Food: Tamales

When I had a day job and had lunch out every day (yep, I DO miss that!) there was one taqueria that made the BEST tamales. Not great carnitas, or spectacular burritos, but fabulous rotissery chicken (the secret was revealed in a newspaper review of the restaurant that was taped to the wall: soak the chicken overnight in a mix of lemon juice and salt) and jalapeno and cheese tamales the likes of which I have never tasted anywhere else.

So I thought it was time to look through a bunch of recipes and see if I could figure out what made those particular tamales so special. This is my first attempt at tamales, so it’s no surprise they didn’t turn out exactly right.

6 cups masa flour
3 cups water
1 cup lard
1 tsp salt.
strips of cheese and jalapeno for filling

I added the lard after it seemed like the water did not do enough to moisten the flour; only 1 recipe out of the many I reviewed called for the addition of lard. You can’t really go wrong taste-wise, and I had it on hand, so I thought it would be just enough to make the dough more moist. Success. Squish up the dough with your hands because it’s too stiff to stir (a great time to have the kids help!) and then portion out a couple tablespoons on a water-soaked corn husk.
I used a Mexican cheese, but it was made from skim milk and I am sure this was why the tamales weren’t just right. Full fat is necessary to make the tamale rich. I used one strip of jalapeno, and it could have used 2. Some recipes I looked at said to dice up the jalapeno into the dough, and if you don’t mind how hot they are, this would be a superior method. Me, I pull out the jalapeno strip so there’s only a subtle flavor.

Fold up the corn husk, tie into a package, and steam for an hour.


To reheat, you can microwave or re-steam, which is what I’m doing. They freeze well, and then just re-steam for lunch. They are pretty filling, if not really nutritious. Tamales can be filled with any number of barbequed meats, so don’t let me stifle your creativity.

Here’s what they look like after cooking.

I like to have food that freezes well, that I can just defrost when I can’t think of anything to make for dinner. These are perfect, although I’m the only one eating this batch. More cheese next time!

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