Tamales are the quintessential Southwestern Holiday treat. Around this time of year fresh made tamales fulfill our cravings for a taste of regional traditions. Blue or white masa, meat or veggie filling, sweet of savory, the taste of tamales is like no other. Preparing tamales is a multistage process. Although each step is individually simple, gathering family and friends to lend a hand makes preparation of tamales light work and reminds us of what holiday traditions are all about.
The fundamental ingredients of tamales are corn, corn husks, and some sort of fat such as lard, shortening, or butter. Ingredients for the filling range from chile spiced meats, vegetables like squash and beans, strips of softened chile and even sweets like raisins or coconut. Native Seeds/SEARCH offers a diversity of ingredients essential for tamales ranging from the seeds to grow your own ingredients to locally sourced corn and chile products.
Red chile sauces accompany meat fillings and typically made from whole Guajillo chiles or dried chile powders. Dried chiles are re-hydrated and blended with roasted garlic, cumin, and salt until smooth. Similarly dried chile powder can be mixed with broth, garlic, and salt to make a quick and versatile red sauce. Mole sauces pair wonderfully with tamales and we recommend Mole Negro (pictured above) from our friend Amy Valdes Schwemm of Mano y Metate. Amy has wonderful instructions on how to prepare Mole Negro Tamales from scratch in the latest issue of Edible Baja. Freshly prepared masa, ground corn that has been treated with cal or lime (nixtamal) can be found at most grocery stores in the Southwest, but we suggest you prepare your own. But if your adventurous, NS/S now offers Nixtamal kits containing dried corn, lime, and instructions for how to prepare your own fresh masa from scratch. Hand crank corn grinders can be purchased at the NS/S Retail Ship in Tucson or found at local Hispanic markets.
If you really want to prepare tamales from scratch you may want to consider growing the ingredients right in your own backyard. NS/S Farm Technician Benito Gutierrez favorite corn variety to grow for tamales is Dia de San Juan. A dent corn, Dia de San Juan has a good balance of soft and hard starch to make a firm, yet light and fluffy masa. Benito also loves this variety for green corn tamales which are made when the corn is harvested in the green stage rather than from dried corn kernels. Other dent varieties good for tamales includes Santo Domingo Posole and Tarahumara Tuxpeño. Blue corn varieties are also popular for tamales such as Guaijillo Maiz Azuland Santo Domingo Blue. NS/S currently offers over 40 varieties of chiles that would all give traditional spicy flavor to tamales. Possibilities are equally endless with bean and squash varieties.