How lucky are we to live in a place where tamales are a year-round affair?
Although Central Texans certainly eat (and make) more tamales during the winter holiday season, any day of the year we can find tamales filled with pork, chicken, black beans, poblanos, mole, spinach, goat cheese ... the list goes on forever, and the tamalada never ends.
You can find full tamal tutorials and recipes on austin360.com, but here are some tips if you're making them this year, plus a recipe for a tamal-inspired soup. (The instructions call for making dumplings out of masa harina, but already prepped tamales cut into dumpling-size pieces will also do the trick.)
• If you are hosting a big tamal-making party, you'll want to make sure you have a large pot in which to steam the tamales. You can also use a multicooker to pressure-cook them in about 20 minutes. You'll only need about a cup of water in the bottom of the pressure cooker.
• If you are steaming them over water in a regular pot on the stove, put a penny in the bottom of the pot. If the water level gets low, you can hear the penny "dancing" and know to add more water.
• Many tamal-makers use a spoon or a spatula to spread the masa on a piece of soaked corn husk, but a tortilla press and a piece of plastic wrap can make quick work of what can otherwise be a tedious job. Simply place a ball of masa on the corn husk with a piece of plastic wrap on top and close the press, which will evenly distribute the masa on the husk. Then you can spoon your filling in the middle and finish wrapping the tamal.
• Dozens of restaurants sell tamales this time of year, but if you do want to try your hand at making them at home for the first time, it's much easier if you start with store-bought "masa preparada," which is masa harina that has already been hydrated and usually contains lard. Gather up a few friends, a bag of corn husks and your favorite pulled chicken with tomatillo sauce, achiote pork or spicy black beans, and you'll have tamales all winter long.
Smoky Chicken-Chile Soup With Tamal Dumplings
These pillowy, tamal-like dumplings made with masa harina are toothsome bites of cheesy, corny goodness.
For the dumplings:
1 cup masa harina
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin or chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the soup:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin or chili powder
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 (15-ounce) cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 cups frozen corn
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 cup quartered and sliced zucchini
2 tablespoons lime juice
Chopped cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
To prepare dumplings: Combine masa harina, 1/2 cup broth, cheese, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon cumin (or chili powder) and salt in a medium bowl. Roll the dough into 18 round dumplings, using a scant 1 tablespoon for each.
To prepare soup: Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cumin (or chili powder) and cook, stirring, until soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in broth, tomatoes with their juices, chicken, corn and chipotles to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Add the dumplings and zucchini. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until the dumplings and zucchini are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add lime juice. Serve the soup topped with cilantro, with lime wedges on the side, if desired. Serves 6.
— From "EatingWell Soups: 100 Healthy Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food" from the editors of EatingWell magazine (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22)