Mexican or Mexican’t? The tamale challenge

They say that admission is the first step in recovery.

I had got into a Mexican rut.

There weren’t that many complaints being heard from The Hungry One (give him a margarita, some avocado and black beans and he’s already been transported back to sunny days in Tulum in his head).

But I’ve somehow got wedged into a well rehearsed pattern of just chucking together burritos (or tasty logs of goodness as my sister calls them). They get stuffed full of chicken that has been seasoned with chipotle, lime and some slivers of wilted red onion. Then there are black beans, boosted with some coriander, cumin, chilli and a smidge of dark chocolate.  To that we add a salsa of coriander leaves, raw red onion that’s been steeped in some acid and some smushed cherry tomatoes. There’s some cheese.  And then there’s as much smushed avocado and lime juice guacamole as we can bear (which is a lot).

The only thing that has changed in the last year is the introduction of some fresh goat’s cheese with the mozzarella. To me it just tastes a little bit more like the queso fresco we scoffed while we there was sand stuck between our toes in Baja.

It’s a dinner that gets pulled out quite a bit. So when we were wandering through Borough a couple of weeks ago and we saw the trappings for tamales The Hungry One turned to me with a mischievous smile. ‘Can you make these?’ he asked.

For you, anything.

Tamales aren’t known for being a quick slap dash dish. First there’s the dough. It’s made from a flour made of corn, known as masa. That gets beaten with lard and stock until it’s as fluffy as pillow stuffing.

Then there’s the filling. It’s traditionally pork, chillis or chicken, though there are sweet ones too.

Then there’s the whole rigmarole of the casing. Both the stuffing and the dough need to be rolled up in softened corn husks. And then they get steamed.

Tamales are often made for days of celebration, by a crowd; for a crowd.

Here at our place they were made for a small gathering of six to mark the start of spring. I stuffed them with a mix of cheese, spicy chorizo, coriander and red onion. The fat and stock came courtesy of a roast chicken dinner.

The parcels themselves were put together while I sat with my back to the sun, listening to some of my favourite podcasts (Slate Culture Gabfest, in case you were wondering). Tying them up with little bows I felt nostalgic for the days I’ve spent decorating Christmas presents.

While the tamales cooked in a colander suspended over a stock pot (the perils of not having a steamer), The Hungry One made his famous margaritas.

That much tequila on a Tuesday night is a sharp smack to the side of the head.

So it was a good thing for everyone involved that after we finished scoffing tamales we could just slide back to what I know best.

We spent the rest of the eve stuffing ourselves with burritos made with either chicken or slow cooked pork, black beans, salsa, and enough guacamole to make the world spin slower.

Just the way we like it. 

Tamales with chorizo, onion and coriander

Makes 10-12 tamales

These are a great starter for a Mexican feast. They’re not what you’d call a quick, slap together snack. There’s a reason that they’re usually made in batches of twenty (or hundreds). But they’re worth trying, if only for the way the gentle sweetness of the corn dough melds with the spicy filling. It makes for a very different, and good, kind of sausage roll.

1 stock pot with a steamer basket. 1 electric mixer with a dough hook. 1 large bowl. 1 fry pan.


Tamale dough
 2 cups masa harina
1 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup lard
12- 14 dried corn husks

2 red onions, thinly sliced
125 grams of chorizo, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of coriander/cilantro stems, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of grated mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon of ground cumin

Dipping sauce
1/2 cup of sour cream
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons of coriander/cilantro leaves, chopped

Here’s how we roll 

1. Soak the corn husks in some warm water to soften them. 

2. Make the filling by sauteeing the chorizo and onion together until the onion is wilted. Add the cumin, cheese and coriander stems. Put aside to cool.

3. Get a large bowl in a mix master, or with an electric hand held mixer with a dough attachment. Beat the lard with a tablespoon of the stock until it’s fluffy. 

4. In another bowl mix together the masa harina, baking powder and salt. Stir that into the lard and stock and start mixing. Add the stock, bit by bit until you have a spongy dough. You will need to mix for at least five minutes to ensure the dough is nice and spongy. 

5. Start a production line to fill the tamales. Dry off the now soft corn husks. Hold one in your hand so the point of the triangle is facing away from you. Spoon two tablespoons of the dough into a square in the bottom left hand corner about 1/8th of an inch thick, leaving at least a 5mm perimeter from the edge of the corn husk.

6. Spoon a tablespoon of the filing into a stripe down the centre of the square. Roll one side of the casing over to meet the other side, checking to see if the edges of the dough meet up and scrunching down tightly with the husk to keep it tight (like you would if you were rolling sushi).

7. Fold the pointy bit at the bottom in and then keep rolling until there is just the opening where the widest part of the triangle was. 

8. Secure the cigar shape with by tying it together with one of the strips of another corn husk.

9. Steam the tamales for an hour and a half. Careful when reaching over to check them-steam burns.

10. Mix together the sour cream, lime juice and coriander for a dipping sauce. Serve with the cooked tamales.

  1. I've only tried tamales once and they were delicious! They're not that easy to find here-perhaps I should just make my own!

  2. Tamales are tough and yours look absolutely beautiful!!

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