Tamales are a traditional food in Mexican households, and though I am not Mexican I do live in Texas, so that means I get to observe my favorite of the Mexican traditions. I have always like tamales, but found them to be a little greasy. Last Christmas my aunt found a man on the side of the road who we lovingly name "Tamale Dude", and he turned my like into love with his Queso Tamales. They were just cheese and jalapenos... but I could not get enough of them, so this Christmas after we couldn't find Tamale Dude anywhere, we made our own.
I had always heard stories of what an intensive process tamale making was, and that is probably why I have never attempted to make them before. When my aunt was gathering the ingredients she was gathering information from various strangers who might have some helpful tips for us in our journey. We found out a few things: 1. The recipes that they were talking about were for making well over a hundred tamales (a few more than we were interested in making) 2. There is a float test, but we aren't quite sure what that is for (ours didn't pass) 3. We were brave Grin-gas.
We mixed a couple of different recipes to make our tamales based on the ingredients that we had at the house because we were both tired of getting out in pre-Christmas Houston traffic. So this is how we did it...
8oz package corn husks
Simmer the husks in enough water to cover them for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and place a plate on top of the husks to keep them submerged. Soak 1 hour. Before using, drain, shake off excess water. Sort them and select the largest ones for the tamales and use the smaller ones for lining the steamer and for making ties.
1 pound (about 2 cups) fresh masa for tamales or (use Maseca masa for tamales, follow instructions on the bag)
1/2 stick unsalted butter cut into 1/2" pieces (soften slightly)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
12 ounces Manchego, Chihuahua, or mild white cheddar cheese cut into 3" long sticks
4 hatch green chiles, roasted and sliced into 3" sticks
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to lightly incorporate ingredients then run for about 1 minute till the mixture is light and all the ingredietns are well incorporated.
Assemble as shown and place in a steamer lined with corn husks. Place in a prepared steamer and steam for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The only way to know if the tamale is done is to open one and check it. The tamale is cooked when the dough pulls away from the corn husk.
We started mixing the masa dough, but it was very thick and we had to keep mixing for a long time...
The next thing that we did was the assembling. We tried several different methods because we weren't sure how to get the best results as this was our first go round and I could not find good pictures of how to assemble them. So this is my attempt to be more clear. Place about 2-3 tbsp. of the masa mixture in the center of the open corn husk (it should be a little more spread out than it is in the picture) then place the cheese and chiles on top. Then you wrap the corn husks snug but not tight, and then fold up the bottom and tie.
We made quite a few batched of these, and then we started trying out other fillings... everyone seemed to really like them and I liked that they were not as greasy as some of the others. I still don't know what the float test is for, but maybe I'll pass it next time.