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I love tamales. I love making them, and I love to create new varieties. I love making the masa and the fillings, and I love the process of assembling them. Most of all, I love to serve them to my family and friends and experience the satisfaction they get when tasting all the new and different flavors. They have been my ever-so-eager tamale-tasting guinea pigs for many years.
Shortly after my first book, Tamales 101, was published, I began teaching tamale-cooking classes at various culinary schools on the West Coast. I enjoyed teaching the process and knew the classes would increase the visibility of my book. I quickly realized that, for most students, making traditional tamales was too prep-intensive and time-consuming. Many of the students came away from those classes saying they would most likely not make the tamales at home because they were “too much work” and that they would be perfectly happy to purchase them at our tamale shop. This proved to be an excellent vehicle to promote my business; however, I truly want to keep the tamale-making tradition alive and encourage my students to make their own—I strongly believe the best tamales come from our own kitchens.
To help preserve this tradition, I began trying to come up with new methods to simplify the process and make it easier and more appealing for home cooks.
It took me several years of research and trial and error, but the idea to make simple and great-tasting tamales became a mission of sorts.
My memories of cooking with my mother as a child helped me tremendously. In addition to teaching me everything she knew about tamale making, she taught me how to use time-saving techniques and products—such as ready-made moles and canned roasted chiles—to make recipes faster and easier, without compromising taste, richness, or satisfaction in the end result.
In addition to experimenting with shortening the process, which can often include up to ten steps, I experimented with different tamale styles. Tamales can be wrapped and assembled in a variety of ways, from quick and easy corundas, where the filling and masa are mixed together, to “inside-out” tamales, where the fillings are served on top or on the side of plain, unfilled tamales called tontos. Both of these styles can be assembled in only two or three steps. And if you can shorten the process and change up the style, who says you can’t experiment with fillings, too? If you like a particular food, it will probably work in or on a tamale or corunda.
In today’s world, we are so often busy and pushed for time, and the idea of setting aside one or two days to make tamales is saved for special occasions, such as Christmas, when women in Mexico traditionally gather to make traditional tamales in enormous quantities. But we should also be able to enjoy tamales on a weeknight! All of the recipes in this book shorten the process to less than an hour, once the fillings are prepared (many of which can be made well in advance), making tamales a more accessible, everyday menu item. If you would like to try your hand at tamale making but have found it to be too daunting a task, this book is especially for you.
I grew up in a kitchen, learning to cook mainly from my mother, an artist who dreamed of becoming an opera singer. Like many women of her generation, she married and had children instead. All of her artistic ability then went into cooking and homemaking. We were a culinary family, though, and my grandfather, grandmother, and aunts also helped teach me to cook.
All of my first books were cookbooks, and I still have my mother’s torn, stained, falling-apart copy of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. I’ve patched and taped it countless times over the years. I have old, brown, and stained small pieces of paper and index cards that are inscribed with recipes, mostly the favorites my grandmother, mother, and mother-in-law used. I began collecting recipes in my late teens. I asked everyone and anyone who had a good recipe to share it. For many years I would ask for the exact recipe, but eventually I was able to just get the list of ingredients and figure it out myself.
With an abundance of experience from my career in the entertainment business and establishing my own successful businesses, I wanted to create a business involving my love of tamales. My daughter, Tamara, and I opened our tamale specialty shop, Tamara’s Tamales, in the Marina del Rey area of Los Angeles. We have had continued success for nineteen years. Tamara now runs the shop on a daily basis and I help with a few of the details. When asked what I attribute our success to, I usually reply that our product is good, we always put the financial well-being of the business first, and Tamara and I work well together—we love and respect each other and are grateful for our shared creative process. Also, the fact that we’ve always loved having our tamale business and always loved our customers doesn’t hurt! Along the way, the success of Tamara’s Tamales has lead to a bunch of other fun and rewarding opportunities, such as teaching tamale-making classes at culinary schools, earning top honors at tamale contests, recognition from many well-known chefs, and being able to make donations of tamales to nonprofits and benefits.
Chicken Mole Poblano Tamales
This is an easy, delicious version of chicken with Oaxacan mole sauce. The peanut butter punches it up a bit, a trick my mother taught me. She used canned, powdered mole poblano that called only for chicken broth to be added, which is what I do, too. I use Doña Maria mole poblano, a paste product that comes in small glass jars. Makes 18 tamales
1 (8.5-ounce) jar prepared mole or mole poblano
2 tablespoons peanut butter
3 cups chicken stock, or 3 cups water mixed with 3 tablespoons good granulated chicken bouillon
3 cups cubed chicken
41/2 cups Basic Fresh Masa (page 21)
Open the jar of mole and pour the thin layer of oil off the top of the paste into a medium saucepan. Heat the oil over medium heat and add the peanut butter. Fry the peanut butter for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Add the contents of the jar (you’ll need a knife or fork to remove it, because it is quite dry and solid). Immediately add the chicken stock and, using a whisk, break down all the mole lumps. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until a very smooth sauce forms.
Pour into a medium bowl and set aside to cool. When the sauce is cool, add the chicken and stir until the chicken is well distributed into the sauce.
Assemble the tamales (see pages 5-6), using 1/4 cup masa and 1/4 cup chicken mole filling per tamale. Transfer to a steamer and steam for 55 minutes.
Note: If you are gluten free, check any prepared mole sauce for thickening agents and use only those made with corn, banana, or rice.