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Spicy Mushroom Tamales

1/2 (8-ounce) package dried corn husks
1/2 to 2/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening, chilled
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups coarse-ground masa or 1 3/4 cups dried masa harina males mixed with
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water, then allowed to cool
2/3 cup cool chicken broth, plus up to 1/3 cup for optional second beating
Up to 2 teaspoons salt
2 medium large round ripe tomatoes
3 medium large fresh poblano chilies
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 small white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups sliced mushrooms (shiitake, chanterelles or any wild mushroom)

In a large pot, bring the corn husks to a boil in water to cover,
then weight them with a plate to keep them submerged and let stand
an hour or so. With an electric mixer, beat the chilled lard with
the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue
beating as you add the masa in three additions. Slowly pour in a
generous 1/2 cup of the broth, beating all the while. Continue
beating for another minute, until a 1/2 teaspoon dollop of the
batter floats in a cup of cold water.

Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency
of soft (not runny) cake batter, it should softly hold its shape
in a spoon. Season with salt, usually 1 scant teaspoon, taste and
reseason if necessary.

For the lightest texture tamales, refrigerate the batter for an
hour or so, then rebeat, adding enough additional liquid to bring
the mixture to the consistency it had before.

Preheat broiler and set rack 4 inches from flame. Place tomatoes
on baking sheet and roast until blackened and blistered on one
side, about 6 minutes, flip and roast other side. Peel and roughly
chop, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes. Set aside. Roast
the chilies directly over a gas flame or under broiler until
blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes on open flame or 10 minutes
for broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes.
Peel, pull out the stems and seed pod, then rinse briefly to remove
bits of skin and seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch strips. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high, then add the
onion and cook, stirring regularly, until nicely browned but still
a little crunchy, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and herbs, toss
a minute longer, then stir in the chilies, tomatoes and mushrooms.
Cook, stirring regularly, until everything is reduced to a thick
mixture that easily holds it shape in a spoon, about 5 minutes.
Season with salt, to taste, about 1 teaspoon, and cool.

Pick out 16 nice corn husks for forming the tamales, then use 2/3
of the remaining to line steamer (you'll need one that's at least
4 inches deep--a Mexican tamale steamer or vegetable steamer in a
deep pot), fill the bottom of the steamer with 1 to 2 inches of
water. Tear 16 long, 1/4-inch wide strips of corn husks for tying
the tamales.

Lay the husk in front of you, lightly dry it, then spread about a
scant 1/4 cup of the batter into a 4-inch square, leaving at least
a 1 1/2-inch border on the pointy end of the husk, a 3/4-inch border
along other sides. Spoon a good 2 tablespoons of the filling down
the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the husk
and bring them together (this will cause the batter to roll around
the filling, enclosing it.) Roll the flaps of the husk in the same
direction around the tamales. If husk is not big enough, wrap in
another piece as well. Fold up pointed end and secure by tying with
long strips of husk. Set in steamer folded side down. Cover the
pot and bring to a boil, steam husks 1 to 1 1/4 hours, making sure
the water is at a steady boil and never runs out.

Yield: 16 servings


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