Tamales are a Christmas tradition all across Mexico and the American Southwest, where I grew up. I always make a batch every holiday season and each season gets a new recipe. This year, it’s pinto beans, roasted peanuts, and raisins in a serrano and guajillo chile sauce. If you want to tone down the heat, skip the serranos because the guajillos are fairly mild. Tamales can also seem a little daunting at first, but by keeping the filling relatively simple, they’re easy to make with just a bit of practice and even easier if you have a friend to help you.
4 guajillo chiles, stems removed and rehydrated
1 cup of the rehydrating liquid
4 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed
12 cloves of garlic, peeled
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of Mexican oregano
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 cups of cooked, rinsed pinto beans (1 can)
3/4 cup of roasted, salted peanuts
1/3 cup of plump golden raisins or whatever other raisins you have on hand
2 1/2 cups of masa harina
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 3/4 cups of warm water
Optional: 1/2 cup of vegan shortening
Pre-prep: Soak the corn husks in hot water for at least 30 minutes and rehydrate the chiles by simmering them in water for 10 to 15 minutes.
Puree the guajillos, the rehydrating liquid, the serranos, garlic, salt, Mexican oregano, cinnamon, allspice, and lime juice. Transfer this to a small pot along with the beans, peanuts, and raisins, and simmer all of this over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.
“The filling has a lot of ingredients, but it’s basically just throwing the sauce ingredients in a blender and then simmer.”
While the sauce is simmering and then cooling, make the masa. Combine all the ingredients by hand until evenly incorporated. You can leave the masa as is if you want thick, dense tamales. However, if you want fluffy tamales, you need to whip the masa. To do so, transfer it to a stand mixer and whip it at medium speed for 20 to 30 minutes. Test the masa by taking about a 1/2″ pinch of it and placing it in a glass of water. If it floats, or at least doesn’t sink to the bottom of the glass rapidly, the masa is ready. If it sinks quickly, keep whipping it. Note that you will need to use the optional shortening to make fluffy tamales.
“Normally, I eat relatively low fat, but tamales are one of those areas where I make an exception!”
Take a corn husk and, starting from the top left corner, spread masa in a 4″ x 4″ rectangle about 1/2″ thick. Repeat this until you are out of masa or out of corn husks. Take about 2 tablespoons of filling and line it along the left side of the rectangle of masa. From the left side, roll the corn husk closed. About halfway through the roll, tuck the bottom, clean part of the corn husk up into the roll, then continue rolling it closed. It’s pretty much like rolling a burrito. Steam the tamales for 1 hour. Freeze any tamales you don’t plan on serving right away.
“This goes very quickly if one person spreads the masa while another person fills and rolls the tamales closed. Also, you don’t need a special tamale steamer to steam the tamales. A bamboo steamer works well, too.”