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Tamales Recipes

Photographs by J. Griffis Smith.

In the December issue, we take you to San Antonio’s Tamales! Festival, which takes place at The Pearl on December 7. Here are two (relatively) simple recipes for tamales—one a classic pork tamale, and the other a sweet variety with pineapple, pumpkin, and raisins. You can add or subtract spices in both recipes to your taste.

Pork Tamales

  •  two dozen dried cornhusks
  • 2.5 pounds boneless pork shoulder (also called pork butt), cut in 3-inch pieces
  • 4 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 3 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 15 black peppercorns, crushed slightly
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/3 cup chili powder plus 2 T, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/3 cups lard

Place the corn husks in a bowl of warm water to soften, at least one hour.

For the pork filling: Place the pork in a large Dutch oven or pot, and cover with cold water. Add 2 tsp. salt, onion, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook pork until tender (about 90 minutes). Cool slightly, transfer pork to a large bowl, and shred it. Reserve cooking liquid.

Combine the pork, cumin, 1/3 cup chili powder, garlic, and 1 cup cooking liquid in a large skillet. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dough: Combine the masa harina, lard, 2 tsp. salt, 2 T chili powder, and 2 2/3 cup reserved cooking liquid.

Remove husks from water and pat dry with a towel. With the smooth side of the wrapper facing you, place a husk in one hand with the wide end up. Staring at the wide end, spread about 2-3 T of dough down the husk, leaving a 1-inch border on each side. Place about 2 T of pork in the center of the dough, then fold sides together. Then bring the narrow end of the cornhusk to meet the wide end. If you’d like, you can tie the top with a narrow strip of cornhusk. Repeat.

Arrange a steamer basket in a large pot. Place the tamales, open-side up, in the steamer. Bring about two inches of water to a boil and cook tamales until the dough is firm, about 50 minutes. (You may need to add water periodically, so check every 15 minutes or so.)

Serve!

Pineapple/Pumpkin/Raisin Tamales

Here’s a recipe adapted from one provided by H-E-B, one of the sponsors of San Antonio’s Tamales! Festival.

  • 4 dozen dried cornhusks
  • 2 cups pineapple chunks (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • 1 cup pumpkin (canned or fresh)
  • 3 ½ cups masa harina
  • 1 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup raisins

Place the corn husks in a bowl of warm water to soften, at least one hour.

Place pineapple and pumpkin a blender or food processor, blend until mixture is a smooth paste.

In a large mixing bowl, blend masa harina, pineapple/pumpkin mixture, butter, and baking powder until mixture is light and fluffy. 

Remove husks from water and pat dry with a towel. With the smooth side of the wrapper facing you, place a husk in one hand with the wide end up. Staring at the wide end, spread about 2-3 T of dough down the husk, leaving a 1-inch border on each side. Place about 1 tsp of raisins in the center of the dough, then fold sides together. Then bring the narrow end of the cornhusk to meet the wide end.

Arrange a steamer basket in a large pot. Place the tamales, open-side up, in the steamer. Bring about two inches of water to a boil and cook tamales until the dough is firm, about 75 minutes. (You may need to add water periodically, so check every 20 minutes or so.)

Serve!

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