an inch on either side so that you can close off the tamale on both ends by pinching the masa together (see the next step). Refer to diagram below.

Roll the tamale up and fold the flap top-section of the husk (the part without masa) part down. Pinch the masa on the top and bottom of the tamale so that the vegetables are closed off and enclosed completely in the tamale. If you do not have enough masa to close off the open end of the tamale, feel free to take a little bit of extra masa in your finger to seal off the end.

Arrange all the tamales in a large pot, (teepee style), with the opened part of the tamale upright.

Pour the boiling hot chicken stock into the pot with the tamales. Maintain a boil. Cover and lower flame to where you can still hear the boiling sound. Cook for one hour on medium low. This is terribly important: do not uncover them until the hour is up. They will not cook properly if you uncover them.

6. Enjoy your tamales!

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