Daring Cooks January 2012 Challenge: Mexican Tamales

This month Maranda of Jolts and 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!

In the words of our host...
"Tamales are made up of a masa (dough) usually made from a corn base and a filling. These are wrapped in corn husks, a large leaf, or some other wrapping and steamed to cook. The wrapper is discarded before eating.
Tamales can be traced back as far as 5000 B.C. Tamale making is usually a social event with the women in Hispanic families gathering together to spend an afternoon making dozens and dozens of tamales."

Tamales all wrapped and in the steamer
Prior to this months challenge, I had vaguely heard of tamales, but wasn't exactly sure what they were, and I'd certainly never tasted one. Now I'm enlightened on all three counts, and are most of my family who came around to eat them!

A detailed how to and recipe can be found here - at the Daring Kitchen.

When the challenge was announced, I was a bit concerned that both the corn flour (not to be confused with actual cornflour) and the dried corn husks would prove impossible to find in Scotland, but Lupe Pintos Deli in Tolcross, just across the other side of Edinburgh came up trumps on both. It's a shop I've passed many times but never been into before - and if you're looking for something hot, spicy, or Latin American, I suggest you pay it a visit - it's a treasure trove packed from floor to ceiling with goodies!

I went on a massive deviation from the fillings suggested in the challenge recipe, since I reckoned that things like green tomatillos were likely to be nigh on impossible or affordable to find. Instead I made some  Scottish/Mexican fusion Tamales. I made three different fillings - spiced red cabbage, chicken, black pudding and cranberry, and a slightly more traditional chili beef and sweetcorn. They were served with a green salad, and some plum and grape salsa.

Get stuck in!
Now for the epic recipe roundup....

Chili Beef and Sweetcorn Filling (for 10-12 tamales)

  • 1 small onion
  • 1 green chili
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 225g steak mince
  • 4 baby sweetcorn
  • 3 tbsp ketchup
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Finely chop the onion, chili and garlic and saute in the olive oil. Add the mince and brown. Chop the corn in to small pieces, then add once the mince has browned. Stir in the ketchup and water, and simmer until the mince stops being squeaky in texture. Add a little more water if need be to stop it becoming too dry.
A cooked tamale with with chili beef filling
Spiced Red Cabbage Filling (I made 6 tamales with this and had LOADS left over for the next day. It's a great accompaniment to roast meats, or in ham sandwiches, which is how we ate it!)

  • 1 small red cabbage (about 700g)
  • 2 red plums
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3tbsp water
  • 2tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • pinch of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1tsp olive oil

Finely shred the cabbage, chop the onion and plums (you don't need to peel the plums). Take a medium casserole dish with a tight fitting lid, and lightly grease with the olive oil. Put about 1/3 of the shredded cabbage on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle over half of the onion, half of the plums, half of the sugar and add a pinch each of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, then cover with another 1/3 of the cabbage. Do the same with the other half of the onion, plums, sugar and spices, then top with the final third of the cabbage. Pour over the water and white wine vinegar, then cover the dish tightly and cook in the over for about 2.5hrs at 150C until tender. I then roughly chopped the cooked and cooled mixture in the food processor so that it was easier to spoon into tamales, but you could leave it unchopped too, to save time.

Black Pudding, Chicken and Cranberry Filling (I made 6 tamales with this, then added 1x 340g jar of pasta sauce, and used it to make lasagna with instead of mince, which served four)

  • 1 skinless chicken breast
  • 300g black pudding
  • 50g fresh cranberries
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 tbsp sweet chili sauce
  • 1tbsp olive oil

Poach the chicken breast in gently boiling water until cooked through, then cool. Put the chicken, cranberries and black pudding in a food processor and blitz until chopped. Finely chop the onion, and saute it in a medium saucepan. Add the black pudding, chicken and cranberries and stir constantly until the black pudding softens. Add the chili sauce and stir well, cook on low for a few minutes more, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before filling the tamales.

A black pudding one... pre-unwrapping, so you can't really tell - oops!
Red Plum and Grape Salsa (Serves 6-8)
This is a good way of using plums out of season - they often ripen but remain flavourless. They taste too sour to enjoy on their own, but this seems to make the most of their sweetness.

  • 6 red plums 
  • 150g red grapes
  • 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley
  • 1 green chili
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp cold pressed rapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice.

Stone and chop the plums and half the grapes. Finely chop the parsley and chili. Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix them all together, then leave for three or four hours for the flavours to mingle. Serve at room temperature rather than cold to maximise the flavour.

A tamale tower!