Learning from the tamale experts
Ofelia Rivera, chef at Texas Tech University’s (TTU) The Commons dining location, learned to make tamales years ago from her grandmother in Guanajuato, Mexico, “and hers were the best I’ve ever tasted,” Rivera says. “For me, tamales have always represented the start of the fall season. I remember coming together to make them around mid-November and continuing through Christmas.” At the Mexican concept, Parrilas, a tamales LTO will be served this fall: Red Raiders pork tamales with red chili sauce and green chicken tamales with green chili sauce as well as a sweet option with raisins or pineapple.
Nixtamalized corn + lard = masa
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Tamales and corn tortillas wouldn’t exist without the innovation of nixtamalization, which is the process of transforming corn by cooking it in slaked lime to produce the soft, workable substance needed for corn tortillas and tamales. “When it comes to using Manteca de cerdo (lard), the portioning is key with the corn flour mixture,” Rivera says. “You want the correct mixture so your masa will be dense but sticky…do not overwork the masa during production to keep the temperature lower so it will hold better.”
That’s a wrap
Placing the masa on either a corn husk or banana leaf (that will vary depending on your preference and/or the region you’re going for) allows for fillings—slow-cooked, seasoned, delicious pork, usually—to get tucked neatly inside. These tamales are offered at Elon University’s International Station at Lakeside Dining Hall, which switches cuisines weekly.
How tough is it to wrap a tamale?
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“Don’t worry about folding the tamales the ‘right’ way,” says Jose Santa Ana, executive chef with Sodexo at DirecTV AT&T in El Segunda, Calif., whose family tamale recipe goes back three generations. “There are various ways of tying tamales. Find a way that works for you. If it’s folded tightly, it will not break open at its seams. Don’t spread your masa all the way to the edges and keep your corn husks well-hydrated. I like soaking my husks for a minimum of one hour.”
Serious grab-and-go possibilities
At DirecTV, Santa Ana has made tamales filled with a variety of ingredients such as chicken and mole, rajas and cheese, pork in red sauce, pork in green sauce, chicken with veggies and even seafood.
Ready for their steam bath
Tamales are wrapped at Elon, then steamed, keeping in all the delicious flavors and making the tamales super tender.
And here’s the finished plate at Elon’s International Station. Served with a bit of salsa verde, it’s simple comfort food at its best.
Holiday tamale traditions
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At the Hospitals of Providence in El Paso, Texas, tamales are a fall/winter menu item, filled with pork or beef in red chili sauce; pork or chicken in green chili sauce; green chili strips with cheese for a vegetarian option, and a sweet tamale filled with raisins, coconut, pineapple and nuts.
Other tamale options
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Love the idea of tamales but not the additional labor? Texas Tech’s Rivera has made tostadas, gorditas and even quesadillas using tamale ingredients. “The flavor profile of tamales is delicious and can be applied to so many other great options,” she says. Santa Ana of DirecTV recommends tamale casserole as the perfect, easy alternative. “You can make it in the slow cooker or instant pot.” Anaya of Morrison Healthcare has also made a torta with the tamale ingredients on the inside.