Tamales

Living in southern California with it’s sizable Hispanic population, tamales have become synonymous with the holidays and especially Christmas. I’ve often heard stories of families gathered around the kitchen making these unique pouches of goodness while laughing, singing and sharing memories on Christmas Eve.

Here is a recipe for very tasty little tamales that I adapted from Sunset magazine. Because it is a labor-intensive process, I have added shortcuts along the way to reduce the time required. There are two filling variations here.

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Make The Filling: Roasted Poblano Chile and Cheese

1 1/2 pounds poblano chiles

kosher salt

18 oz monterey jack cheese

Cover a cooking sheet with foil and broil the chiles in the oven until blackened all over, about 10 minutes. Turn frequently while broiling. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam for 20 minutes.

Peel skin off the chiles, stem and seed them. Slice into 1/2” strips, about 3” long. Season with salt.

Cut cheese into slices approximately 3” long and 1/2” wide.

Note: for a shortcut, buy mild green chiles already prepared in a can.

Make The Filling: Chicken and Green Tomatillo Salsa

Chicken:

1 1/2 white onions, quartered

4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 t kosher salt

3 lbs chicken breast, with skin and bones

2 bay leaves

Salsa:

11 firm tomatillos, husked, stemmed and rinsed in warm water to remove stickiness

2 to 3 jalapeno chiles, stemmed and halved lengthwise (optional: remove seeds for milder flavor or use fewer chiles)

3/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, stems and leaves

1 t kosher salt

1/4 t pepper

Poach chicken: put onions, garlic, salt and 4 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add chicken and bay leaves and lower heat to a simmer. Cook chicken, partly covered until no longer pink inside, about 20 to 25 minutes. When chicken is cool, tear into bite size pieces, discarding skin.

Remove bay leaf from pot. Add tomatillos and jalapenos and cook, covered over medium heat until tomatillos are soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain tomatillo mixture, saving the broth to make the tamale dough. Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a blender. Add cilantro, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

Bring salsa to a simmer in a saucepan. Add chicken and simmer together for about 5 minutes to meld flavors. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: you can substitute cooked chicken breast and store bought salsa verde to save time.

Make The Tamale Dough

3/4 lb pork lard

5 cups masa harina (Maseca)

2 t baking powder

4 t kosher salt

4 1/2 cups hot chicken broth

Make dough: whip lard on low speed of a mixer with the whisk attachment, gradually increasing speed to high, until lard is fluffy like frosting, about 5 minutes. Whisk masa harina, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With mixer on low, add 1/3 masa mixture to the lard, incorporating fully. Scrape bowl and add another 1/3 masa mixture. Slowly add broth to the lard/masa mixture. Beat in remaining masa mixture one spoonful at a time until dough is soft and fluffy without being sticky (you may not need to use all of the masa mixture). Test the dough by rolling a small ball of it over the back of your hand to see if it rolls easily without sticking. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and rest between 10 minutes and up to 1 hour, or chill up to 2 days.

Fill The Tamales

8 oz dried cornhusks (50 to 60)

Soak cornhusks by submerging them in hot water, weighted down with the lid of a pan for about 30 minutes.

Place 4 upturned ramekins in the bottom of a tall stockpot and set a steamer basket on top. Pour water in the bottom to about 1 1/2” but below the steamer basket level.

Drain cornhusks and pat dry. If you are not using them immediately, chill them in resealable plastic bags for up to 2 days.

Set a cornhusk, smooth side up, on a work surface. Spoon about 2+ T of dough onto the wide top of husk and smear over top half of husk, leaving a 1” border from top and sides. Add 1-2 T of filling down the center of the dough (or 2 chiles and 1 piece of cheese for the chile cheese tamales). Bring the sides of the husk to meet over the filling, then fold both sides of the filling in the same direction. Turn tamale seam side up and fold the narrow bottom of the tamale up to close it.

Set the tamales, open side up in the steamer, packing them loosely. Cover the pot with foil and a tight fitting lid. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to maintain a steady low boil. Check the water at 30 minutes, adding more as necessary. The tamales should be done at about 1 hour, when they separate easily from the husk but are still somewhat soft (open one to check). Remove pot from heat and let tamales cool in pot for about 20 minutes to firm up.

Serve with salsa of your choice, though they are delicious on their own.

Tamales can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. To reheat, place them on a plate with a damp paper towel over them and plastic wrap covering the plate. Microwave them on high for approximately 1 to 2 minutes if frozen, less if not. Adjust time according to your specific microwave.

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Note: although this is an involved process, it is a joyful one – especially in the creation of the tamale dough and the filling and folding of the tamales. And the results are better than any tamale I have ever tasted – proving what we already know: that nothing beats homemade, and that love can be shared through the food we prepare. Enjoy.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

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I love this dish and had it as often as I could on my recent trip to Vietnam. It’s delicious, of course, but also easy, healthy, light and versatile. This recipe is a version I created from a little research and experimentation. I think these are especially suited for summer and spring, but I will enjoy them year-round.

1/4 lb cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 oz rice vermicelli (thin rice noodles)

lettuce leaves

shredded carrot

chives or julienned green onion

mint leaves

cilantro

4 to 6 sheets round Vietnamese rice paper

dipping sauce:

1 cup boiling water

1/3 cup fish sauce

1/4 (or less, preference) cup sugar

2 T lime juice

1 t chile paste or chile sauce

1 small carrot, finely diced (optional)

Combine dipping sauce ingredients and set aside. Soak the rice vermicelli in hot water until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain. Soften the rice paper in lukewarm water, one sheet at a time and lay on a flat surface. Place the vegetables, herbs and rice vermicelli on the end of the rice paper closest to you. Place the shrimp on top. Roll up the rice paper first up from the bottom, then fold in the two sides and them continue to roll until sealed. Serve with dipping sauce.

*Note: the ingredient measurements in this recipe are estimates because this is truly a recipe one can tweak to their personal tastes. Some might like more vegetables (like cucumber!) or more shrimp, some may want to add rolled egg omelet or meat. Herbs, vegetables, the balance of the dipping sauce can be varied. Enjoy experimenting!

Sholeh’s Persian Eggplant Stew

 

 

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A week ago my husband and I were invited to a friend’s house for a Persian dinner party.  My friend Sholeh is an intuitive cook who rarely uses a recipe.  She made two main dishes and a couple of different Persian rice dishes.  This eggplant stew was fantastic and beautiful to look at.  Great for a vegetarian main dish as well as a side dish.  Here is her recipe.

Khoresh Bademjaan (Persian Eggplant Stew)

Ingredients:

10 Italian eggplants, preferably small, 4-5″ long

1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds beef chuck or eye of round cut in to 1/2″ cubes

1/2 pound or less okra

one small box cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup yellow split peas

salt & pepper

1 teaspoon garam  masala

I 16oz can of tomato paste

4 dried  lemons (leemo amani, bought at middle eastern food stores)

2 or 3 dried cloves

1 large onion or 2 small ones diced

3 or 4 bay leaves

saffron diluted in boiling water (a pinch of saffron strands in a half a cup boiling water will produce a beautiful orange color)

Instructions:

In a large frying pan sauté onions till golden and add the beef cubes.

Once you have sealed the meat, add four cups of water and a couple of bay leaves to the pan and cook for one to one and a half hours or until the meat is tender, should come apart with a fork.

While the beef is cooking wash, skin, and sauté the eggplants thoroughly on all sides, set aside.  Sauté the okra and set aside.

Sauté the tomatoes for just two minutes tossing all the time and set aside.  Cook the split peas on low heat for ten minutes making sure it doesn’t boil over and set aside,  Its a good idea to cook the peas with a bay leaf.

When the beef has cooked completely add the dried lemons, the cloves, and the Garam  masala; season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a 5 quart sauce pan or preferably a shallow cast iron pan assemble the stew.  If you already cooked the meat in the cast iron pan then just arrange the eggplants three each on all four sides of the pan and put the okra in the middle of the pan then spread the cooked peas on top and add  , and the tomatoes.

Add three to four teaspoons saffron diluted in warm water and simmer the stew for twenty minutes to half an hour on very low hear for the juices and flavors to mix.

Your Khoresh Bademjaan is ready at last and should be served with plain basmati rice.  Enjoy.