When I was a little girl, my dad made up new lyrics for “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It became an instant classic in our house. It went like this:
We wish you a jingle jolly;
We wish you a hot tamale!
We wish you an enchilada;
And a taco or two!
An absolute classic and the best way to introduce my topic/recipe for today. You guessed it; we’re cooking Mexican food!
My paternal grandmother (my dad’s mom) was an interesting character. She was born in southern Texas, the only daughter of a wealthy silver miner. She had 18 brothers and was more than a little spoiled. Her mother did nothing but produce heirs; she had servants to care for her children and even nurse them!
So, my paternal grandfather, a laborer, convinced her brothers (as her father had already passed away) that he had a house in Chicago and would provide for her. So they allowed her to marry him at the tender age of sixteen! So off they went to Chicago.
My grandmother was not pleased to find that “his” house was occupied by her new husband’s mother and a few brothers! This was not her idea, especially when her new mother-in-law treated her the way her parents never had; as a servant!
So, grandmother got a secretarial job at a church and rented an apartment. She then told my grandfather that he could come with her or stay with his mother, but that she was moving! Yeah. My grandmother was one gutsy lady! What she couldn’t figure out, though, was how to cook like she was used to. Her mother-in-law was Native American, and her food was not the same as the food back home.
Eventually she noticed two ladies in a close apartment that cooked food to which she could identify. It was from these two ladies that she learned to cook…and cook she did! Her tamales were legendary! I remember the smells from her kitchen as a little girl. They remind me of Mexican restaurants I have since visited.
When my grandmother died it was the Summer after my eighth grade graduation. I thought her recipe had died with her. I was wrong. My aunt had it. I only ate the tamales once from my aunt, as when I was a child we were always provided with peanut butter and jelly as the more palatable children’s option, but they were terrific. Then my aunt passed away.
I was devastated. My father had gone down to his mother’s house to write down the steps while she cooked her famous tamales, but the recipe was far from complete. After my dad passed away, I decided to give it a shot. I used what I had of my grandmother’s recipe (from my dad) and another recipe I found on the package of cornhusks I had bought. When I had the meat mixed with the spices, the tamales didn’t taste right. I decided to add salsa. I know it’s not traditional, but it worked. It resulted in this recipe: Rita’s Tasty Tamales.
4 – 5 lbs. leftover turkey, chicken, or pork
1 1/2 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. black pepper
4 Tbsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. granulated onion
1 3/4 cups medium salsa
6 oz. package of corn husks
kitchen string (or crochet cotton) for tying tamales
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup coconut oil
6 cups masa flour
6 cups water
1 Tbsp. granulated onion
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cumin powder
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 willing assistant (or child you have bribed into helping!)
NIGHT BEFORE – Meat Filling
Pull apart (or grind in a meat grinder on the largest setting) your meat. Add the spices into the filling and mix well with your impeccably clean hands. Mix in the salsa and stick the mixture in your refrigerator to let the flavors meld.
Set the corn husks soaking in a container of warm water and weigh down with a few water-proof heavy objects, as they tend to float. These need as many hours as they can get in the water, but at least two!
Tamales need to steam to cook. There is water involved, but the tamales shouldn’t be sitting in it; they should be sitting above it. You can use a pot that has a special pot with holes in it that goes inside the first pot, or you can place a metal strainer above your pot of boiling water and put a lid over it to form your own steamer. Also, during your hour of steaming, make sure that your pot does not run dry. Trust me, it does not make a pretty smell!
TWO HOURS BEFORE YOU WANT TO EAT – Masa Breading
Place your softened butter and coconut oil in your mixer and beat until fluffy. Add all the rest of the ingredients of the masa breading and blend well.
Take one of your soaked corn husks and let the excess water drip off. Place on a plate and gently spread one to two tablespoons masa mixture onto the bottom right corner, leaving about 1/2 an inch at the very bottom to fold up. Put meat filling down the center. Gently bring the top and bottom of the corn husk over the filling and wrap across so that no filling or masa is showing. Have your assistant tie with the kitchen string into a double knot (or a bow if you or your assistant is feeling fancy!!!) Place tamale #1 in a pot with a steamer basket and start on tamale #2. Continue until you have used all of the corn husks, masa, and meat mixture (or you are too tired to care and vowing never to make this mess again!!!) Steam tamales for 1 hour or until masa is done to your liking. Refrigerate some of your leftovers and put others in the freezer for another day. Make sure to test them out first, though! Yum! Here’s to you, grandma!