Cooking Like A Mexican

Tamales
BY: ALE BORBOLLA
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Tamales are right up there with tacos as the great Mexican dish
 

If there are traditions tied to food in any country, Mexico is the one with the most variety. Not only that, but also Mexico has a tradition from another tradition, and both involve food. I’m talking about the rosca which is shared on January 6th when the three wise men showed up late to deliver gifts for the baby Jesus. Now, that is celebrated by whoever finds a small plastic baby in their piece (a real choking hazard) of cake will have to make or buy tamales for February 2nd. I know, it seems like Christmas never ends.

90 percent of Mexicans celebrate February fourth with tamales, the Candelaria. Originally believed to be associated with corn, as so many celebrations are, it is pretty much unknown where and how this tradition was started but most importantly; why tamales on this day? Why not any other Mexican dish? Many historians attribute this to how practical, easy, cheap and satisfying tamales are, some others believe it was a marketing solution for corn growers.

Some things I know for sure are that they’re a social dish; there’s no way one can make a single tamal, and they are most likely not made by only one person. Also, tamales are the best designed food, ever. The wrapping becomes the dish, and sometimes even napkin, there’s virtually no need to use anything besides pots and vessels (thinking in a prehispanic point of view), they can be eaten with no cutlery and the only waste is organic and compostable. And tamales, are as versatile as versatile can go. Varying the main four ingredients; leaf, masa, stuffing and salsas, there is at least one tamal recipe per state in the country, so at least 33 -but five thousand registered recipes really-. Without counting the sweet variety.

Tamales are the perfect blend of European and prehispanic traditions. Tamalli, the original name coming from Nahuatl were not made from pork lard; as they are today. Pork meat, chicken and cheeses were not used either, and nowadays there’s no way we could imagine tamales without these.

Another fun fact about prehispanic cooking, is that clay pots and vessels were all native Mexicans used to cook with, comales (the flat disk were tortillas are heated) came thousands of years later. This late to the party feature of cooking equipment also resulted in the characteristic way tamales are cooked; steamed.

Historical evidence shows that Mexican cultures took corn to other regions and cultures, along with plates, dishes and forms of cooking the ingredients, mostly corn. Tamales being an easy thing to cook were widespread to south America and a little farther

Tamales were proven to be a part of the everyday life of most Mexican cultures before the Spaniards arrived, also appearing in religious rituals, offerings and tombs. For example, with the Mayans, there are paintings from the 250 DC showing tamales in different settings, and archeological findings have placed the dish in several different contexts through history, most importantly, tamales were present in the richest houses as well as the poorest. Nowadays, hundreds of millions of tamales are consumed across the country.

 

Ingredients:

2 pounds of tortilla masa powder

2 cups of the water where the stuffing meat was cooked

14 oz of pork lard

1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder

1 tablespoon of salt

50 corn husks, washed, soaked and dried

For red stuffing:

5 oz of ancho chiles soaked in hot water, with the insides removed

3 cloves of garlic

1 spoonful of pork lard

10 oz of pork meat, cooked and shredded

Salt to taste

For the green stuffing:

25 oz of green tomatoes

½ cup of chopped cilantro

1 spoonful of pork lard

1 medium onion finely chopped

6 serrano peppers finely chopped

10 oz of pork meat cooked and shredded

3 cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

 

Instructions:

The masa and the cooking broth are mixed very well together, by hand is better.

The pork lard is beaten until fluffy and added to the dough.

The masa will ready when a small ball floats on a cup of cold water. Beating is the secret.

Add baking powder and salt and mix again.

Spread a spoonful of masa on a corn husk, evenly about 1 cam thick.

Add a spoonful of stuffing.

Prepare a big pot with a bed of husks and water.

 

For the red stuffing:

In a blender, place garlic, chiles and the soaking water.

Fry the salsa in the lard until it changes color, season with salt and add the shredded meat. Let it simmer for five more minutes.

 

For the green stuffing:

Cook the green tomatoes with half a cup of water until soft.

Let cool for a little bit and blend with cilantro and chiles.

Fry the onion in the lard, add the salsa and meat, season with salt and let simmer for fiver more minutes.