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Monday, December 16, 2013

Tis The Season for (vegan) Tamales!

We are feeling the holidays. Our neighborhood is shining with lights (our own added to the glow), we've decorated a tree, dressed up for staff parties, and sent out Christmas cards.
And Sunday I went to my coworker's house to make Mexican tamales, a Christmas tradition she's learned and honored throughout her life and has been kind enough to share with whichever grade level she's working with, which, lucky for me, is kindergarten this year. Of course I had to find a recipe for vegan tamales masa since standard masa has lard in it. A quick online search led me to discover that I could replace coconut oil for the lard and voila, done. 

Vegan masa ingredients for two dozen tamales:

4 cups of corn flour (I used Maseca)
2 tsps of baking powder
1 tsp of salt
1 cup of melted coconut oil
3 cups of vegetable broth (or a faux "beef" broth)

It really helps to have a powerful stand mixer but if you don't then at least you'll build up some muscle mixing all the ingredients together by hand.

Dump the corn flour and vegetable broth into a large bowl and mix (on low, if you've got a stand mixer) until blended. Then let it sit for twenty minutes...or don't, but I don't know if that will change the masa results. 

Then mix in the baking powder, salt, and melted coconut oil until everything is combined and the masa is spongy and malleable. You can make it ahead of time and store it in the fridge until you need to use it, like I did.

That's it for the dough! The most time-consuming part, and the most fun - if you're with the right people - is assembling the tamales. 

First you have to make sure that the corn husks, which are used for wrapping the tamales, are soaking in water; this helps to avoid tearing.

Then you have a drink - spiked eggnog (some grocery stores carry vegan eggnog).

Next you start preparing the tamale stuffing. Since I didn't have much time in the morning to make anything other than the masa I just picked up some deli items from Sprouts - quinoa and garbanzo beans, seitan chicken, and an edamame salsa. The rest of the crew made their tamales with chicken, which needs to be shredded before being layered inside the tamal, and a cheese and roasted pepper combo.

After shredding the chicken (and my faux chicken) with our hands we added it to red sauce that was simmering on the stove.

While the protein simmers it's time to knead the masa.

Don't forget to stir the chicken and then get all your tamal accouterments ready for the assembly line...including your hands, which will work nonstop for the next few hours.
*My vegan tamales station*

Now it's time to start making the tamales! First use a spoon or your (clean!) fingers to spread a thin layer of masa onto the smoother side of the corn husk, leaving about four inches from the pointy end so that that part can be folded upwards. Then scoop a generous spoonful of whatever filling you desire on top of the masa, in the middle of the leaf. Last, fold the pointed part up and the two sides over, leaving the top end open.
*We didn't last standing for too long...*

It's okay to take a break halfway through, we all did. Once you've assembled all of your tamales (we made at least 70, probably more) it's time to steam them. Place them with the folded side down in a big pot with a few inches of water in it and a damp towel over them instead of a lid. Put the heat on medium-low and let them steam for about an hour. Make sure to check on them every fifteen minutes to add more water if the need arises.

While you wait for the tamales to cook you can chill outside with your coworkers. Chances are you'll laugh a lot and also learn something new.

You'll know when the tamales are ready because you'll smell them, as will the entire neighborhood. Take them out of the pots and let them cool (seriously, stop touching them) before eating or you'll burn your mouth ever so slightly.
*My tamales even got their own private steam bath*

Ten minutes later they're ready to eat. Dig in!

A huge thanks to Alma for inviting us to her house, teaching us how to make tamales, and showing us heaps of patience - a teacher for a reason!

Have a great week everyone. I know I will - three more days till the holiday vacation begins!

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