Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tamale fever

I've been missing Mexico quite a bit these days. One of the things I miss most about my time living there was the ritual of gorging myself on fresh tamales every Friday. (Another was hitting the dancefloor at my favorite salsa club in San Angel.) The only somewhat self-respecting tamale I have identified in the past five years living in DC has been at Trader Joe's. I know. I've spent the better part of the past three and a half years intensively scouring Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan -- DC's Little Mexico -- and alas, I have yet to find a decent tamale (and only one semi-decent salsa club). But last night during another volunteer shift at CulinAerie, under the capable guidance of Chef Eliza Gonzales, I made my first successful corn and pepper tamale. Delicious. And as we had some leftover ingredients from this last class before Thanksgiving break, Eliza sent me home with a large sack of tamale dough and some queso blanco so that I could practice at home. (She was also good enough to pose with the tamales before we scarfed them, along with the chili rubbed beef fillets and a to-die-for warm pumpkin salad.)

So what do you think I did this morning? I biked on over to a latino grocery store I'd seen on 11th Street and bought myself some poblano peppers and frozen banana leaves and got cracking. Sure, not all local ingredients, and some were most likely not sustainably produced -- I mean, come on, some baby seals must've been clubbed somewhere along the line in order for me to be able to buy banana leaves shipped from the Philippines for $1.49 a package -- but as I've mentioned, I'm not a purist. For the record, I would've paid extra for fair trade certified, organic banana leaves. (You know, a brand with the seal of approval. Har, har.)

To the beat of my most beloved salsa tunes pulsing from the speakers, and with the aroma of sweet banana and savory roasting peppers wafting through the air, I found myself quite literally dancing around the kitchen. In line with the Mexican sensibility of improvisation, and in light of my rather sparse food funds these days, I fiddled with Eliza's recipe a little bit, sauteing some shallots and sweet potatoes I had around with strips of the roasted poblanos for the filling.

Toss in a little crumbled cheese...

roll 'em up... stuff 'em in a pot of steaming water... cover it with some kitchen towels... and an hour later: viola!

Dad and Uncle Teddy and I had some this afternoon -- how convenient that they happened to stop by around lunchtime -- and Dad gave them the thumbs up. I've just wrapped the remaining tamales in banana leaves and stuffed them into a ziploc bag in the freezer. The dozen or so remaining should keep me satisfied for at least... a week.

Want to learn to make your own tamales? Swing by my place in a couple of weeks with some fillings and we'll get cooking. Or better yet, sign up for a class with Eliza (who teaches around town at both CulinAerie and Sur la Table). She even has an adaptation to accommodate vegetarians (or those otherwise opposed to the flagrant but delicious use of lard and chicken broth the more traditional recipe entails).

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