Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Saga of the Tamale Recipe (vegan)

The Saga of the Tamale

The tale begins at the La Tapatia Mexicatessen in South San Francisco where I first ate a tamale. The store opened in the 1970's and makes every type of Mexican food you can imagine; fresh warm corn tortillas, carnitas, roasted chicken, burritos, tacos, tamales, nachos, quesadillas, a variety of salsas and guacamole. I would always stick with their fresh tortillas and delicious avocados. One day coming back from surfing I was so hungry I decided to try a couple tamales from the steam table up by the cash register. I had never eaten a tamale before so I wasn't quite sure how to go about it. What to do with the husk? Didn't matter, they were so delicious I decided I would learn how to make them.

In a vegetarian Mexican cookbook I found a recipe for the corn masa; equal parts masa flour and liquid, one quarter of which is oil. I asked one of the managers at Tapatia how they made their masa, he told me they also put baking powder in the masa. "Aha," I thought as the lightbulb came on. "What does the name 'Tapatia' mean?" 
"It's a folk dance from Mexico," he told me.

The Jarabe Tapatio, a traditional dance form is considered the national dance of Mexico. Having originated in the state of Jalisco, the Jarabe Tapatio is a courting dance, where the man tries to romantically sway a woman. While the women wear the traditional china poblana, which includes a fringed blouse, a skirt and a shawl, the men are dressed in an ornate charro or cowboy suit. In the early 1900's the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova created a staged version in pointe shoes, winning the hearts of Mexican audiences who showered her with hats in adoration. With a few tamales who know what could have happened?

I decided to give my friends and family tamales for Christmas that year. I made some fresh salsa; tomatoes, red onion, cilantro,and celery to accompany these treats. A few years later I wrote a holiday card with the first verse of what would become the song. 

Saga of the Tamale 

In Mayan times the special three, 
The Trinity, 
were Beans and Squash and Corn, 
Around the fire in fellowship, 
These little gifts were born, 
Though now our times are troubled, 
And hope seems only folly, 
Please sit down and join with friends, 
To eat a good tamale. 

Jim Murdoch lyrics & music c.2006 
* * * 

For the next 4 years I would add another verse to the poem and in 2005 when I was recording my first cd, 'Waltz to the Sea' 
I decided to put a melody to the verses. The last verse was written in 2006 after the cd was finished. The complete lyrics are included after the recipe.

Jim Murdoch's Tamale recipe 

This recipe has developed over the years and was never written down until now. Feel free to add or omit ingredients. For example, I usually don't have onions or garlic but why not if you are so inclined? I have also sometimes used red bell peppers and green and black olives.

There are a lot of steps involved, so getting some friends together to help can be a lot of fun. You can also prepare in steps, for example cook the tofu and roast the chiles one day. Soak and rinse the corn husks the next day. Prepare the filling and assemble the tamales the 3rd day.

There is a very good Nortena (Tex Mex) music documentary by Les Blank, "Chulas Fronterras" ("Beautiful Borders") which has a sequence about the great singer & musician Lydia Mendoza while her family is making tamales for a big celebration. You can pick up some good techniques from watching them, such as how to use the back of a big spoon to smear the masa onto the husk.

makes 2-3 dozen tamales

12-16 oz firm tofu
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup shitake (or of choice) mushrooms
1 large sweet potato baked until barely tender and diced into 3/4 inch cubes
3/4 cup corn
3/4 cup peas
1 grated carrot
4 roasted, peeled and seeded anaheim chiles ( a few seeds left in will add some heat)
3/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
2.5 ozs dark chocolate
1 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano are best)
3 roasted and ground cloves
1 tblsp cinnamon
1 tblsp cumin powder
1 tblsp tumeric
1 tblsp smoked paprika

The corn husks need to be soaked for a few hours and then rinsed off to remove any threads of red corn silk. Hold the corn husk in the palm of your hand and use the back of a big ladle or spoon to place about 3 tblsp of masa in the center of the husk. Place about 2 tblspn of filling, fold the husk lengthwise and then fold the ends underneath. 

The filling
* saute the chopped celery in a few tblsp of olive oil for a few minutes, add the mushrooms and the chiles and let cook for 
about 10 min.
* chop the tomatoes and add with the diced sweet potato and grated carrot and spices except the cinnamon.
* add the diced tofu and let cook for another 10 min
* break the chocolate into pieces and add. When the chocolate has melted add the pumpkin seeds and cinnamon.
* let the filling rest for 10-15 minutes and begin assembling the tamales.

The tofu
slice 3/4 inch thick pieces, saute with olive oil and sprinkle a little tamari sauce on top of each piece. After the tofu is a little crisp on both sides, add apple cider vinegar over the tofu, let steam for a minute and then sprinkle brewer's yeast on top of the tofu, turn the heat off and cover until cool.

When cool dice into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes and add to tomato sauce.

The masa
4 cups masa (if you can find organic, it has great flavor)
6-8 tblsp baking powder
3 cups water
1 cup extra virgin olive oil or other oil of choice

Mix the dry masa and the baking powder together. Stir in the water and oil and mix thoroughly.

Put a few empty corn husks in the bottom of the steamer or colander. Fill the colander with tamales and cover with more corn husks. Place a wet towel over the top of the corn husks. Cover the steamer with a lid and steam for 1 hour. You can put a penny in the bottom of the pot and if the water runs low you will be able to hear the penny rattling around and can add more water. Let them cool and enjoy with your favorite salsa.

here's the complete song

Saga of the Tamale Jim Murdoch lyrics & music c.2006 

In Mayan times the special three, 
The Trinity, 
were Beans and Squash and Corn, 
Around the fire in fellowship, 
These little gifts were born, 
Though now our times are troubled, 
And hope seems only folly, 
Please sit down and join with friends, 
To eat a good tamale. 

* * * 
Another year has come and gone, 
The time has come to pass, 
For some the wheel has turned too slow, 
For others much too fast, 
We look towards the new year, 
With hope of dreams to last, 
Let's celebrate with friends and fork, 
This savory, sweet repast. 

* * * 
It's solstice time, the sun is low 
The winter moon has risen 
The light is clear, the days grow short 
Our gratitude is given 
The earth is cold, the air is crisp... 
Our season to renew 
Again we'll plant the corn that gave 
These sweet tamales blue. 

* * * 
On Solstice Day the Sun stands still 
Spray blows off the Winter Sea 
Our breath is white, 
We head for home 
A good hot cup of tea 
Tamales, chiles, corn and more 
Around the hearth we're cooking 
A slice that's quick, with knife so sure 
The chef's not even looking 
A hearty stew, Tamales Grand 
When they're cool, we'll peel the husk 
Pour on the salsa red or green 
And feast from Dawn till Dusk 

* * * 
As winter fades the sun returns 
Days and nights grow long 
Alas dear friend, 
The end draws near 
To our little song 
Look, spring returns, 
The swallows fly 
Back home where they belong 
We'll join again, sing loud and clear 
Our sweet tamale song 

Jim Murdoch lyrics & music c.2006