The holiday season in Los Angeles means tamales are made by grandmas, mothers, daughters, and sometimes the entire family. Living near a Mexican mercado, the masa and corn husks are displayed in abundance, as the time to bring family together means putting tamales on the table.
I had never made a tamale, but I have certainly eaten plenty of them. So I filled my shopping cart with everything to make them at home: masa, corn husks, banana leaves, chiles, jalapeños, spices, and veggies like butternut squash, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic. Mexican cheese such as queso fresco is similar to mozzarella, and queso requesón is close to ricotta. Black beans, tortillas, cilantro. I went into the kitchen and prepped all the ingredients, including some tortillas to make soft tacos to eat, because tamale making is a long process.
Zucchini and butternut squash cut into small pieces, roasted in olive oil, salted, spiced, the aroma filling the house. Sautéed mushrooms, roasted chiles, all of the fillings prepared, the corn husks soaked, the masa filling ready in bowls. I set up my own assembly line with all of the ingredients at hand with a row of softened corn husks ready for filling. I made five at a time on my wooden board, spreading the tamale masa on each husk, a spoonful, then two spoonfuls. Each tamale was filled with a spoonful of veggie filling, then wrapped up in the corn husk. It took me some time to figure out how to wrap the tamales, but once I did a few, it became easier.
Since this was my first time making tamales, I wasn’t sure how they would come out.
The roasted green chile, black bean and cheese tamales were perfectly moist in texture and quite flavorful. A squeeze of lime, some extra queso fresco and cilantro.
Green chile salsa, jalapeño, lime, scallions on top of butternut squash and black bean tamales.
Dark green Tuscan kale, roasted green chiles, queso fresco, cilantro, red chile salsa, crema.
I found a vegetarian tamale recipe to make masa from scratch via Vegetarian Times. If not vegetarian, prepared tamale masa can be found at Mexican supermarkets. My tamales were enjoyed by everyone on Christmas eve, and the few left in the steamer basket were our lunch the next day. Cooked tamales can be wrapped up and kept for a week in the fridge or sealed up in plastic bags and frozen until you are in the mood for some deliciously satisfying tamales.
You can make them vegan with vegan cheeses as well.