I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

daring cooks, january

A new year, and a new challenge...

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!

I have never made tamales. My knowledge of Mexican food is, well, pretty much nil. I can make nachos and fajitas. And I'm pretty sure the Old El Paso taco-in-a-box mix doesn't count. So it was with a mix of 'ooh, nice!' and trepidation that I started reading up on this month's challenge.

Thanks to the local Latin American food store (thank you, Google and Ottawa Foodies!) and the very helpful man there, I was able to find fresh tomatillos in Ottawa in January, as well as the masa harina (corn tortilla mix) and corn husks.

The tomatillos were charred under the broiler, pureed with garlic and jalapeno peppers, then boiled to reduce the mixture. Turkey stock was added (see last post - I had lots of turkey stock!) and it was again reduced before added shredded turkey and chopped cilantro. That was the filling, and it tasted great!
Salsa verde. Not the prettiest green color, but yummy.

It was about this time that the sous-chefs (the girls) were enlisted.

Aren't they cute? Ready for steaming.
The dough was made from masa harina mixed with shortening, and more turkey stock. It looked like cookie dough and tasted bland, but good. This was pressed out onto the corn husks (these had been soaked for hours to be pliable) by myself and R, while M put the filling onto each and A rolled up the tamale in the husk and tied it with a thin strip of corn husk. They make such cute little packages! This stage was much less time-consuming than I thought it would be, thanks to the help, and I could see why tamales would be made in large batches and as a bit of a social event. We chatted and laughed as we stuffed them.

Meanwhile, my brain was running furiously... "put the tamales in a steamer" the recipe said. Okay. Steamer. Hm... a steamer. Right. I don't have one. In fact, I didn't have anything really resembling a steamer. Time to get innovative. The end result consisted of my stock pot, the outside ring of my springform pan, and a sort of hammock made of aluminum foil that we poked with a skewer to let the steam through. Foil wrapped around springform ring seemed to fit snugly in the top of the stock pot. Until I got half the tamales in and it slipped down into the water, giving the tamales a bath. Oops. I fished out the tamales and thought some more.

Frankensteamer! Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Take 2. an inverted loaf pan kept the springform ring from dropping too far, kept the foil hammock out of the water, and kept the tamales high and (somewhat) dry. D looked askance at the 'steamer' when he got home, and I'm not sure whether his engineering mind was impressed, or shocked by my Frankensteamer. But it worked!

Forty minutes later we sat around the table and tried the tamales with a side of Spanish rice. They were a bit dry, but tasted delicious. The salsa verde complemented the turkey, and the dough had a nice consistency - I think we just wanted more of the salsa verde. Perhaps I reduced it too far. But, the meal was deemed a success, and one that would be fun to try again and try some variations on. After all, I've still got more of the masa harina. I'll have to use it up somehow.

Maybe with a real steamer next time.


Rhonda said...

"Frankensteamer", haha. I had to improvise also since I didn't have a steamer pot.

Ruth Ellis said...

I improvised my steamer too - it seemed to work although not that fast!

Kara said...

Oooooh! Tamales are one of my favorite foods. I grew up eating mexican food but never really learned how to prepare it. I, much like you, have stuck with the pre-packaged options, but this is inspiration to perhaps give it a shot myself! I love that you made them "healthier" by using turkey instead of the typical beef or pork that are used in tamales. Thanks for sharing! :)

Lyuba @ Will Cook For Smiles said...

You did great! This was my first time too. Looks like everyone had fun with this challenge.
Come see mine at

Todd M said...

Love the improvisation - glad it all turned out in the end. They look great!

Jo said...

I had a sort of "frankensteamer" too, I had a small steamer insert the I surrounded with coiled foil to keep the tamales from falling into the water, whatever works and gets them cooked! Great job!

blepharisma said...

Frankensteamer sounds awesome. Fun!