Healthy Mexican Food Recipes: Tamales

A few days ago I stumbled on a tamale making demonstration and instruction at a local supermarket. Tamales are traditional Mexican foods served during Christmas and New Year's. I have wanted to learn how to make them for years. Well technically I did make them once but it didn't go well (I blogged about it here.) I have seen a few classes offered over the years but either they were full or didn't work into my schedule. I seized upon the opportunity to try my hand at it again.

The two ladies shared their tips and walked me through from soaking the husks to making the tamale batter, spreading and filling the tamales and steaming them. I got to take home my un-cooked tamale and taste some they had steamed earlier. I enjoyed the tamales I made but they were slightly higher in carbs and fat than I would like and my usual issue with tamales is that the ratio of batter was too much for the amount of filling.

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I went home excited and determined to figure out a higher protein, lower carb version of a tamale that would be a healthier choice for me. I cut the batter with ricotta cheese which added flavor and allowed me to cut almost all the oil/lard in the original recipe and up the protein and as I filled them I adjusted the ratio of filling to batter. The batter was an Italian spin on a gnocchi dough my Grandma made. I hope you enjoy the results of my experimenting.

Shelly's Ricotta Tamales 

You need Corn Husks 16-18
1 1/2 cups Instant Corn Masa for Tamales (I used Maseca brand)
1 cup Ricotta Cheese
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 cup Warm Broth (any you love, I used Chicken)
1 Tablespoon Canola Oil
Large Pot with Steamer Insert

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To prepare corn husks: Place cornhusks in a large bowl, cover with hot water and weight with a heavy plate or pitcher to completely submerge them. Let soak for at least 30 minutes.

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To prepare tamale batter: Put all ingredients except the oil in a bowl and stir with a spoon (or better yet clean hands) until a soft dough forms. Add oil and mix again. You want a very moist and spreadable, but not runny consistency (add a little more warm broth if necessary.)

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Fillings: I used 2 different combos. Chicken, Mushroom & Onion: I shredded 2 cooked chicken breasts (store bought rotisserie would be great for this) and to that I added sauteed onions (1 yellow) and mushrooms (a dozen or so, sliced.) The other filling was Green Chili and Cheese: canned mild green chilis, deseeded and sliced into strips and sliced Queso Fresco cheese. I added green chili salsa inside a few of the tamales too. My Crock Pot Carnitas would be a perfect filling too. Next time!

To assemble tamales: Drain the corn husks and pat dry. Cover the husks with a damp towel while you are assembling. Working on a flat, clean surface, unfold one of the large corn husks so it's completely flat. Spread a dollop (meatball/golfball) size in the center of the husk in a 4-inch square (trick the ladies taught me: use a plastic quart size bag sprayed with nonstick spray to press the batter onto the husk) leaving a wide border at the top and the bottom. Spoon about the same amount of your filling in a thin strip down the length of the batter square. Tamales always have too much batter to filling in my opinion. So I did a thin spread and about the same amount of filling. You can adjust to your tastes.

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Fold the long sides of the corn husk together, causing the batter to completely surround the filling, then fold the corn husk end up, creating a pouch. If a corn husk splits while you're folding just wrap a second husk right over the first. If you want to remember the different fillings tie the tamale closed using a thin strip of torn corn husk for one of the fillings.

My stubby fingers can't tie husks so it's a surprise what you get at my house... "Oh look! you got the one you wanted it's a Christmas miracle!" If not, just point out the window and say "Oh my gosh, look at that!" and when everyone at the table turns to look, quickly switch plates with a loved one. Problem solved.

To steam tamales: Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water. Place a steamer basket in the pot and loosely place the tamales upright in the basket. I actually owned a perfect pot for it which comes with 2 steamer inserts, it was from my pre-weight loss surgery pasta eating years. Cover and steam over medium heat for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

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Check the water level periodically (I added a little more boiling water at about 45 minutes.) Make one tamale the tester. When it gets to 1 hour and 15 minutes open your tester tamale up... the tamales are done when the batter is firm and easily pulls away from the wrapper. If it sticks it's not ready, just fold it up again and continue cooking a few more minutes (time will vary based on the moisture of the masa) it pulls away easily when it's done, it'll be obvious.

You can serve them with a little Greek yogurt or guacamole, both would be great if your fillings are spicier. I just topped mine with a little pico de gallo (salsa basically)

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Cook's Note: Ingredients can be found at a grocery store with a Mexican products section or online. Make the cooked fillings the day before to save time. Tamales will keep in the fridge 2-3 days steamed or place them in a freezer bag and freeze for a month or two. Reheat tamales in the microwave. I use this gadget (it's awesome for reheating everything.)

They take awhile to make but it's lots of fun and they were delicious so I think they might be a Christmas tradition.


Pamela Stemmerman said...

Yummy thank you so much for the recipe for the Tamales. I love Mexican Food.

Kay said...

When it comes to the corn husks, you definitely want to make sure you use the smoother side. One side is more smooth and can feel waxy and the other side is more rough. Some will retain the natural curve after you soak so you can tell, but some will fall flat or get turned around, especially if you're making a lot. I love the idea of using ricotta, too. I would have never thought of it.

Amanda Dine said...

I do have to try this! I'm with you, tamales always have too much batter in relation to the filling, your recipe sounds perfect.