Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Cinco de Mayo, on the 5th of May, is a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride on both sides of the US and Mexican border, and what comes to mind? Mexican food and margaritas of course! And for me…tamales, the quintessential Mexican fiesta fare, are the perfect center piece for any Cinco de Mayo celebration! Tamales are relatively easy to prepare for a crowd …and get creative, adding zesty flavor bites tucked into the center of your tamales; cheeses, mushrooms, or fiery slow cooked pulled meats that are sure to elicit ole’s from your companeros felices!
The recipe that follows is an adaptation that approximates traditional corn tamales, with a substitution for stone ground masa harina for those of you who live in parts of the world where masa harina is not readily available, as is the case here in Thailand.
I briefly discussed masa harina in a post on polenta, (see here) but to reiterate; Masa Harina is corn flour that was originally developed by the Aztecs and Mayans using a process called nixtamalization in which maize (corn) kernels are soaked in water with slaked lime, then sun dried (known as nixtamal/posole), and ground into a corn flour called masa harina. The process transforms bound niacin into digestible free niacin which was an essential nutrient otherwise missing in local diets centuries ago in Central America. The process has endured and imparts the unique flavor of corn tortillas, corn tortilla chips, and tamales now familiar worldwide.
Cinco de Mayo Sweet Corn Tamales: Makes 18 tamales to serves 6
- 8 oz/225g stone ground masa harina, or substitute the same weight of fresh stone ground corn tortillas
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 6 oz/175g unsalted butter
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- 1teaspoon sea salt
- 4 oz/225g corn meal (as used for polenta)
- 2 ears fresh sweet corn, plus husks from an additional 2 ears of corn
- 3-4 large jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely diced
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (coriander) leaves
Carefully remove the husks from the ears of corn and place them in a zip lock bag and refrigerate. The husks will be used as tamale wrappers later.
Remove the corn silk and cut the kernels off 2 corn cobs into a bowl. Place half of the kernels, about ¾ of a cup, into another bowl and set aside. Transfer the remaining kernels, about ¾ of a cup, to a food processor and scrape the milk from the cobs into the processor work bowl using the back of a paring knife. Blitz the kernels until well chopped. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Place the stone ground masa harina and baking powder in a mixing bowl, stir to combine, and set aside. If you are substituting the corn tortillas for stone ground masa harina, simply chop the tortillas and place in a food processor and blitz for a couple of minutes until the mixture resembles a course corn flour.
Combine the butter and milk in a large sauce pan over medium heat and stir until the butter is melted and milk is just simmering. Add salt and stir to combine. While stirring, add the corn meal in a slow steady stream while stirring briskly in a circular direction until the cornmeal is mixed into the liquid without lumps. Add the whole corn kernels and chopped corn and stir until well combined. Lower the heat and cook at a low simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently so the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped jalapenos and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl of masa harina (or blitzed corn tortilla flour) and stir together until well combined. Add the chopped cilantro and stir in. Transfer the mixture to a baking pan and spread evenly. Poke holes into the mixture to expedite even cooling. Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature, cover with cling film and refrigerate for several hours.
Wrapping the tamales:
Remove the corn husks and the tamale filling from the refrigerator. Banana leaves can also be used as wrappers if you happen to have a banana tree in close proximity!
Lay out a large corn husk and measure a scant 1/3 cup of filling and roll it in the palms of your hands into an even oval shape and place in the center of the corn husk. Lay a smaller husk over the top of the filling and using both hands gather the ends of the husks together and twist them until the filling is tightly enclosed. Tightly secure the ends with kitchen twine. Trim the excess twine at both ends and snip off excess husk at both ends. This will take a little practice, but the process will fall into place in due time, or enlist an additional pair of willing hands which will speed things up considerably.
Prepare a large stock pot with a steaming tray or collapsible steaming basket raised to several inches above the bottom of the pot. A small layer cake round
works perfectly for this. Fill the bottom of the pot, including the cake round, with water to just below the bottom of the steaming tray, or basket. Place the tamales upright in the steaming tray and turn the heat on to medium. Once the water begins to boil put the lid on the pot and steam the tamales for 1 hour. Reduce the heat as needed to maintain a simmering boil. If additional water is needed before the steaming is completed, add additional boiling water along the side of the steamer basket.
The finished tamales will be quite soft and slightly expanded. Remove the pot from the heat and let the tamales rest for 10 minutes and then remove them to a platter using tongs.
Tamales also freeze beautifully. Cool completely and freeze in zip lock bags. Thaw and steam to reheat.
Serving: Serve on a platter at the table, along with tongs and kitchen shears for snipping off the tied ends of the tamales so they can be easily unwrapped for eating or plate partially unwrapped, 3 tamales per serving.
Serve with salsa fresca and crema! Buen provecho!
- 3 medium vine ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)
- 3 tablespoons finely diced red onions
- 2-3 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely diced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro (coriander) leaves
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
When preparing the tomatoes, transfer the juices, seeds, and core to a strainer set over a bowl. Squeeze all the tomato juice out of the strainer and add to the diced tomatoes in the bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl with the tomatoes and toss until well combined. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve chilled.
- 1 pint sour cream or Greek yogurt
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
Stir until well combined and served chilled.