I decided to cancel some plans that we had made for today and give myself a treat - five hours in the kitchen while Greg took care of the kids. Sure, I probably could have come up with a better way to treat myself, a way the didn't result in sore feet, back, and neck, but the end result wouldn't have been so yummy. Nor would it have given me such a feeling of pride in the path that my life has taken.
I really don't have much chance to teach my kids about culture in Guatemala. No matter how hard I try, they are going to be Americans. I do want to at least try a little though. Tamales are a traditional food in Guatemala and I figured I would attempt to make them. I used a recipe
that I found online and used another website to figure out how to roll up the tamales. (Apparently there are lots of ways to roll a tamale.)
The process didn't start out so well. I was actually planning on making them last week but then had a meat mishap. I tried again yesterday. Although my meat didn't quite shred as nicely as I wished that it would have, I was not about to try yet another time so I pressed on.
The tamale making started yesterday afternoon. I put about 4 lbs of chuck roast into my awesome slow cooker. I added 4 cloves of garlic, some salt, black pepper, 2 Tbsp olive oil, a little chili powder, some ground cayenne pepper, and a few ounces of hot sauce. Then I added enough water to completely cover the meat. I let my slow cooker get to work.
I stored the meat in the fridge and saved all the liquid from the pot. The plan was to start cooking first thing this morning. I discovered this morning that I had to revise my plan. My new plan was to clean up the kitchen that somehow didn't get cleaned up last night so I would have room to start cooking. It was about 8:30 when the tamale making officially began.
I was able to find just about every ingredient that was needed at our local grocery store. The only thing I couldn't find was the corn husks. I ordered those online through amazon.com. I ordered six 4 oz packages of corn husks because that is what the recipe said I would need. I opened two packages and started soaking them in water so they wouldn't be quite so crisp. While they soaked, I got to work on the meat mixture.
I toasted 4 dried ancho chiles in a skillet.
They smelled funny. I let them cool for a couple minutes and then got rid of the stems and seeds. They had a lot of seeds.
I had bought a coffee bean grinder for Greg the other day. I was planning on getting him one for Christmas this coming year but since I needed a way to grind up the chiles, he got a very early present. It works great and within seconds the chiles were pulverized.
In a large skillet I put 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil and 2 Tbsp of flour and let that brown. Then I added in the ancho chile dust. I poured in 1 cup of the beef broth I had saved from the slow cooker and mixed it all together into a paste. Then I put in 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp ground cumin, 2 cloves of minced garlic, some oregano, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp vinegar, and a few shakes of salt and pepper. At last I added the meat. I ended up putting in more beef broth with that because the meat had to simmer for 45 minutes and I didn't want it to dry out.
I thought at first that I might take a little break while that simmered before I started the dough. Glad I didn't. Just as I was finishing up the dough, the meat had simmered to perfection.
The recipe I was following called for lard but I used 3 cups of shortening instead. Using an electric mixer, I whipped that up with 1 Tbsp of salt until it was all nice and fluffy. Then I added in 9 cups of masa harina.
Masa harina is a corn flour. I was able to find this in the authentic foods aisle of our grocery store. (That is the same aisle where I found the dried ancho chiles.) I started to slowly add the reserved beef broth like my recipe told me to, until the dough was the consistency of soft cookie dough. The recipe says to reserve 5 cups of broth, 1 cup of which will be used in the meat mixture. I decided to save all the broth from the slow cooker and I am glad I did. I used every bit of it, way more than the 5 cups that was suggested, between the meat and the dough. The dough took a lot of work to whip up. I don't have much use for a mixer around here so the only mixer I have is a little hand held one. I was a little worried that it wasn't going to quite make it. I also didn't anticipate just how much dough I would end up with and had to upgrade my mixing bowl to this super massive one that is so big I don't even keep it in my kitchen because it takes up so much room. At last, just as the timer for the meat simmering beeped, the dough was complete.
Time for assembly. I drained the water from one group of the corn husks
and tried to figure out what in the world I was doing. It took me a few minutes but finally, I had assembled my first tamale.
The recipe said to use butcher's twine to tie it together but instead I just shredded some of the corn husks and used those. I feel it made my tamales look more authentic. So how do you roll up a tamale? I don't know really. But here is how I did it.
First I laid the corn husk down flat, with the wide end farthest from me. Using a knife I spread some dough down the middle starting at the top, about 2/3 of the way down. I think I probably should have been using a little more dough than what I was at first.
Then I added a little of the meat mixture. This picture shows a lot of meat mixture. After the first couple of tamales, I really cut back on the meat I put in each one. (In the end I still ended up with a lot of dough by the time I ran out of meat.)
Then I folded one long side of the corn husk about 2/3 of the way across.
Then I folded the other long side across the tamale, overlapping the two sides.
After that, I folded up the bottom part of the tamale.
The final step was to tie my little tamale package up to keep all the yummies inside. Then I put each one in the steamer basket.
I had to make sure that they were all standing up so nothing fell out of the ends. They also needed to only be put in one layer, so no stacking tamales on top of tamales. Assembling the tamales seemed to go a lot faster after I got the hang of it and stopped taking so many pictures!
I have a rather large steamer pot. It took me about an hour to roll up enough tamales to fill it up. There were 41 tamales in my first group.
The tamales needed to steam for an hour. While they cooked I took a little break to eat lunch and make lunch for my kids. Then it was back to rolling tamales. The first group was done and I took those out of the pot and let them cool for a little bit on dishes on the dining room table. While they cooled I filled up the steamer for the second round of tamales. I didn't plan it but there ended up being 41 tamales in that pot too, for a grand total of 82 tamales. When the last batch of tamales was steamed to perfection, the clock read 2:30. Not bad! Only 6 hours of cooking today, and I don't even have anything prepared for dinner tonight! I had a lot of dough leftover. I wish I would have had a clue what to do with it because I hate to waste food but ended up throwing it out. I only ended up using about 2.5 packages of the corn husks. Unfortunately I had soaked 4 of the packages and didn't know what the proper way to dry them out again would be so I threw away the extras.
I had a lot of time to think while I was making the tamales. Mostly I wondered when women in Guatemala make tamales, if they listened to Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones like I was doing. As far as I know, making tamales is a family affair. I showed Marcus what I was up to but Will said he didn't want to see. (Remember, he says no to just about any question.) Maybe next time I make them I will somehow find a way that Marcus and Will could at least think they are helping. I didn't want to do all the work myself so I told Greg that if he wanted to help, I had just the job for him.
By the way, the tamales are really yummy! We are down to a mere 80 tamales now because Greg and I thought we better sample them. I think I have only had tamales twice, once at a Mexican restaurant and once in Guatemala. Despite all the time and effort I was willing to put into them, I didn't really enjoy the tamales I ate before all that much. Maybe it was just because I actually made them myself, but these tamales are great! It is fortunate too since it looks like we will be eating nothing but tamales for the next few weeks unless I clear out some space in my freezer.