Tuesday 2 April 2013

Spinach & Sweet Corn Tamales

I have been longing to make my own tamales since tasting them for the first time on my visit to LA last Febraury. I ate a dish of green spinach tamales in a fabulous restaurant called Hugo’s and it remains the best meal I have ever eaten in my life. The textures and flavours just blew me away and were unlike anything I have ever tasted. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the restaurant had created a video, showing exactly how to make the dish. Once I discovered this I knew I had to try and recreate them.

Before I could get cooking, I had to buy some Masa Harina, a special type of fresh, dried and ground corn/maize flour used for making tamales and also traditional tortillas. Thankfully a quick hunt online produced two online Mexican stores that sold it. Spying they also sold corn husks – the dried outer leaves of corn in which tamales are traditionally rolled and steamed, I got some of those too. I was now ready to get tamale making!

My spinach mixture refused to puree smooth as I only had a small food processor rather than a powerful blender, but this didn’t seem to affect the recipe. It made my tamales speckled green in appearance, rather than being completely green, but I think this was actually rather attractive. Another thing I liked about this recipe compared to others I’ve seen is that is uses roughly blitzed fresh sweet corn for extra texture rather than relying purely on the corn flour. It’s also a gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan recipe as it uses no fat (lard is traditional) in making the tamale dough. (I did add cheese and sour cream as finishing accompiments, but this is optional.)

I was actually surprised how quick and easy the tamales were to make. From start to unwrapping the cooked tamale was just under an hours work. I had fun wrapping and rolling my tamales, and experimented with using both the traditional corn husks and squares of parchment paper as wrappers. I must confess I found the parchment paper squares a lot easier to work with.

In LA my tamales were served on a pool of green tomatillo salsa, another thing not readily available in the UK (boo). Instead I used a jar of good quality tomato sauce which I spiced up with some chipotle chili paste. It turned out to be rather fiery, as I hadn’t realised the tomato sauce was actually a fresh chili and tomato sauce, so the addition of a blob of sour cream was quite welcome to cool my tongue.

The texture of the tamales was just as I remembered them. Quite thick and stodgy, but also soft and flavoursome as tamales are steamed rather than baked or fried. The texture may not appeal to everyone, but I love it! The spinach gave it great fresh flavour and speckled appearance while the little chunks of fresh sweet corn added a subtle sweetness and a pleasing texture against the spicy tomato sauce. So satisfying. I can’t wait to experiment with other flavours or maybe even attempting a few stuffed tamales.

I know many people in the UK may not have even heard of tamales before, let alone tasted one, but I urge you to give them a go. I have given some links of where to get the Masa Harina flour below. Click here to see the video recipe of Hugo’s Green Tamales.

Spinach & Sweet Corn Tamales
200g spinach
100ml water
400g sweet corn
30g caster sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
130g fine cornmeal (not cornflour)
120g Masa Harina corn/maize flour *(see below)

Corn husks or baking parchment for wrapping

* Masa Harina is made from fresh sweet corn that has been dried and ground into flour. You can buy it and the corn husks from online Mexican grocers or some specialist shops. Mex Grocer and Cool Chili Co are two such places.

Cut out 6-7 inch squares of baking parchment or soak some corn husks ready for filling.
Place the spinach and water into a food processor. Process until a green thin puree has formed. Mine remaining quite chunky, giving it a mottled appearance but this is fine.
Place the spinach into a large bowl.
Place the sweet corn into the processor and blitz until broken down, but still quite chunky (if using fresh corn, cook it first, but canned or frozen are already pre-cooked) Add the sweet corn to the spinach.
Sprinkle over the remaining ingredients and fold everything together using a spatula.
Place 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture in the centre, about 1inch up from the base of the corn husk or baking parchment square. Fold over the bottom edge, to cover the tamales mixture, and then fold in each of the two sides to prevent the mixture from escaping out the sides, then roll up. Repeat until you have used all your tamale mixture.
Heat a pan of water until simmering. Place a steamer or sieve over the top of the water and arrange your wrapped tamales inside. The water should not touch the sieve/steamer. You don’t have to cook them all at once.
Place the lid on the saucepan and allow the tamales to steam for 30 minutes. They should feel firm when cooked.
Remove the tamales from the steamer. Carefully unroll them from the parchment or corn husks and place two per person on a pool of spicy tomato sauce/salsa. (Green tomatillo salsa is traditional but very hard to find in this country) Put a blob of sour cream or crème fraîche on top of the tamales and finish with a fine grating of cheese.
Eat and enjoy.
Makes around 8 small tamales (enough for 4 people)

Note: I've just realised this is my 500th post - whoop!


Johanna GGG said...

I am excited by this post because I ate my first tamales just a few weeks back and was wondering about where to find a recipe - this one looks perfect - but I was wondering if it made any different in taste whether you used the corn husks or parchment paper - I must seek out some masa harina - we have a mexican shop where I can find some stuff in melbourne

Katie said...

Hi Johanna,
No I couldnt taste any difference between using corn husks or parchment. The corn husks gave the tamales a slightly ridged appearance though.

Jane said...

Wow, Katie, this looks like a great recipe. I've never even considered trying to make my own tamales, but you've convinced me it might be worth it! My husband and sons love them, but always buy them from a Mexican market. They'd go crazy for these. I'm saving this recipe! :)

The Caked Crusader said...

Congrats on the big 5-0-0!

Lovely looking meal - I love tamales

Caroline said...

Wow, what an achievement - congratulations on 500 posts!

Those tamales look delicious, I've never had anything like that at all, and really must broaden my horizons.