Friday, June 26, 2009

The Tastiest Tamales –EVER! (And they're gluten free, too!)

Have you ever been asked pondering questions such as, “If you were stranded on an island, what food would you want with you?” For me, I’ve always answered “eggs” without hesitation. Until now. Oh, I’m still knee deep in a love affair with eggs, but I think I may need to sneak some tamales along for my exile as well.

I’ve made tamales in the distant past, but have really had a hankering for them lately. I’m talking the real McCoy here ... masa dough, corn husks, steamer, lard, etc. Yep, lard. Oooh, now stop gagging. You see, my friendly blogsphere buds, I’ve been reading about nutrition again. As some of you may remember, my son has epilepsy, and in my desperation to help him, over the years I’ve gotten intimately familiar with nutrition and the pitfalls that so many of us have fallen into. For example, after listening to the doctors rant for years that I needed to give my youngest daughter more whole grains to alleviate her tummy aches , I finally listened to my mothers intuition and discovered she doesn’t tolerate gluten. DUH. Of course, now the doctors are all, “Oh yeah, she needs to stay away from that”. Ya think?

(MINI RANT - FEEL FREE TO SKIP!) The food pyramid that has been preached to us is actually not that good for us. The whole low-fat/high grain thing hasn’t proved to work out so well. Of course, we all know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us. I’m talking beyond that. Now, I don’t want to start a fuss here, and I’m certainly not endorsing eating a high fat diet. I am, though, finding myself more and more reverting to cooking methods from the past as well as from my Mediterranean ancestors. In an attempt to keep from monologue-ing about the benefits of eating “real, unadjusted” food such as olive oil, whole or 2% milk, and lard .... yes, I said lard, let’s just say that the past year has brought a BIG change to my families eating habits. And you know what? My son’s seizures are under control ... for a year now. His blood counts are textbook perfect, he’s lost weight, and looks terrific. My husband’s health is outstanding and has zip heartburn. My own bloodwork is wonderful. My gluten-free gal is growing and thriving. Both of my girls haven’t had blood tests, but their skin is glowing, are tummy ache free, and they are slim and trim. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m, um, shall we say “curvy”, but that’s mostly because I don’t exercise like I should. That will change this summer. Other than that, we have improved our health by going off the pyramid and eating what I call a “regular” fat diet that includes meat, fish, legumes, veggies, fruit, milk, eggs, cheese, nuts and carbs. I think perhaps we've confused the term "greasy" with fat. Babies and kids need some fat in their diet for brain development. Now, I'm not saying to go gnaw on a pork slab, but I am saying that used wisely, fat should be part of a healthy diet.(Whipped Lard)

This is the first time I’ve used lard, and I’ve got to say that I’m immensely pleased with the results. Many folks, I’ve found, use lard regularly, but don’t want to admit it. The author, Nina Planck, in her book REAL FOOD talks about how lard has been unjustly bad mouthed. I gave the white stuff a try in the masa dough for the tamales, and I couldn’t believe how light and fluffy they turned out. Plus, my hands were not greasy at all mixing up the dough, and the bowls and utensils I used washed up easily.Making these tamales took two days for me because I made the carnitas one day, and the tamales the next day. They are super easy to make, but involves some steps that do take a long time. The corn husks have to soak for at least an hour (2 is better) before you use them. There are some short cuts you can use to save lots of time. For instance, you can use a store bought rotisserie chicken and canned chicken broth in place of the carnitas. You could also use aluminum foil as your wrapper instead of the corn husks. Even a veggie filling or maybe a chili pepper/cheese filling would be awesome. Whatever filling you use, you’ll be sure to love the results. I'd love to put a little "heat" in my filling, but I've got picky kids. 'Nuff said.


3-4 pork butt, cut in ½ or thirds to fit in pan.
1 onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Water to cover
Garlic Salt (I like Lawrey’s)In a large stock pot, place all of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350.(Talk about butt ugly!)

Remove meat from pan. SAVE broth, strained, for use in tamale dough. Place meat, fat side up, in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with garlic salt. Roast uncovered for 1 hour.(Yummm, that’s more like it!)
Remove from oven, and shred with 2 forks while still warm. Try to resist eating all of it right then and there.

Tamale Dough

2 cups Masa mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups pork broth
2/3rds cup lard, whipped

In a large bowl, combine the Masa, baking powder, and salt.This is Masa mix.It’s soft, like a powder.And it’s gluten free, too! In a small bowl, whip the lard until fluffy (I used a fork and it whipped up fairly quickly).Pour the pork broth into the masa mixture, first stirring with a spoon and then switching and mixing with your hands. Spoon in the lard, and mix thoroughly with your hands. The fluffy texture will be like a stiff mashed potato or soft cookie dough. Makes 16 tamales

Assemble your Tamales:

20 corn husks (soaked for 1-2 hours in a huge bowl of hot water)
Tamale Dough
About 2 cups worth of shredded carnitas (or chicken)

Pat your husks dry. I used paper towels and then just assembled everything on top of the towels. Turn the husk so that the wide end is closest to you.Place about 2 tablespoons of the masa on the wide end, and using your fingers and heel of your palm, spread the dough out over the bottom 1/3 of the husk keeping the edges clear.Place a spoonful of meat vertically down the center of the dough.Carefully fold the left end over the meat, and then the right end. Patting through the husk, seal up the folded edge.I’ve peeled back the right side so you can see what I mean by sealing it up.Once the left and right sides are folded, simply fold the skinny top end down.The “wide” end remains open, although you can pinch it to seal up that end of the tamale filling. Repeat with the remaining husks. You should have a couple husks left over.Place all the bundles open side up in a steamer basket. I used the vegetable steamer that is part of my pan set.Use any left over husks to cover the bundles. Fill the bottom half of your pot with water taking care that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the basket. Place the basket in the pan.Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and steam for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until the masa dough is cooked. Serve with cilantro cream or your favorite salsa.

Cilantro Cream

1 cup sour cream
1 green onion
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Combine until smooth.These are the best tamales you will ever eat. EVER! They are soooo light and the flavor just explodes on your tongue. They are not even a tiny bit greasy, and the only flavors that come through are the corn of the masa accented with the pork broth as well as the carnitas itself.My word, these are so good. The fillings can be altered to accommodate your tastes. In addition to the cilantro cream, I topped mine with a spicy green salsa (not pictured). Honestly, these are one of my most favorite things to eat. EVER. Yep, they’d have to come with me on the deserted island.So, what would you want to eat if you were on a deserted island?


Marjie said...

I don't know what I'd eat on a deserted island, because I don't like any one thing that well. Great job on finding that gluten free flour! Will it adapt to baking?

I'm with you on your rant about the food pyramid. i think I did a similar rant a while back. We always have meat, every night, because I think humans need variety, and to me, variety ain't grains, sweetie! Time for me to get off the soapbox, too.

Your tamales look great. I've never had any, believe it or not. This is Friday, "noodle night" as it was dubbed by my oldest when he was 2 and couldn't say "spaghetti". No tamales here!

Lynda said...

You are so amazing, Paula! You've researched and found out what really works for your family and my hat is off to you! I happen to agree with your views on this food thing- we've become afraid of fat. I do believe in moderation and just a well balanced diet of all the foods God created!And staying away from stuff you can't eat!

Your tamales are to die for-really!I've never made them,but I really want these!We have a hispanic church that meets in our church building, and several times they have made dinner for our congregation after the morning services.They serve chicken tamales which are good, but I think yours look mucho better!

If I were on a deserted island, I would have to have meat and some veggies. Oh, and a fire too! Hopefully it won't happen, I like too many foods!

Jan said...

I so agree with you, Paula. A well balanced diet should contain protein, carbohydrate and fats. I also read somewhere that you shouldn't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. And my grandma and ma would certainly recognize lard. All things in moderation, I say.

Cheryl said...

First off I agree with you 100%, people are taking this whole diet thing too far. I have lost 100 lbs (gained some back, but still) just by eating less and exercising, no fancy diets, still ate all my favorites just controlled portion. Secondly, I am so impressed you made tamales, I have purchased all the stuff but never made them I was too scared. I am inspired, maybe hubby can help me, or you can bring me some :)

Mediterranean kiwi said...

excellent rant on the food pyramid - some people are simply not up to eating so much in the way of grains, are they? the med diet has a lot of grain in it too, but we always have meat, cheese and milk

i really detest the over-use of 'lite' ingredients in place of regular ingredients - it's another thing to drink non-fat milk, and a completely different thing to make greek tzatziki dip with runny 1% yoghurt (it turns out like soup!) we live in fat-fearing world, where we've also lost our common sense to judge appropriately, waiting for others to do it for us

i've never had tamales, but they do sound interesting - love the idea of using corn husks

Manggy said...

Whoa, I've rarely seen tamales look so beautiful. Well done! I've never tasted one, though. We have something called tamales here but they are not like the ones found in Mexico.

I did read your rant and I'm glad to hear your family is doing so much better health-wise (good luck on the exercise!).

Grace said...

i can definitely see why you'd want to be stranded on an island with endless tamales--your personalized version is incredible! i've never made my own, but i know how scrumptious they can be. nice work!

Deborah said...

I received a tamale cookbook and have been wanting to try it out, and this makes me want to try it out even more!!

Anonymous said...

I never listen to the food police but eat moderation of course. I've often want to make tamales, I've never had them so the picture tutorial is such a great help. I'm saving my corn husks this year so that I CAN make these, it's already pasted into my recipe file.

Pam said...

Paula - I loved the Real Food book. It really changed the way I eat, I only buy full fat milk, yogurt, cheese, everything.. now. I wish I could find some lard though. How did you find some?

Proud Italian Cook said...

Wow Paula, I'm so impressed this looks fantastic! I so love carnitas!

jacobithegreat said...

oh my gosh those look fabulous! thank you for the craving!

Cathy said...

I've always wanted to try making tamales and you've made it look like its possible. Your step by step instructions are terrific and I'm going to give it a try. I love tamales but seldom find any I really like.

My grandmother cooked with lard all the time. Her pie crusts were the best. Moderation is the key.

Thanks for an excellent post, Paula.

Gloria said...

Wow Paula these look so tasty and nice. We make something similar that we call "humitas" is so similar to tamales, and are so nice. Gloria

Bridgett said...

Oh my, you are amazing to make your own tamales! Very impressive. How delicious as well.

DayPhoto said...

We have seen lots of nice changes in our health now that we finally KNOW that Terry, Evan (our son) and our grandaughter, Linkin have celiac's disease. Knowing is a blessing, cooking without gluten the other blessing. They are still not 100%, but we are getting there. More tests to come, but, oh the joy of knowing.