A few weekends ago, my husband and I found a nice food court in downtown Philly. While we were there, we chose to order tamales and horchata for a late-morning snack. Although corn masa with a bit of pulled pork isn’t that interetsing on its own, the tamale provides a good stage on which salsas can perform.
Of course, we keep a varied supply of salsas in our refrigerator and in our cupboard. We use them on everything from soft tacos to scrambled eggs. We even found that the Wegman’s roasted chipotle salsa was a perfect accompaniment for Cornish pasties.
When we ran out of pasties a few days ago, I decided to try my hand at tamales.
Grocery stores completely devoted to international products aren’t as easy to come by here in our northern suburb of Philadelphia. Saraga in Columbus, Ohio spoiled us with its aisles of imported goods. It isn’t that there aren’t similar places in Philadelphia, it is that Philadelphia isn’t so close to us.
Aldi suprised me though. The store has a pretty good reputation for German chocolate and specialty cheeses, but now they seem to be expanding their selection to include Mexican staples. Not only does the store close to my workplace carry beans and tortillas; you can actually buy all of the ingredients necessary for preparing tamales.
About four years ago, I learned how to put together the Colombian version of tamales. The best ones have a filling not only of corn masa and a bit of meat but also potato, carrot, and tomato guiso. These ingredients are wrapped in banana leaves then steamed.
Banana leaves aren’t in Aldi’s frozen section (at least not that I’m aware of), but they do carry dried corn husks. Corn husks are the common wrapper for Mexican-style tamales. You soften the husks by soaking them in boiling-hot water for an hour. Meanwhile you prepare the masa filling and shred your meat.
The part of the process that I wasn’t so sure about was the steaming step. By the time I prepare the tamale filling, wrap them and tie them, I’m not exactly interested in watching them steam on the stovetop for a few hours. However, a claim on the internet cheered me; it said that you could steam British puddings in a crockpot. If you could steam a pudding, why not a tamale?
Sticks of crumpled aluminum foil criscrossing the bottom of the crockpot keep the tamale purses from swimming. The hot water stays below them and as the steam rises and hits the lid above, it penetrates the corn husks and cooks the filling.
So, I left my tamales to themselves overnight and had breakfast ready in the morning. The leftovers were fine microwaved for lunch.