I can't think of this magical food without remembering the woman selling them from a basket to the train passengers outside Oaxaca long ago; the red and white cloth over the basket and the incomparable flavour of corn and tomatos slivers of chicken. Chuchos, they called them there.
Finally I tracked down all the ingredients. It's hard to find masa harina in Victoria B.C. (just what is "fresh masa" anyway?) It took 3 1/2 hours Friday to put it all together, mixing the dough, soaking the corn husks, making two fillings (chicken and also mariscos, for our vegetarian teenager). When they were finally ready to eat, at about 9:30 p.m., it was all worth it - for me anyway. The taste took me right back to Mexico. I could almost hear the vendors' sing-song call: "ta-maw-LAYS!"
Here's the recipe from About.com :
6 cups masa harina and 5 cups warm water, chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
In a mixing bowl combine masa and warm water or broth until combined. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so to let the masa soften. Then mix it on low speed until a dough forms.
After Masa or Masa Harina is prepared-Gradually add in the salt and cumin.
In a separate bowl, add oil to the dough a little at a time while mixing until well combined.
The mixture should be about the consistency of peanut butter. If not, add more masa, water or broth as necessary.
Cover and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
México Del sur:
2 cups shredded chicken, seasoned with hoja santa
1 cup fresh, whole corn kernels
1 cup finely diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red chile sauce (I used Asian sambal oelek)
2 cups cooked shrimp or lobster
1 cup shredded Jack cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream mixed with 1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
To wrap and steam:
Sort husks: Go through the corn husks removing any debris. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces. Save the smaller pieces for later.
Soak husks: Place the husks into a large bowl. Cover husks with warm water. Set a heavy item (like a heavy bowl) on top of the husks to keep them submerged.
Remove the husks from the water and pat dry. Place into a covered dish or a large plastic bag to prevent from drying out. Use only the larger and medium sized husks for the tamales. The smaller ones can be used later for ties or patches. When looking at the husk, they have a narrow end, a broad end, and 2 long sides.
Add dough: Lay a husk on a flat surface. Place 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto the husk. When spreading the dough, leave a space of about 4 inches from the narrow end of the husk and about 2 inches from the other end. Spread the dough to the edge of one of the long sides and 2 inches away from the other long side. Try to keep the dough approximately 1/4 to a 1/2 inch thick.
Filling: Spread about a tablespoon of filling down the center of the dough.
Fold: Locate the long side with a 2 inch space with no masa. Fold that over, slightly overlapping the other side so the edges of the dough meet. Wrap the extra husk around the back.
Then fold the broad end over the top and then the longer narrow end over the broad end.
Tie: Create strips of husk by cutting or tearing 1/4 inch lengths off of some of the smaller or unusable husks. Use these to tie across the middle of the tamale to hold the flaps down.
Steam: Set tamales upright in a steamer over (not touching) boiling water. Steam for about 90 minutes.