Saturday, February 04, 2006

Squash tamales

A confession. I grew up in LA not really liking Mexican food. I ate quesadillas, sure. And eventually I was tempted into chimichangas (with a combination of a name like that and the fried factor, kinda hard to resist), but whenever my family was picking a cuisine for dining out, Mexican was always at the bottom of my preference list. Now I'm not sure why that was. What's not to like about a burrito? And chile relleno and tamales? Miam. I must have been a strange child.

But I'm an even stranger adult, and in making vegetarian tamales in winter, I didn't really want to use vegetables out of season thus nixing my favorite chile relleno tamales. Figured beans would work well, then spent 10 minutes staring at all the varieties of bulk beans at the co-op before settling on adzuki beans. Browsed through the produce, settling on cabbage and broccoli and onions and picked up some fresh ginger root and turmeric root just in case then grabbed some tofu for good measure. Another delay contemplating the option of dried hot chiles before settling on birdseye chiles rated at 100,000 heat units. At home I faced down my ingredients with the slightly uncertain air of someone who has somehow become very at home in the kitchen while never having cooked beans. Couldn't be so hard. They'd been soaked overnight. And I knew garlic and onion and salt and some of those dried chiles would be joining in the jacuzzi. The problem was how much? Luckily Eric happened by, an accomplished bean cooker and eater around whom the rare California barking spider is commonly heard (for those who have never heard the call of the very rare barking spider, it has a rather loud honk, rather like air being forced out rapidly from a trombone mouthpiece). Eric aided in the water quantity decision making and sampled a dried chili to help estimate how many would need to bathe. So the beans were on their way.

Next question was what sort of stir-fry to put in the tamales? Never mind that I had asian beans for the bean/cheese tamales, I could do a mexican style stir-fry to fill other tamales. But I don't think I've ever had mexican stir-fry. Not in the least daunted, I heated up some grapeseed oil, then tossed a couple chopped up onions in. Can't go wrong with onions. Put another two in. Chopped up some cabbage, threw it in. Guessed the tofu would be part of the stir-fry, so started mixing up a homemade chili sauce, feeling challenged by exposure to Nakona's excellent chili creations and thus forgoing my standby sweet chili sauce, or "special red sauce" as it is fondly known by all my roommates. Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, water to increase the volume, a smidgen of sugar and lots of chiles. In tumbles the tofu, but it doesn't seem to be taking up as much of the marinade as I'd like, so tofu and marinade are transferred to a small saucepan and encouraged to meld under threat of burning.

At some point within this cooking operation, Craig has arrived from the bay area and has been put to work adding mashed squash to the masa. I haven't yet mentioned the masa which has been mixed with a little salt, hungarian paprika, crushed cumin seeds and which is slowly being hydrated with the complication of my chickenless chicken broth powder having absorbed too much water from the air and now stubbornly sitting as a solid block very reluctantly and slowly dissolving (slightly) in boiling water which is being added in small amounts, stirred, poured off into the masa, process repeated. The squash has previously been baked in the oven and though I was initially contemplating using it as part of the tamale filling, a sudden inspiration or disinclination to use oil in the masa results in a substitution of squash for oil, in no proportion relevant to the recipe(s) that have been examined at length and studiously not followed. In my defense, after cooking asian beans and an asian stir-fry as tamale fillings, I felt squash in the masa could only make it that much stranger and that's good, right. Plus Craig brought a thai-style coconut curry with him and I figured at least my beans and rice would be edible, so there was a food fallback, at least if mixing white and brown rices then adding large quantities of grated fresh turmeric root was not a recipe for disaster.

It worked out fine, though after testing the rice, I realized one or both of the rices were glutinous, i.e. very sticky, not just mildly short-grained. But the beans were yummy once they were properly doused in salt (and twice as many chiles were added halfway through). The rice was very yellow and sticky but when is that ever sch a bad thing? And the tamales were quite yummy with a nice little hot kick, especially if you ended up with a whole dried chili in your mouth. Pass the beer.

Stranger than squash tamales

Soak corn husks in warm/hot water.

2 cups butternut squash, baked and mashed
6 cups masa harina
2-3 tb cumin seeds, crushed
2 tb Hungarian paprika
1 tb salt
water/vegetarian broth to effect

Mix the above ingredients together adding water as necessary to make a thick paste.

beans: cook like you usually do, you probably have more experience than me.

stir-fry: stir fry 4 onions, chopped, in grapeseed oil or olive oil. Add chopped cabbage and cook until soft.
Meanwhile, mix 1/4c soy sauce, 1/4 c rice vinegar, 2-4 tb minced fresh ginger root, 6-7 dried birdseye chiles including a bunch of seeds and 2tb water to make tofu marinade. Heat cubed tofu in marinade mixture in small sauce pan or if you have more time than I did, baking it in a glass baking dish, basting occasionally/turning the tofu will really make it soak up flavor.

Assemble and steam as seen on many wonderful sites such as They have less strange recipes as well, although lots of nontraditional ones.

1 comment:

Ulla said...

that looks fantastic! goodness:)