Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Daring Cooks Make Tamales!


My favourite memory of my first trip to Mexico was learning to cook many special dishes. I stayed for a month, with a former student in Queretaro. In the evenings, I helped her to plan her lessons in English, as she was also a teacher, but I had the days to myself. I did a lot of wandering around on my own and her mother and sister took me to different markets and restaurants, gathering ingredients and being invited into the kitchen. It was hilarious, because neither of them spoke any English and I didn't know much Spanish. We were all comfortable in the kitchen, though. I really must do a post on some of those dishes, but right now we need to talk tamales!

This was just about the best cooking challenge I could imagine. I had been wanting to make tamales for a long time, and in fact had had a bag of masa for tamales in my freezer for ages for just that purpose. I almost chose them for my own Daring Cooks' challenge but went Indian instead. The only thing holding me back was ... sheer laziness. I had heard that they were a lot of work and as you can see by my sparse posting here I just wasn't in a blogging mood. Maranda's challenge was just the kick in the pants I needed. I made two varieties: the ones above are pork cooked in guajillo chile salsa and wrapped in banana leaves. Below are chicken in a green chile and tomatillo salsa and wrapped in corn husks.
I much preferred the chicken ones. The corn husks were easier to work with than the banana leaves and the filling was far tastier. I think I got a dud batch of guajillo chiles, because the filling was bland. I ended up spicing up the remaining sauce with a couple of chipotles in adobo and that did the trick--wish I had thought of that when filling them. So, were they a ton of work? I don't think so. I spaced out the making of the filling and preparing the wrappers, then was able to wrap and tie about 25 corn and 18 banana tamales in the time it took to watch 1 episode of Mad Men. That Don Draper sure does make time fly. Then I steamed them and gave some away and froze the rest.
That cup in the back is one I got in Queretaro just before I left. It is my Mexican hot chocolate cup (I have many dishes that are only used for one specific food). I tried my hand at atole to accompany the tamales, as it is traditional. Atole is like hot chocolate thickened with corn masa. It's as thick as heavy cream, but made with a mixture of water, milk, masa and Mexican chocolate. I never liked it before, as it has a distinct corny flavour, but I added a dash of almond extract and ended up drinking 2 cups instead of eating the plate you see above. It was astonishingly good. Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Atole
Adapted from Rick Bayless

⅔ cup masa harina mixed with ½ cup warm water
8 ounces chopped Mexican chocolate (Abuelita or Ibarra)
3 cups water
3½ cups milk
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  1. Combine masa, chocolate and 3 cups water in a blender, blend until smooth. Place in a saucepan with the milk and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Thin with milk or water if it's too thick. Add almond extract (cinnamon would be good here, or rum).
  2. Strain into cups, or for frothy atole, strain into the rinsed blender and blend before pouring into mugs. 
Thanks so much to Maranda of Jolts & Jollies for such a fun challenge! You can see all the beautiful results on the Daring Kitchen homepage. Click here for the full challenge pdf with recipes, links and photos. 
Blog-checking lines: 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!




24 comments:

blepharisma said...

Love this! The atole sounds fun, too. I can't imagine what a corny hot chocolate would taste like!

Rhonda said...

Your tamales look spectacular. I also made the kind of chile sauce, I found the guajillo chiles not as spicy as the New Mexico. I've never had Atole, I must make it when I drag some tamales out of the freezer.

Lyuba @ Will Cook For Smiles said...

Your tamales look wonderful! It was a first time for me and i enjoyed it very much :) you gave good recipe for next time!
Come see mine at http://www.willcookforsmiles.com/2012/01/daring-kitchen-pork-tamales.html

Suz said...

"That Don Draper sure does make time fly." Haha, I bet he does! I made the mistake of listening to a really tedious play on the radio while I folded mine. I think it made time go slower.

Your tamales are beautiful! They're making me hungry all over again.
Corny hot chocolate sounds kind of intriguing, and your Mexican cup is beautiful. Ahhh, I need to go to Mexico.

Ruth Ellis said...

Fantastic - they look so perfect and yummy!

Valérie said...

Great job! Mine were a disaster... I've been wanting to experiment with Mexican chocolate, just don't know where to find it...

Susan said...

Beautifully done! Tamales are a lot of work & your look perfect.

Valerie said...

Mary, these look absolutely scrumptious! Isn't is wonderful that food is such as universal language? :D

Irina said...

You did a wonderful job, Mary! I love the cup as well, as for Don Draper....
Congratulations!

Claudia said...

Nice job on trying two types of wrapper. They both look good. I set my finished ones on a banana leaf.

Pilar said...

Your tamales look great! I couldn't find corn husks or banana leaves so I had to use cooking parchment. But anyway we enjoyed. Greetings.

Jo said...

Your tamales look great and I fell like a border living slacker, I've never had atole! I will have to give it a go here once we have some slightly winterish type weather down here.

Jen said...

Your tamales look delicious! And I think I'm going to try that hot chocolate recipe, I'm very intrigued.

shelley c. said...

I HAVE to try that atole. :) That aside, your tamales look amazing - your dough looks so perfect, and the finished tamales sound delicious. Excellent work, as always!

(By the way, I also considered tamales when choosing a challenge! I am glad Maranda did it, though - I couldn't have done it better!)

Don't Make Me Call My Flying Monkeys! said...

I almost used banana leaves also but had a hard time finding them so went with parchment. Your tamales look muy delicioso! And I am currently gathering the ingredients to try out that hot chocolate! Fantastic job!

Sawsan@chef in disguise said...

I really love your tamales but it is the atole that is totally new to me and sounds really really interesting..
I can't wait to give it a try, you think it can be made with regular chocolate and some spices?
love the chocolate mug too by the way

UFRV said...

Thanks for your post, and specially for the atole recipe, yummy!!! I don't have much contact with Mexican food or culture so I had no idea chocolate and tamales would go well together. Will definitely try, though!

A Canadian Foodie said...

What an informative post, Mary! Isn't it wonderful to reconnect with students in that manner - to go and stay with one for a month is an incredible gift. I can completely relate to the family experience with you not knowing Spanish and they not speaking English as that is exactly what it is like when we go to Vanja's parent's every year in the former Yugoslavia. The difference being that I am now actually learning their language. I LOVE authentic Mexican food. Not all of it - but most made by "real Mexicans" and anything in Rick Bayless's restaurants is incredible. I appreciated hearing about the chocolate drink experience and because of that, am motivated to try it, too.
:)
Valerie

Inma Miranda said...

Mary

Your tamales look fantastic, the guajillo with pork look luscious. Next time you come to Mexico you have to visit me, I promise I will take you to have some wonderful tamales and atole and a gastronomic tour.

Jojo said...

Well done and thank you for sharing about your time in Mexico - I'm sure your experiences there made this challenge even better. The tamales look awesomme as well - I also served mine with some black beans. Welcome back :-)

chef_d said...

I love the pork filling, it looks so delicious! I love the hot chocolate cup, it's so pretty and thank you for sharing the chocolate atole recipe. Great job!

Cheap Ethnic Eatz said...

I love this challenge" tamales take me back to travel memories too. Both your versions look awesome...and so does the hot chocolate!

Monkeyshines in the Kitchen said...

Gorgeous job on your tamales! both the fillings sound so good - too bad you got a dud batch of chiles.. tamales really do need that spicy kick!

Jenni said...

Great job! Your tamales look amazing, and both of your fillings sound great! The chocolate atole recipe sounds fantastic!