One of my friends, along with two of her sisters and her daughter, took a tamale-making class in Santa Fe earlier this year. This past weekend at my friend’s cottage, she and her daughter, with help from those of us who were visiting, treated us to what they learned. I’ve known for a long time that making tamales is an involved process, but I’d never been a part of it until this weekend.
We had three different kinds of tamales: chicken, zucchini/summer squash with cheese, and lobster with corn. In addition to the three separate fillings, we had two different kinds of masa (corn flour dough) and two different kinds of chili pepper dipping sauces—both of which required dried chilis to be roasted and rehydrated and then combined with garlic, tomatoes, and spices.
As you might imagine, the entire process took hours. I confess that I only helped out in a couple of basic ways: I shredded chicken, and when the ingredients were all ready, I assembled some chicken tamales for steaming. The rest of the time, I watched or stayed out of the way while my friends did the more difficult stuff.
Many years ago, I helped another friend make mole, which also takes a long time, because all the different spices and the peppers and some other ingredients have to be toasted and ground and then pureed and cooked. The tamale sauces may not have been quite as involved as the mole—if only because they didn’t have to be cooked as long—but they were plenty involved. At one point, the fumes from roasting chilis so permeated the air inside the cottage that breathing became difficult. I was outside at the time, but the air coming out through the windows made me cough.
Once all the ingredients were ready, we gathered around the table, covered with bowls of masa, tamale fillings, and corn husks. Since we were making three different kinds of tamales, we wrapped them in three different styles. That way we’d know what filling we were getting by the shape. The lobster tamales were shaped into little closed rectangular packets tied about the middle. The corn husks around the veggie tamales were left open at one end, the other end folded and tied about the middle. The chicken tamales, the ones I formed, were wrapped kind of like Tootsie rolls with a tie on each end.
At first I struggled to wrap the dough around the chicken filling and then to secure the little strips torn off the corn husks for ties around the rolled tamales, but after I’d completed a few, I fell into a rhythm. By the time the last tie was tied on the last tamale, I was sorry we were out of masa. I was having so much fun, I wanted to make more.
The assembled tamales then had to steam for an hour before we could eat them. But, boy, were they worth the wait. Especially the lobster ones. (Any twinge of disloyalty I might have felt to the chicken tamales I’d assembled was countered by the lobster tamales’ sheer deliciousness. Wow…)
So, if you ever get the opportunity to make tamales, go for it. It takes a while, but the saying is true: good things do come to those who wait.
Check out the links below for more specific information on making tamales:
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I am the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy series, The Light-Bringer:
I have also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes: