For the un-initiated, tamales are a foodstuff that’s been around since 5000 BC. They are believed to have originated with the Aztecs and Mayan cultures when women were taken along into battle to cook for the men (many of said women were kidnapped from their villages to do this service). At camp, cooking was your standard tortillas and gruel but this still left the warriors hungry while out on the battlefield so out of necessity, the tamale was born. A corn husk would be soaked in liquid to soften it, a dough made of masa (a type of corn flour) was spread on the husk and then a filling of whatever meat was available (if any) was spread on top. The food was then rolled into a cylinder shape, tied up with strips of corn husk and steamed until done. It could then be easily carried and reheated in the sun or over a campfire while the men were away from the main camp. If you are hosting a tamalada with kids involved, after telling the history of tamales, try reading a copy of Too Many Tamales a cute story about a little girl trying to be all grown up who loses her mother’s wedding ring and decides to eat all the tamales they were making in order to find it (I actually related the story to the kids as we were rolling tamales instead of showing the book).
Now, onto the tamales! Friday night I didn’t get off work until 6:30 which meant a pretty late start. I had to run by the Hispanic market and then the local grocery to pick up goods and then headed home to get started.
Corn husks are dry and brittle when you buy them so the first thing to do was get them soaking to make them pliable for rolling. While it only takes an hour or so depending on how many you are doing, I let mine soak overnight. Because we are making several different filling types, I tinted my corn husk water with food color so that after they are rolled we will know what flavor is what.
Next, it was time to get the chili peppers soaking. Since they were dried as well, I stuck them in a jar with boiling water. Keeping them in the jar meant I didn’t have to weigh them down while they were softening.
With the long term things soaking away, it was time to start the chicken filling. For the chicken tamales, I decided on a mild green chili type. The chicken, though, needed to be spiced up to have any flavor. I buried the chicken breasts in a mound of spices, poor chicken broth on top, tossed in some onions and then let it cook away.
While that was cooking away, I started the red sauce that will flavor the pork tamales. I blended onions until smooth, and tossed in a handful of different spices. Then I blended up the softened chilies and poured them into the bowl as well. Spicy!! Then half of it was poured onto a pork roast in the crockpot where it could cook until morning.
The chickie wasn’t quite done yet so I went ahead and made the filling for the green chili cheese tamales…a simple mix of shredded cheese, salsa verde, and a couple of cans of green chilies.
Finally the chicken was done! I shredded it up and tossed it in a bowl with some spices and salsa verde.
Nearing midnight, it was time to call it a night and get some rest before starting again tomorrow. Everything was tucked away in the fridge or the crockpot and the corn husks were bathing away in their colored water.