A couple weeks ago I wrote about making salsa macha with guajillo and chipotle chillies, a happy result of my having won a goodie bag from Cool Chile Company, which included masa harina among its dried chilli bonanza. Around the same time, I had an email from my friend, Patrick, suggesting he and our crew gather at Orchard Cottage for a Good Friday Easter feast.
The wheels began turning on a bit of Shaw family history: when I was younger, my Aunt Sue always hosted Easter with her husband Augie, whose family is from Mexico. The parties were some of the best of childhood memory because they brought together a weird combination of Lithuanian, Polish and Mexican tradition, including piñata-bashing to go with the requisite Easter egg hunt. Though we didn’t have tamales at our Easter parties, Sue often talked about her holiday tamale-making adventures with Augie’s side of the family, and on a few occasions she even gave me some leftover tamales to take home.
Sue probably didn’t realise how much I coveted these tamales, and they’ve always led to a weird longing for a tamale-making party of my own. So with life’s recent masa harina injection paired with Patrick’s Easter party suggestion, I decided to start my own tamale-inspired holiday tradition.
Tamales are usually made with lard and filled with meat like carnitas. I decided to take inspiration from last year’s Mexican Supperclub at The Vegetarian Cookery School, where I had some of the best Mexican food of my life – which is saying a lot given that I used to live in Austin, Texas! Among the dishes were Tamales Rellenos de Calabacin, aka tamales with butternut squash and feta, which she served with the most delicious mole sauce.
We ended up making two fillings: (1) butternut squash with goats cheese and (2) grilled red pepper, red onion, sweetcorn and feta. The tamales were surprisingly easy to make. The masa harina mixture is a simple dough of masa harina, butter (instead of lard), salt, baking powder, milk and vegetable stock.
The most fiddly part was rolling the individual tamales, but even this didn’t take very long, especially when you involve other people in the rolling. There are several schools of thought on rolling tamales – Jo and Rachel at The Vegetarian Cookery School seem to have a knack for making them extra pretty. I ended up using the technique shown in this allrecipes.com video, just because it made the most sense to me.
To serve with the tamales, I made mole poblano sauce – an epic adventure and worthy of a blog post in its own right (someday maybe?). I made it a few days ahead, with yet more of those Cool Chile Company chillies, using Thomasina Miers recipe from Mexican Food Made Simple (thanks to Charlotte Pike from Go Free for introducing me to that one).
Mole poblano is incredible stuff, containing about 20 ingredients, including dried mulatto, pasilla and ancho chillies, plantain, almonds, sesame seeds, prunes, raisins and not as much chocolate as you’d think. The result is an amazingly rich, deep, sorta sweet, sorta smoky sauce. I can’t imagine a better sauce for the butternut squash tamales. The richness of the chilli chocolate sauce seems ideal for the sweetness of the squash and corn masa, all rounded off by creamy goat cheese.
The tamales – in fact, the whole meal – totally rocked our respective worlds. We rounded out the meal with refried black beans, tortillas, salsa, guacamole, slow roast fennel with salsa macha, salad with lime dressing and for dessert: chocolate cake AND brownies with “a trio of ice creams” (including the much adored avocado ice cream). All that was missing was a piñata.
- 16 dried corn husks
- 200g masa harina
- 50g butter, softened
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 50ml milk
- 100ml vegetable stock
- 100g goat cheese
- 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced into small cubes
- 1 chopped fresh red chilli
- 4 cloves garlic, whole with the skin on
- A few sprigs of thyme
- Chopped coriander
- Juice of half a lime
- Olive oil
- Roast the squash in a hot oven (180C / 350F) with the garlic, chilli, thyme, and olive oil until it is soft. This should take about 30-40 minutes. When cooked, remove the garlic from its skin, mush it up with the spatula and stir it through the squash. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir through some chopped coriander and lime juice.
- Soak the corn husks in hot water for 30 minutes. When they are soft rinse them under running water as you separate them. Lay them flat on a plate and keep them covered with a damp cloth.
- To prepare the masa, beat the softened butter in a mixing bowl, until soft and fluffy.
- Mix the masa harina with the salt and baking powder.
- Beat some of the dry mixture into the butter and then add a little milk then some more dry mix, then some stock until everything is combined.
- The masa should be the consistency of scone dough, soft and pliable, if too dry and a little more milk, if too wet a little more masa harina.
- To assemble the tamales, lay a husk on the table with the fat end away from you. Place a sausage of masa (30g) in the middle of the husk, starting at 1cm from the fat end press the masa down leaving a border down each side, big enough so that the husk can wrap over the filling. Press the masa down to about ⅔rds down the husk and flatten the sausage.
- Top the masa with a little bit of roasted squash and smear on some goat cheese. Roll the corn husk with one end open and the other end like a burrito so that the filling gets sealed by the masa (this video is helpful).
- Tear a thin strip off a long husk and tie around the open end of the tamale to seal it all together.
- Steam the tamales in a vegetables steamer for 45- 60 minutes. You can tell when they are done because the masa will be soft and sponge like.
- Serve them as soon as possible with mole and salsa.
- Mexican Easter in Pictures [flickr.com]
- How to make tamales [allrecipes.com]
- Avocado ice cream [smarterfitter.com]
- Tamales Rellenos de Calabacin [vegetariancookeryschool.com]
- Refried black beans - possibly the best ever refried black bean recipe [vegetariancookeryschool.com]
- Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers [amazon.co.uk]