Friday, January 18, 2013

Tofu, Spinach & Black Bean Tamales + Tamale Beginner Tips

#1: Tamales are not pretty to photograph. At least not the tamales I made.

#2: It took me a few tries to finally make edible, tasty, satiating tamales. See below for some tips on how to be more successful at your first go-round at tamale-making.

#3: Once you buy masa corn flour and corn husks, you will have them for quite a while. They were cheap to begin with at my local grocery store, so it wasn't a risky investment.

#4: It was this book that was behind my inspiration for all of this tamale-making. Z gave it to me a few months ago, and it really is a fantastic guide for tamale beginners.

I created this recipe by combining a few of the recipes in the Tamales 101: A Beginner's Guide to Making Traditional Tamales cookbook, while also using some items we already had in our kitchen to save a few bucks (I am a starving freelancer now, after all). The recipe is below, and I'll follow it with a few tips based off what I learned during my first few attempts at making tamales.

Tofu, Spinach & Black Bean Tamales
Yields: 8-10 tamales
Masa Harina Masa (from Tamales 101): *I halved this recipe, and still had plenty of leftovers
Yields: 12 to 18 cups, or masa for 2 to 3 dozen tamales
-7 cups vegetable stock (or chicken, beef, or pork stock)
-12 cups masa harina (dry corn flour)
-2 cups butter, margarine, lard, or shortening (or a combination of these)
-1 1/2 tablespoons salt

-16 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
-Cumin powder
-Chili powder
-Pinch of cayenne
-Salt and black pepper
-1/4 cup salsa (I used a spicy traditional salsa)
-1 tablespoon butter
-1 tablespoon flour
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
-1 green onion, diced
-1 pound frozen chopped spinach, thawed
-Salt and black pepper, to taste
-1 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
-8-10 dried corn husks, which have been soaked in hot water  - weighed down with a heavy pot or platter - for 45 minutes and then washed thoroughly to remove the silk and any dirt (I forgot this step, and we turned out OK...but I recommend soaking them just in case)
-3 cups Masa Harina Masa
-Shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups)

Masa Harina Masa:
1.) In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the stock until warm. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, combine the stock and the masa harina. With the paddle attachment on medium speed, mix until the texture is like a firm pudding. Remove the mixture from the bowl and set aside. 
2.) Add the butter and salt to the mixer bowl and whip at high speed for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the masa harina mixture and whip for 1 minute at medium speed. Repeat until all of the masa harina mixture has been added.
3.) Increase speed to high and continue mixing for 3-5 minutes, until the masa is a soft, thick paste.

1.) Place tofu cubes in a shallow dish (I used a pie plate), and season with cumin, chili powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Carefully mix in salsa, and cover dish with saran wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
2.) Using a fork, combine the butter and flour on a plate until completely worked together. Set aside.
3.) In a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and onion and saute for only a few seconds. Decrease the heat to medium, add the spinach, salt, and pepper, and saute for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
4.) Add the beans and cook for an additional minute. Then, add the butter-flour mixture and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, to combine flavors. Set aside to cool.
5.) To assemble the tamales, spread 1/4 cup of masa on the smooth side of a corn husk. Place 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture in the center of the masa and top with cheese (about 1 tablespoon per tamale). Finish using your methods of wrapping and tying. Repeat for the remaining tamales. Steam the tamales for 50 minutes.

-I found the less masa I used per tamale, the better (1/4 cup might even be too much). Also, the more filling, the better, as long as the tamales can still be folded and stay folded.
-There are many ways to wrap and prepare the tamales, but this, I found, to be the easiest (and least intimidating) method: Spread the masa across the center of the corn husk, 1/4 inch from the flat end of the husk. Fold both sides of the husk in tightly to overlap. Fold the pointed end of the husk up to meet the flat end.
-This is the masa flour I used. Any prepared masa I had leftover, I kept in the freezer (it should keep for 1-2 months in the freezer).
-To reheat tamales, I covered mine in a damp paper towel and reheated them in the microwave. They aren't the best reheated, but they aren't terrible either.

Making tamales is definitely a process, but the end result is well worth the extra work and cooking/steaming time.

Have you ever made your own tamales before? If not, would you?


  1. I love tamales! My SIL makes them every Christmas, and we have several great local tamale places that sell them frozen, so I've never made my own... but now I am pondering it.

    1. It's definitely a process, but so worth the hard work in the end!

  2. I love tamales, but I have never made my own. Well done!

  3. I love tamales but Mexican restaurants never have veggie options. I made some several years ago when I still ate chicken. It IS a process, but I can't wait to try this recipe!