It was not long into January 1st 2012 that I decided my New Year's Eve of 2013 should be a quiet one.  The charm of big parties, $10 well drinks and girls crying in bathroom stalls was, well, long gone.  We decided that having just a few friends over for a nice dinner, some thrift store board games and a few heavy-handed cocktails (made with booze that doesn't come by the handle) would be a much better time!

Just a few weeks earlier, a friend and her fiancée invited us over for an informal housewarming and dinner.  Her fiancée had been crafting tamales all day prior to our arrival, and we were more than happy to do our share in making a dent in the stash.  Besides the beautiful simplicity of tamales, the fact that you simply cannot just make a few, and the fact that it's much easier to make them when you've got 3 or 4 sets of hands helping, quickly turns this endeavor into a party.  Add in some Trio Los Panchos, a few very long-poured 3:2:1 margaritas (the traditional recipe is here, and we'll definitely be writing an all-margarita post soon) and you've got an afternoon of awesome just waiting to happen!

We decided to adapt one of our friend's tamale filling recipes, as well as make one of our own design.  We paired these two tamales with a wonderful roasted tomatillo salsa, fresh cilantro, sour cream and guacamole.  Please make sure that you read this recipe in its entirety before you start - this is a very time consuming process!  You can make the fillings the day before.  Make sure to have a large stock pot with a large steamer basket and lid (that both fit snugly) ready to go.  Be sure that you leave yourself plenty of counter space and time for this project.  

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yield - approximately 3 generous cups
4 large Jalapeños, sliced in half and roughly seeded, tops removed
4 large Serrano chiles, sliced in half and roughly seeded, tops removed
1 medium brown onion, peeled and roughly chopped into 1/8ths
5 large peeled cloves of garlic
1.5 lbs tomatillos, peeled (you may want to get a few extra, as you may find that a few are a little beat up under the skin) and halved
2 Tbsp good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 tsp sea salt (I prefer fine pink sea salt, but use whatever you like best - the amount of salt will slightly vary depending on the type and your preference)
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 large, ripe Haas avocados, seeds removed
Juice of 2 limes
1 tightly packed cup of cilantro, stems removed (you can get a little lazy here, but take most of the stems off - it's just going into the food processor)

  • Pre-heat oven to 500° F.  Line a baking sheet with foil (shiny side up).
  • Put tomatillos, both types of peppers, garlic and onion on the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt over the vegetables.  Lightly toss by hand (pro-tip, WEAR GLOVES WHEN HANDLING PEPPERS - THIS INCLUDES CUTTING AND SEEDING, SERIOUSLY) to evenly coat.  
  • Place into oven for 15-20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so.  The goal here is to caramelize and lightly char the vegetables.  
  • Once vegetables reach desired doneness, remove from oven and let rest 5-10 minutes.
  • Add all vegetables to food processor, being sure to get as much juice from the baking sheet into the food processor as possible.  This is the good stuff!  I like to use a large, sturdy silicone spatula for this.
  • Add cumin, lime juice and salt.  Pulse this mixture until just combined.
  • Add in avocado and cilantro, then continue to pulse the mixture until you've reached your desired consistency.  I personally like to leave the avocados a little chunky, but feel free to go smoother if you like it that way.  

Better-than-refried-beans (but maybe I'm biased.)

Yield - approximately 2 large cups
1 large can black beans with their liquid (I use Eden Organic black beans, which are BPA and GMO free)
1 generous Tbsp hot sauce (look for something with a good amount of vinegar and heat)
Juice of 1-2 limes (we used one and a half, but these were very juicy)
1/4 tsp sea salt (see the note about sea salt in the salsa recipe above)
1/4 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I prefer an aged white cheddar, but bear in mind that it's going to get melted into beans, so don't reach for the Hook's 12 year here - Cabot 14 month aged did the trick for our beans)

  • In a heavy bottomed sauce pan on medium heat, add the beans and their liquid.  Stirring occasionally, cook the beans until bubbles begin to form and the beans start to soften.
  • Add the hot sauce and begin to gently mash the beans with a potato masher.  There should still be some whole beans, but the majority of the beans should be mashed.    
  • Add in the lime juice and salt.  Continue to stir the beans as you add these ingredients.  Bubbles should now be struggling to pop at the surface.
  • Remove pan from heat and add cheese, stirring to combine.  
  • Return to medium heat and rapidly stir.  Mixture will begin to thicken to the consistency of thinned oatmeal.  If you prefer thicker beans, allow them to cook longer, but keep in mind that the beans will continue to thicken as they cool.

Roasted butternut squash

1 large butternut squash, halved, seeds removed
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp sea salt (you know the drill)

  • Pre-heat oven to 425° and line a baking sheet with foil (shiny side up).
  • Place the butternut squash cut side up on baking sheet.  Gently rub the flesh with the olive oil and the salt.
  • Roast in oven until flesh easily comes away with a spoon, about 45-55 minutes (depending on the size and firmness of the squash - you may want to check this every 15 minutes or so).

Chicken Tikka con chipotles en adobo

2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2-1 lemon (to taste)
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp raw honey
3 oz (1/2 of a small can) tomato paste
2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo
4 Tbsp Tikka Masala powder (if you don't have a specialty store available, you can make your own.  Recipes vary on amounts and specifics, but the general gist is cardamom, pepper, fenugreek, cloves, cumin, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili, turmeric, coriander, fennel and salt)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (organic, grass-fed is preferable, we used Strauss)
1/2 cup half and half (organic, grass-fed is preferable, we used Strauss)
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into quarters (pastured, organic and soy-free if possible)

  • In a small dish, convert tikka powder into paste by adding about 1 tsp warm water (add it little by little, just until there is no dry powder left)
  • In a medium saucepan (not over heat), add chipotles, tikka paste, lemon juice, sea salt, honey, half and half, tomato paste and yogurt.  Whisk to combine.
  • In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and thoroughly cook.  Allow chicken to cool and shred roughly with two forks.  If you have a standing mixer, place chicken into the mixing bowl and run with the paddle attachment until shredded.
  • Add cooked chicken to the sauce pan and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching.  Once simmering for 3 to 5 minutes, remove from heat.

It's tamale time!

1 or 2 large packages of corn husks (only use the real deal - the fake, plastic wrappers are just awful)
3 lbs masa harina
2 quarts chicken stock (NOT THE STUFF FROM THE CARTON!  We used a very gelatinous, homemade stock), warmed
3 cups non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening or lard (we used Spectrum organic palm oil shortening)
3 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp sea salt
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 lb smoked gouda, shredded
1 lb extra sharp cheddar, shredded
2 oz. silver or reposado tequila, preferably high-end

  • Separate corn husks and discard any torn or heavily blemished pieces.  Trim about 1/2" from the small ends.  Place desired amount of husks into a large stock pot and cover with boiling water.  Use a ladle to gently press husks down as they are covered.  Allow to soak for at least two hours.
  • Mix all dry ingredients until combined.  Add the fat and begin to slowly add in the warm stock, one cup at a time. 
  • Work the mixture by hand until the dough begins to form.  If the mixture is clumpy, keep adding stock.  If you run out of stock, you can add warm water.
  • The mixture will reach the consistency of thick peanut butter.  If it has gotten too thin, add some additional masa.
  • After the husks are soft, remove them one at a time from the water and pat dry with a very clean paper towel.  
  • With the small point of the husk facing you, hold the husk in your hand and spread approximately half a cup of the masa mixture across the husk with a rubber spatula. 
  • Cover about 2/3 of the husk width-wise and 2/3 of the husk length-wise, saving about 1/3 of the length of the husk uncovered at the small point.  Repeat this process on approximately 12 husks.  Pour tequila into cordial glass and consume; at this point, you're going to need it.  (Jim says "You're welcome!")
  • Line the center of the masa mixture with either the Chicken Tikka mix or the butternut squash and beans.  
  • Add a sprinkling of gouda or cheddar to the mixture (we used the gouda with the chicken and the cheddar with the veggie tamales).  
  • Starting on the side where the masa goes to the edge, roll the tamale towards the uncovered side.  Fold the bottom of the tamale up like an envelope.  The tamale should have one open end showing the filling.  
  • Repeat this process until all supplies, or you and your friends, are exhausted.  You'll have about 48 tamales.
  • Tightly pack the tamales into a steamer basket, with the filling facing towards the top.  The tamales need to be packed tight enough so that they do not fall over while cooking.
  • Add water to a large pot (that the steamer basket fits into) and gently place steamer basket into the pot (making sure that no water comes into the steamer basket).  Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil.  
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and steam for an hour to an hour and a half.  Ensure that pot still has water and add if needed (you do not want to boil the pot dry).  
  • When done, remove one tamale and let rest for 5-10 minutes.  Unwrap and ensure that no masa is uncooked.  
  • If done, remove all tamales and allow to cool on the counter.  Serve with salsa, sour cream, cilantro, lime and any other goodies that you so desire!
  • Remaining tamales can be wrapped tightly with foil and placed into freezer bags (6-8 to a bag).  Tamales will keep for several weeks if tightly wrapped and kept air tight.  Just re-steam in foil to re-heat!


All images and content © 2012-2013, Natalie Goldberg. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.