It’s just not the holidays until…

We all have our holiday traditions…decorations, family gatherings, well wishes for the coming year, and FOOD! It’s just not the holidays around our house until someone breaks out those foods we wait for impatiently all. year. long. Growing up, it was never officially Christmas until mom had made the familial standard trifecta of decadent candy: caramels, rocky road, and divinity. Sure, sometimes she also made caramel popcorn balls or fudge or brittle, but without the original three, it just didn’t feel right. For Thanksgiving, at least with my dad’s side of the family, we had to have sauerkraut…and not that bitter German kind. This is my great great grandmother’s Yugoslavian recipe…a savory, succulent dish, carefully prepared with pork and simmered for hours…and no, you can’t have the recipe for that one. It’s a family secret!

For Joel, I know his holiday food weakness…it’s tamales. I have to admit, when we first started dating, my experience in even -eating- tamales was so limited it was almost non-existent. His mom Corene however was gracious enough to give me her recipe for making my soon-to-be husband’s favorite dish. After making them for twelve years now, I still find myself amused at his awe filled reverence in the grocery store when I’ll put the masa in the cart. “You’re making me -tamales-??” He’ll ask in wonderment. It’s almost like I’ve never made them for him before.

Tamales are fairly straightforward and easy, but they are time consuming and the whole process takes a day or two, but it’s definitely worth it.

Corene’s Tamales

Red Chile Sauce
10-12 dried chiles (I use an even mix of California and New Mexico chiles, but different chiles provide varying degrees of heat*. Choose yours accordingly!)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp crumbled oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin

Soak chiles overnight. Weight them down with a plate to keep them submerged if necessary. The following day, remove from the soak water, but reserve some of the soak water. Remove skins and seeds. (I suggest wearing gloves and whatever you do, -don’t- touch your face.) Put pulp and some of the soak water into a blender. Add more water slowly until it is juice-like. Pour into a pot and add spices. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (You can freeze this sauce, so if you make additional batches, it will save you hassle later. It can be used in many other Mexican and Spanish recipes and makes a great enchilada sauce.)

Meat Filling
5 lb pork shoulder or butt roast or chicken or ground beef or chuck roast (Joel prefers the pork ones!)
onion & garlic (personal preference…use as much as you like. I usually use a whole onion and about 10-12 cloves of garlic)

Place meat, onion and garlic in pot and cover with water. Simmer meat in water until meat begins to pull off bone. Remove meat from pot and let cool slightly. Shred. Mix with red chile sauce and simmer.

1 1/3 cup lard or Crisco
4 cups masa flour (I use Maseca)
2 tsp salt
2 2/3 C warm water or beef or chicken stock

Mix Crisco, flour, and salt in a large mixer until crumbly. Add liquid slowly while mixer is on lowest setting until consistency is a spreadable dough. (Think frosting-like consistency.) Beat on high for approximately 5 minutes.

Soak two bags of dried corn husks overnight in water. Weight them down with a plate. You may be able to get away with using only a single bag, but I’ve found that I usually will need two bags to get good sized intact husks. Separate the husks and discard any leftover corn silk. Rinse well and drain. Take husks and spread masa on smooth side of husk with a spoon or spatula. (I use an offset frosting spatula.) Add filling and roll, folding over the ends. Tie if you wish with small strips of corn husk. Steam for about 2 to 3 hours. Be sure to check your pot occasionally to make sure you have enough water. Check doneness by unwrapping one and checking the masa. (Joel just eats one, but he’s got a cast iron stomach!)

Yield: about 50 tamales

*About California and New Mexico Chiles
California chilies are dried Anaheim chiles and are very mild.
New Mexico chiles are also called New Mexican chiles or chilies de ristra and they look very similar to the California chile, but they are hotter and more flavorful.