by Julia Jean-Francois
In my last cooking adventure with Margarita, she drew me into her web of Mexican delicacies with her savory, tart and green tasting Pipian Verde and spicy, red Caldo de Camaron . As she was packing up her kitchen tools and dusting off her apron she casually threw out a line that was aimed to reel me in for another culinary quest. “Have you ever made tamales?” she asked me, knowing full well that I had never done any such thing but would surely like to. “No, never!” I responded, “let’s try them!” And so we were off to the proverbial cooking races setting a date for our Tamal de Frijole fiesta.
Tamales are simple to make and look cute as a pack of buttons sitting upright in their steaming pot transforming in their stovetop sauna into hearty, stick to your ribs mouthfuls that happily take the place of simple tortillas or an uninspiring hunk of bread as a fortifying anchor for a plate of saucy pork or chicken. The tricky part, though it’s a pretty low level of trickiness, is to roll up the dough like a jelly roll without having the whole business fall apart. Luckily, my childhood experiences of wrestling with that dough that pops out of a can when you smack it on the edge of a counter, spreading it with cinnamon sugar and making my own version of cinnamon rolls, served me well as I successfully coaxed the springy dough off of the countertop and into a tidy log.
The second trick in the recipe is how to tell when the tamales are done. When fully cooked, the dough, which starts off a lot like a moist glob of play-doh that has just been taken out of its plastic bottle, should be almost crumbly and should have no springy, plastic quality to it. Margarita sent the tamales into cutie-cute orbit when she twisted one end of the corn husk wraps and poked them into the base of the tamal forming a little pig tail. It was all I could do not to pinch their little corn husk cheeks! Tamales are very versatile and can be filled with beans- as in this recipe- or with pork, cheese and green sauce, or any combination of ingredients that complement their corny base-flavors.
Thanks Margarita for another job well done! You have proven once again that you are one hot tamale in the kitchen!