Traditional tamales can be complicated little buggers to prepare from scratch. The southwestern favorite involves a lot of steps, spoons and depending on your liking, ingredients and seasonings.
That’s why the Witte Museum in San Antonio offers La Tamalada – The Art of Tamale Making, a once-a-year lesson taught to Gringos like myself by patient instructors.
The guts of a fresh corn tamale is a combination of fatty lard (vegetable oil or butter) with masa or tamal flour seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne, chili, sugar, cinnamon or aniseed. Final ingredients like onions, peppers, grated cheese, beans, cooked chicken or pork are spread on the tamale during the wrapping phase.
Bare fingers work best when pounding and pressing the starchy dough in the bowl. I picked ground pinto beans to complement the masa mixture. The lot is then wrapped in soft corn husks or plantain leaves and steamed until firm. But don’t eat the wrapping – that’s for decoration only!
Every country throughout Central America, South America and the Caribbean prepare the tamale with their own unique twist but all agree that special family occasions like Christmas is when it’s made.
After class and regardless of our full tummies we stopped to enjoy the biggest Tamale festival in San Antonio. More on that tomorrow.