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.
Last weeks tamale making party (la tamalada) included nieces, nephews, grandkids, and great grandkids. We made the traditional (Mexican) red chile with pork, green tomatillo sauce with pork, and Anaheim chiles and cheese. We added a couple of twists to the tradition this year.
This is the first time I made my own masa (dough) because I couldn’t find any prepared without lard. Turned out fine. My son is a committed Vegan and we in turn are supportive so we made a few dozen lentil with corn tamales and spinach, mushroom and vegan cheese tamales. The latter were incredibly delicious.
Dessert tamales are nothing new, but our family hasn’t made a successful bunch- ever- before this year. A family friend taught us how to make strawberry tamales. I never thought we’d break tradition, but as I’ve said before we all have to branch out and try new things.
Oxnard, California is a coastal town and home to world famous strawberries. For a short (extremely brief) time I helped pick strawberries with my family. It wasn’t as hard as picking walnuts or tomatoes so my mom thought we (her kids) could handle this crop. We played more than picked and that was the end of that endeavor.
So it seemed apropos to make strawberry tamales. They were delicious. Perfect with a cup of champurrado or cafe.
The day after Christmas everyone is usually “tamaled out,” so the rest go into freezer bags to heat up for New Years Day.
The season comes to a close when those freezer bags go into the refrigerator, the tamale pots go back up to the attic, the aprons get washed, and the blender is put away. It is a little melancholy, mostly because the families disperse, the house is much quieter, and we have to wait a whole year to have the next tamalada.
Christmas just isn’t Christmas without making tamales. Tamale making or the tamalada (tamale making session which turns into a gossip fest and/or party) took place at my mom’s house for at least 40 years. Ten years ago the location moved to my house. This year it’s back to my mom’s home.
Holiday traditions rarely follow a straight line. From our past to our present the traditions branch out as we add children, relatives, and present life to the mix. Whether your celebrations of the holidays are uniquely your own, or passed down from great grandmothers to you, they are worth sharing.
This year our family traditions will branch a little more. Just like on Thanksgiving, I’ll be away from my mother and siblings, and with my adult kids in Colorado on Christmas Eve. They are making their own life while we (the vast majority of the extended family) are here in Southern California. And that’s okay, more than okay, it’s good.
In our family, Mexican American/Chicano, we make Mexican style tamales and champurradoas well as sugar cookies, fudge, and ham. We celebrate the Mexican and the American because that is who we are.
I’m eager to share Christmas with my kids because the activities of the day will provide touchstones to remember our past holidays. The tamalada gives us an opportunity to share stories of the past:
“When I (nana) was a child, we got oranges and candies as presents…the firemen distributed gifts to the poor- us…’member when tia put the sevo (fat) into the tamales accidentally instead of the meat, I didn’t eat tamales for five years… when I was a kid we had to attend midnight mass or else…’member when your tio tied the Christmas tree with a rope to keep it straight…”
We’ve shared hundreds of stories at the tamale table while spreading masa, sprinkling cheese, and spooning chile into corn husks.
In my kids case, we’ll make our tamales and champurradovegan style. This is not what nana envisioned would occur with her recipe but continuing with the traditional foods will pass on my mother’s culinary knowledge, and her mothers knowledge, to my son and daughter. And we’ll share all of the above stories and then some.
Holiday traditions may branch out, but they pass on our heritage, and in doing so create a canopy for our children and grandchildren to pass on to subsequent generations. Happy Holidays!