For those of you who followed my forays into the Mexican kitchen at my Meximoxie site you may remember a post I did on the topic of tamales—a Mexican staple and food for which about a jillion recipes exist. I’ve put the Meximoxie site to rest for the moment to create a site focused specifically on introducing non-Hispanics to the Mexican kitchen. Welcome to The Gringa’s Guide To The Mexican Kitchen.
For my new readers who don’t have the priceless benefit of my earlier posts, I will, from time to time, incorporate and repurpose the information to make it accessible and easy to find in one spot. I mean, who wants to be without the Gringa’s detailed exposition on the papaya?
A post on tamales seemed a good place to start since I had them for lunch yesterday, actually had a camera with me as I ate them, and it provides a good follow-up to the post I did a year or so ago on the same topic.
In my earlier post (Click HERE to read) I had the privilege of interviewing the owner of La Loma Tamales—the name in Minnesota tamales. From that I encounter I think I was able to find out just about anything you might want to know about the humble tamale.
Before attempting to make a batch of tamales, the first step should be tasting and eating. Once you get a good sense of the flavors and textures, you can enlist your army of kitchen help and invite your entire extended family over for dinner because tamales are typically made to feed a crowd.
La Loma hasn’t offered me any free tamales to say this, but I would recommend you start your tamale tasting journey in their good hands. Their location at the Midtown Global Market is a great place to grab lunch.
Some are wondering, but may be afraid to ask, what is a tamale? Certainly it isn’t some variation on those hot cinnamon chewy red candies, right?
Tamales come with a wide world of fillings and flavors, but there are a few essential elements. Primarily you’ve got your cornhusks, which serve as the wrapper. This was a pre-modern innovation of the Mexican indigenous population. Tamales have been around since 5000BC. Pre-Hispanic tribes (Olmecs, Toltecs, Maya, Aztecs) carried tamales for sustenance when out in battle. The cornhusk also preserves the tamale and makes it easy to transport. Sort of like the ancient predecessor of the Ziploc baggie. Unlike its plastic grandchild, however, the cornhusk infuses its contents with flavor and aroma. (Forget baggies, I’m going to start carrying my sandwiches in corn husks).
There is a base of corn dough (or hominy) that is spread in a layer along the inside of the cornhusk. And you will need a filling—could be chicken, pork, veggies, raisins, etc. But the basic element is always going to be the masa or mixtamal (corn meal). Where you go with it after that is anyone’s guess—with the wide world of meats, veggies, and sauces, the world is your, well, tamale.
La Loma offers the following tamale fillings:
-Chicken with mild green sauce (recipe featured below)
-Pork with spicy red sauce
-Oaxaca—chicken with spicy red sauce, wrapped in banana leaves
-Vegetable with queso fresco
-Chicken with mole sauce
-Raisin (the masa is purple!)
For lunch I ordered two tamales—the Chicken and the Oaxaca. I started with the chicken, pulling off the cornhusk to expose the mixture of masa and spicy chicken. While this tamale isn’t labeled “spicy,” I will say there is a definite heat to it. I loved it.
The Oaxaca is special because it contains a spicy red sauce and is wrapped in a banana leaf instead of the traditional cornhusk. While I appreciate the interesting flavor, I can’t say it reminded me of anything characteristically Oaxacan and it was greasier than I liked.
After finishing my two tamales, I was sufficiently stuffed. Future trips will certainly include the pork, the veggie, and the sweet corn made from local Minnesota grown corn. Have you ever tried making your own tamales? What’s your favorite filling? Leave a response in the comment section below!
Want to try making your own tamales? Click HERE for La Loma’s family recipe for Chicken Tamales.