Saturday, January 14, 2012

Daring to do it: Tamales

I love Mexican food. Well, at least the version I know here in the US... So when this month's Daring Cook's challenge was announced I was really excited.

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!
I have never actually made tamales before. Heck, I have never actually eaten tamales before! But it was something I had always wanted to try, and I was glad Maranda had given us the challenge. What I wasn't expecting was how hard it would be to find corn husks. Traditional tamales are made by steaming a filled corn based dough wrapped in a corn husk. It is like a little present on a plate... Except I couldn't find corn husks. I wanted to find an Hispanic market, but I had no clue where one might be locally, and I had zero luck when I looked in every other market or store I went to. I was able to find banana leaves, though, and I knew (I am not sure how) that those could be used instead.
Now came the hard part. See, I hadn't left myself quite enough time to make the tamales. None of the components here are hard -
the masa dough came together quickly, I had already cooked the black eyes peas, and the spinach and onion filling was cooked. I had even cut the banana leaves to size. But wrapping the tamales takes time. This is a task I highly recommend you recruit help for... I also found it hard to work with the banana leaves. True, I was trying to work "efficiently," but I kept getting frustrated by the ripping, separating leaves. Four tamales in I was ready to stop. But dinner still had to be made...
So I took the cheater's way... I put a layer of banana leaves on the bottom of a baking pan. Then I layered the masa dough, the spinach filling, beans and cheese. I topped that with the rest of the dough, covered the whole thing with more banana leaves and baked it in an oven. I did put two pans of water on the bottom rack to try to produce steam, as tamales tend to be steamed...

Then end result was something quite yummy. We all found it to be a bit dry on its own though, which I had thought might be the case. Since I didn't have any salsa in the house, I heated some simple tomato sauce. It worked really well.
Thank you, Maranda, for giving me the opportunity to finally try tamales! I am sorry I didn't do them the traditional way, but I do feel that I got a taste for them, and now I want to try again. Next time, though, I will make two changes - I'll make sure I have more time to assemble them, and I will make sure I have people there to wrap and roll with me!
I hope you take a look and see the creative tamales my fellow Daring Cooks came up with!


  1. Great job, Ruth! I had to sit this one out (again) but I'm just drooling at the thought as I also love Mexican food.

  2. It's too bad you couldn't find any corn husks, I got lucky and found some in 1 store. I'm sure you would have been less frustrated. I have loads and loads of happy to mail some to you.

  3. Good job persevering with the banana leaves. And ace lateral thinking for the tamale pie!

  4. Looks like you rose to the challenge. Great job, they look like they came out great!
    Come see mine at

  5. Looks like an interesting take on it - the black-eyed peas in the filling make this a real new years recipe too. Glad you enjoyed the challenge even if it didn't come out quite like you wanted.

  6. You got something that you enjoyed for dinner, so I think it was a success! I actually have a recipe in a Mexican cookbook for some kind of giant tamale roll, so it was probably very authentic. I found the banana leaves a bit of a pain to work with too. :)

  7. I love the sound of your spinach and onion filling, sounds so delicious!