In the past week, I have made tamales for the first time, and I was very happy with how they turned out. I used chicken breast, and made them flavorful but mild. I am a total spice-heat wimp. I also experimented with a vegetarian version, using Spectrum palm-oil shortening instead of lard, and a black bean-sweet potato filling. That also turned out well.
Now for the most recent challenge variant: How to make tamales for a daughter who cannot have any corn? The essential elements that define a tamale are the filling, on a base of masa (cornmeal) paste, wrapped in a corn husk. Filling. Corn. Corn.
I planned to use up the rest of the tamale ingredients for dinner tonight, and decided to improvise on a corn-free inspiration I'd had. Corn Free Daughter is back at college, and therefore unable to participate in the experiment, but I wanted to see how my idea would work.
Someone told me a while back, when I first set out on my tamale quest, that one can also use parchment paper to package tamales, instead of the traditional corn husks. Element one: solved.
I pondered the nature of the masa base.
Well....it's really the same corn meal that my mom used to make hot cereal when we were wee girls.
So.......could another, corn-free, hot cereal work as well?
I decided to try Cream of Wheat.
Cream of Wheat is also known as Wheat Farina.
Masa harina. Wheat farina.
Gotta love a food solution that not only works, but also rhymes!!! :D
I followed the same directions as for preparing the masa: Beat the shortening in the mixer with salt and baking powder; combine the dry wheat farina with warm liquid (I used chicken stock that I had on hand. Water works equally well, making a vegetarian version very easy); added the dampened wheat farina to the beaten shortening in several batches, beating all the while. It worked admirably!
I cut parchment pieces of approximately the same dimensions as the average tamale corn husk, spread on my wheat paste base, and topped it with my seasoned shredded chicken breast. You can use either kitchen string or strips of corn husk to tie the bundles shut. Since I had the pile of prepared husks, I used them. Also, my string is missing. :)
I put my corn-free tamales on to steam, and went about my other evening business.
They turned out well! The first couple/few bites seemed very different, but I quickly started to like the new version.
So, not only a successful experiment, but tasty Friday evening dinner also! We had the chicken/corn tamales, and the chicken/wheat tamales, with a bean side dish that was also an experiment.
Beans- some Anasazi beans I had previously soaked and cooked from their dry state, then drained and stored in the fridge. Tonight, I added a carefully chosen, carefully cleaned serrano pepper, blended with cumin, oregano, sea salt and chicken stock. I added this seasoning concoction to the beans, along with kale cut small and more chicken stock. It turned out okay. I think it needed more flavor. There was enough of the pepper, but I could have used more cumin and oregano. Overall, though, it was good, and a good companion to the tamales.
I am rather pleased with the success of my experiment, and eager to share it with No-Corn Daughter!
p.s. fun note: one= tamal, more than one= tamales :)
O, en Espanol, Un= tamal, pero moltos = tamales. ;D ....At least, I think that's right. :)