I’ve been busy with tamale making for the past three days. We added an extra day for the vegan tamales.
Tamale making (or tamalada) is something my family prepares for days ahead and that I’ve talked about in previous years.
For Christmas, there are ingredients we use for our tamale making session and for Mexican traditional beverages: Champurrado, Ponche, and Rompope. Personally, I don’t make ponche or rompope because I’d be in the kitchen for an additional day.
These ingredients are hard to find unless you live in Southern California. We have several Mexican supermarkets in the city where I live. There is no “Hispanic” aisle in these stores. The whole store stocks Mexican products.
It’s not unusual to see this:
The sugarcane is used to make Ponche. If one wants an alcoholic addition to this beverage, you’d pick up these:
Rompope is an eggnog-like drink with eggs, cinnamon, and rum. A couple of these and you’re not fit to make tamales anymore.
I enjoy the family time where we don our aprons, grab our butter knife or spoon to spread masa, and reminisce about Christmas tamalada’s past
After the hours of spreading masa on ojas (corn husks), folding, lifting huge pots with four dozens of tamales within, we sit and relax a bit. This is when I start making the champurrado.
Two hours later, the tamales are ready. We enjoy them with a cup of champurrado, this year doused with a little Irish cream, and enjoy a late evening movie.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and feliz navidad to everyone!
Five years after my youngest became a vegan, I now have another vegan son who has a wonderful girlfriend who is also vegan.
I began cooking vegan style for the youngest some time ago. My oldest son, David and his girlfriend, Laura ‘veganize’ all sorts of foods while educating people on their YouTube site titled “Hangry Vegans.” Their videos show their adventures shopping and creating vegan dishes. Recently, they created a Wix site, you guessed it: “Hangry Vegans.”
We made five types of tamales. And, this year I wasn’t the only one making vegan tamales. David and Laura sat at the table and learned from me and his aunt about the ‘how to’s” of making the masa (dough) and filling for tamales without lard or animal products.
They tried to manipulate the butter knife, masa to oja (corn husk) ratio, and fill the tamales without making them into fat burritos. I was impressed they kept at it, smoothing and fixing the ojas, laying on the right amount of chile and ‘cheese.’
A mother is impressed when her daughter cooks, but a Latina mother is doubly surprised when her adult son tackles a medium difficult project. For the trifecta, Laura said she and David would keep up the tradition. Maybe there will be some little ‘tamales’ in their future 🙂 (I’m going to get an OMG from them, but I’m joking!).
They both did well for first timers and now know why we complain of backaches the day after tamale making.
My mother stood by and asked what type of filling we’d use. When the words “Black beans” and vegan ‘cheese’ entered the conversation she gave us the familiar nose wrinkle. This is her polite way of saying “Yuck.”
You know millennials, they video everything. Here are the steps in motion:
Vegan Black Bean Tamales:
2 cups of Maseca Tamal corn flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Mix together in a large bowl and add:
1 1/3 cup of vegetable broth
In another bowl, use
2/3 cup of coconut or vegetable shortening.
Mix until fluffy. Add this to the dry ingredients and stir until batter is smooth.
Knead the dough like bread until it’s smooth and slightly sticky.
You can also buy store-bought masa at a Mexican supermarket. Ask for masa sin preparada (not prepared with lard). To this masa add the vegetable shortening and knead.
Spread a thin to medium layer of masa on the oja/corn husk, leaving 1/4 from the top clear.
Add a tablespoon or more of drained and rinsed cooked black beans, shredded vegan Monterrey style Jack cheese, and diced green chiles or strips of chile. A teaspoon of salsa verde or salsa roja can also be added.
Fold each side of oja to the middle and fold over the top of the oja. Press the open ends of the oja gently together.
Take a deep pot (tamale) which has a steamer bottom or put an overturned foil pie pan with four ventilated holes at the bottom of the pot. Add water until it reaches the rim of the pie pan.
Stack tamales into the pot about 2/3 full and around the edges, leaving a small funnel in the middle. Or, you can basketweave the tamales around the edges, also with a funnel in the middle. Water, when needed, is added in this space.
Wet and wring out a clean cotton kitchen towel. Drape it over the top of the stacked tamales, put a lid on the pot and place on the stove, at medium heat. Add water when necessary.
Set a timer for 90 minutes. Use a potholder to lift the lid and check the tamales. The masa will be cooked solid if it’s done. If the masa is mushy, set the timer for another hour.
Any vegetable filling can be used: lentils and corn, spinach and vegan cheese, peas and carrots, butternut squash are some examples.
For our sweet tamales recipes: Pineapple, Coconut; Cinnamon Raisin; and Strawberry go over to Hangry Vegans website. Check them out, they’re so cute.
We have a tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning at eleven o’clock at my mother’s home. We bring our gifts to my Mom’s very warm house which is filled with the fragrance of cinnamon and coffee and steamed roasted pork tamales.
Christmas morning is a big event for my mom who loves to decorate for every holiday. Nativity scenes, from mini to large, decorate the living room side tables, curio cabinets and fireplace mantle.
We’ve had every kind of tree from a Charlie Brown droopy pine to a snow flocked Noble Fir, but now the tree is a nice replica of a real one with its own multi-colored lights.
Mom and my siblings used to be the ones to decorate the tree, with those old-fashioned big bulb lights and silver tinsel. But that duty has been taken over by her grandchildren or great-grandchildren, who like to help their Nana.
Mom still does all her own shopping, scouring Costco (her favorite place) and several other stores from October to December to buy gifts for her oldest daughter to her youngest great-grandchild.
This holiday undertaking is quite a feat when you realize my mother is in her 80’s and legally blind.
And, it is understandable, that every year there is a missing mystery gift on Christmas morning.
After we have coffee and tamales, twenty or more of us crowd into the living room and wait while my mom decides who’s going to hand out the gifts. Then she sits and watches as everyone oohs and ahhs over her wrapping. She opens her own gifts last.
After the jumble of paper and bows make their way to the carpet, we always have one person who didn’t receive a gift from Nana or one of the boys who got a girls scarf and mitten set or pajamas.
Mom always seems surprised when this happens and goes to her bedroom to find her spiral notepad that contains her gift list. She checks it over and after pronouncing she had a gift for so and so and doesn’t know why it isn’t under the tree, she goes on a hunt through her closet, cedar chest, under her bed and the pantries.
We tell her not to trouble herself, the kids get way too many gifts anyway, and we return to the kitchen for more tamales or clean up the area while Mom goes on her gift hunting quest.
This happens every year and the missing gift is resolved by Mom making a note in her pad to buy so and so two gifts next Christmas, which settles the hunt and returns Mom to the kitchen to enjoy champurrado and pan dulce.
But the “two gifts next year” rarely happens because we always forget who had the missing gift in the first place and her Christmas list is on a new spiral notepad.
And as the years go by, we all hope that she will be around for the next holiday whether she buys gifts or not.
My friend, Evelyn Holingue, invited me to share my traditional Christmas dessert recipes. She’s written about Buche de Noel, a gorgeous French chocolate yule cake with chocolate whipped topping on her blog. Think of this as a virtual cookie exchange from different cultural backgrounds.
The weather outside is cold/rainy and alternately cold/sunny. And when I say ‘cold,’ I mean in the 40’s-50’s, which is lukewarm to those in the Mid-West and East Coast, but which is perfect Southern California December weather. Perfect for an evening of Mexican Christmas treats.
Besides the yummy tamales, of every size and filling, which we make during Christmas, we also enjoy making traditional desserts: Champurrado and Buñuelos.
Now the reason I say these Christmas desserts are Mexican/Chicano style is because they veer from the traditional recipes found in Mexico.
A bit of historical context: My family ranges from first to fourth generation Mexican descent, with smatterings of Irish, Scottish and Native American ancestry. But because all of us parents, the second gen’s, grew up in the 70’s, we identify as Chicano. As working mothers we often substituted ingredients or improvised the recipes.
FIrst, the hot beverage. Champurrado (cham-poo-rah-doh) is a Mexican hot chocolate drink married with an atole, a traditional masa-based Mexican drink. It is not Mexican hot chocolate- two separate beverages.
Masa harinais the flour used for making corn tortillas and can also be used to thicken this rich, chocolate drink. I use Maizena or corn starch. This thick drink is made with piloncillo (raw sugar cone), milk, Mexican chocolate like the Abuelita brand and whole cinnamon sticks. Sometimes anise star or vanilla bean is used.
Combine all ingredients into large saucepan, stir until chocolate, sugar are well blended.
8 cups whole milk*
2 disks (3.25 oz)Mexican chocolate
3 oz piloncillo cone
1/8 teaspoon ground anise seeds or one star anise
4 whole cinnamon sticks
3-5 tablespoons of Maizena stirred into 1/2 cup of warm water (this is for the thickness), add to hot mixture, use a whisk or molinillo (kids love this part) to stir frequently until it boils. Reduce heat and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.
I use almond milk, but you can use evaporated or soy milk. Experiment with the thickness of the drink by using less or more of Maizena. For the deep chocolate factor add two disks.This also tastes very good when you use a vanilla bean instead of star anise.
The ‘real deal’ buñuelos are made with yeast. They look like the mass produced Mexican cookie above, but taste like donuts. I made these once-very time intensive but worth the time.
Buñuelos of my youth consisted of making masa for tortillas, rolling out a tortilla, and frying it in hot lard until golden brown-about a minute on each side. On one plate, lined with paper towels, you set it to drain. On a second plate you mix 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (I like cinnamon). Sprinkle the tortilla with the sugar mix.
You could use canola or coconut oil to fry the tortillas. A drizzle of agave syrup and cinnamon on top makes a pretty dessert.
You can use those uncooked ‘handmade’ tortillas from Costco and fry them, drain, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Or if you’re really in a hurry, take a ready made tortilla, fry, and dust with the cinnamon powdered sugar. For kids, you can cut tortillas into shapes and fry. Using ready cooked tortillas results in a cinnamon crisp texture.
Whichever recipe you use for the buñuelos, the fun part is in the process. Making these is easily a two person affair (parent/child; spouse; friend) where you can spend time creating, talking, and sharing.
Dia is trendy now but that’s okay. To me, this means DLM is not only culturally relevant to Mexicans, Mexican American, Chicano’s, but the concept also resonates with other people who agree that those who have passed should be honored, remembered, and celebrated.
Hey, even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon. I’m so glad that the person who pitched this story idea was Jorge Gutierrez and that award winning director, Guillermo Del Toro signed onto the project.
If you’d like to become better informed or give your kids a wider multicultural view, here are some beautifully illustrated and written children’s books on the Day of the Dead.
This is a story about a young girl who helps her family prepare to honor her grandfather.
I like to use the remembrance cards that are given out at church funerals. I place these all over my dresser, light a candle, and re-read the cards and think about the good times I’ve shared with the person.
And now that you know a little more about Dia de los Muertos you can chose to honor your loved ones too by setting up a space on your counter or chest of drawers, with or without a candle, and place photos of the person (s) you’d like to honor.