Tamales con chipilin
A few weekends ago, I had a wonderful time learning a few traditional dishes from my neighbor, Eloisa. I have been meaning to write about it for a while now, and finally got around to asking my friend, and cooking partner, Ruth, for the photos she took during our kitchen adventure.
Eloisa is a wonderful cook. In addition to many traditional Guatemalan foods, she’s become an expert pizza maker. It probably helps that she’s married to an Italian, but she does all the prep and it really is delicious–a nice thin crust, a mix of cheeses, and whatever fresh vegetables she can come across, piled high and wonderfully seasoned. In addition to tamales, we made sweet ayote. This is essentially pumpkin boiled in a simple syrup made from panela, an unrefined sugar that’s dark with a taste mildly reminiscent of molasses. It was flavorful, but a bit too sweet for me. Perhaps it would have been better spooned over some tart, plain yogurt. The tamales were the real winners of the day. We ate that that evening with vegetables and chicken, grilled in the courtyard. Hairdryers work wonders when the grill is taking a long time to warm up….
Chipilin (Crotalaria longirostrata), a plant native Central America is used as both herb and vegetable. The leaves can be boiled much like spinach. But much more common is the incorporation of finely chopped leaves into tamales. You probably won’t find chipilin to widely available in the US. It turns out that chipilin plants produce many, many seeds, which, coupled with the fact that few animals eat chipilin plants, has led to its classification as a noxious weeds. Australia has even banned the import of chipilin seeds. That being said, it’s pretty tasty stuff. Maybe it wouldnt be considered invasive if we just found more uses for it and kept it under control by eating more of it. So, to that end, here’s the recipe for tamales with chipilin.
If you’ve never made tamales before, it turns out they’re not too difficult to make-especially when you live next door to a corn mill. Most of you probably aren’t so lucky, so try using a commercially available masa, or corn meal, widely sold in the “ethnic foods section” of grocery stores. I believe a common brand is Maseca. The other ingredient that might be slightly difficult to come by if there aren’t any ethnic groceries nearby is queso fresco. In a pinch, you can substitute farmers cheese, or another soft, mild, moist cheese. But try and find some queso fresco. Vale la pena. Eloisa buys her from a woman who sells door to door every Wednesday in our neighborhood. So far I’ve just purchased cheese at the market, but I think I have to try and get in on the home delivery. It’s the freshest I’ve had. This recipe makes about 40 tamales, enough for a feast, or to eat for a few days. They’re pretty tasty warmed in the toaster oven or directly over the oven flame.
- 2 lb masa
- 1/2 liter vegetable oil
- 3 C. water
- 1-2 cups chopped chipilin
- 1 lb queso fresco
- Salt to taste
- Corn husks-soaked in water until flexible
Mix the masa, oil, water and salt in a large bowl with your hands. The dough should have a smooth consistency, like a moist pie dough. Add the queso and chipilin and mix until well combined. Form tight, ovals of dough about half the size of your fist. Wrap the dough in corn husks. Place a metal rack at the bottom of a deep pot. Place the tamales on top of the rack in concentric circles. Put a few inches of water in the pot. Cover the pot and place over medium heat. (Eloisa covered the tamales with a plastic bag before placing the lid on top. This helps keep in the moisture, but be careful the bag doesn’t melt to the pot). Cook for approximately 1 hour or until tamales are firm and cooked through.