Indian Tamales

I first made tamales with my friends Jo and Alana. We had maybe 10 different fillings which was really great because every tamale was different – seitan, greens, cheese, avocado, plaintains, beans, etc. It’s a fun activity to do with friends because you can sit and talk while you fill and wrap the tamale pouches. I found also that everyone has their own style – making them big or small, shaping them into little rectangles or rounder shapes, and either folding them over or tying the ends.

I had such a great time making those that I wanted to serve them at one of Sabra and my supper clubs, but add an Indian twist to them. Also, we both liked the idea of serving tamales to our guests because each one is like a personally wrapped gift. We had a practice session where we tried baking them (not my favorite) and steaming them (with a too small steamer, which I don’t recommend!).

By the time our dinner came around, we had figured out a good system. We ended up making the tamale dough with ghee instead of vegetable shortening. The ghee is a really good binder and of course tastes great! Also since we knew we would be making them the night before the dinner, we figured steaming (this time in a big steamer) would be the best option for reheating them. My friend Ben also had given the idea of frying them in their husks, which would also be a cool idea to try, but we had so many that steaming worked perfectly for us.

Me and Sabra’s tamale operation:

This was a baby tamale that we used as a tester. Very cute guy:

We filled one with tamarind chutney (recipe below) and a white melty cheese (mozzerella is good) and one with mustard greens, spinach and ramps curry (omit tofu) and jack cheese. We served them with a mint chutney and a makhani sauce or butter masala sauce (recipe below).

Indian Tamales (for 16 small tamales)

(this is basically the same directions on the masa bag, but with some tweaks.)

2 cups masa flour (I used Maseca brand)
2 cups lukewarm broth or water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup ghee
16 corn husks soaked in warm water for 2 hours or until soft.
Combine masa, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add in water and mix with your hands until you have a moist dough. Mix in ghee into the dough. You want the texture to be like a thick peanut butter so add flour or water to reach the correct consistency.

Take a corn husk and wipe it dry. Tear a thin piece from the side that you can use to tie the tamale when rolled up. Spread out the masa on to the corn husk with your hand to about 1/8 inch thickness. I spread mine to kind of like a square shape. Then put about 2 spoons of filling down the middle.

For the tamarind chutney tamales, 1/4 of the filling should be tamarind and the rest cheese as the tamarind has a strong and sweet flavor. For the mustard greens you can put half curry, half cheese.

Bring the two sides of the corn husk together. This is where the ghee came in handy because the two sides of the masa dough would bind together easily. You can help the binding a bit with your fingers and also close up the ends on each side also with your fingers.

Wrap the husk completely around and tie one end with the corn husk strip and fold the other side underneath the tamale.

Once you have tied all of your tamales, place them in a large steamer with the folded side on the bottom and pack them in tight so that they don’t fall over. Place water in a pot with the steamer basket on top, making sure no water is touching the tamales. Bring to a boil and then steam them under a medium/low heat for about an hour or until cooked and soft (you can play with the stove settings too, just check from time to time to see that there is enough water in the pot.) The tamales are done when they easily come off the husk and are one unit – should not be pastey or mushy.

Serve with mint chutney and makhani sauce.

To reheat, steam them for about 15 minutes or until soft again.

Tamarind Chutney, recipe courtesy of Chef Richard La Marita

This is an awesome recipe for tamarind chutney that I wanted to share, but for the tamales, we followed this recipe loosely and made the consistency more solid with a chunky texture, omitting the dissolving of tamarind paste in water and blending at the end.

1/2 cup tamarind paste
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 tablespoon ghee or canola oil
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons grated ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
jaggery or brown sugar to taste

To make tamarind paste, take a block of tamarind and submerge in boiling water for 1 hour. Then crush it through a fine strainer with a wood spoon so you get only pulp with no seeds and fibers. You can store leftover pulp in your freezer. Tamarind block looks like this and you can buy it in an Indian or Mexican grocery store:

Mix the tamarind paste and hot water together to dissolve.

Heat the ghee or oil in small saute pan and saute the raisins and ginger until tender and raisins begin to brown. Add the spices and cook until fragrant, just a few seconds. Add the tamarind liquid, bring to a boil and remove from heat to cool.

Pour the tamarind spice-mixture into a blender. Blend until smooth. This should be quite liquidy, add more water if necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings to sweet-sour with jaggery or maple syrup as necessary.

Jaggery is concentrated cane juice that you can get at the Indian store:

Makhani Sauce (you can add 14 oz cubed paneer or tofu to make this a curry)

This sauce uses Kashmiri mirch which is a really bright red color chili powder from Northern India. It is similar to paprika in that it has a sweet kind of flavor to it.

4 tablespoons butter or ghee
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri mirch
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 large pinches of dried fenugreek leaves (Kasuri methi)
1/4-1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (depending on your preference)
1 cup water
salt to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
cilantro for garnish

Heat butter or ghee under medium heat. Add onions and fry until golden brown. Add turmeric and mix well. Throw in garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds.

Add in crushed tomato or tomato puree and spices – Kashmiri mirch, chili powder, coriander powder, garam masala and salt. Cook until oil starts to separate and then mix in the dried fenugreek leaves.

Add the water and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cream and bring to a boil under low heat. Mix in sugar optionally and top with cilantro.

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