Don’t stand by my grave and weep,
For I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint of snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning, hush.
For I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circle flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand by my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.
~Mary Frye/Hopi Prayer
When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.
Last week, I learned that my Grandfather, Erwin LaVerne “Verne” Chambers, passed away. For the past week, I have spent time reminiscing, sharing memories of him with my family and loved ones. He was an amazing man, always outgoing, always making silly jokes, and he always had a story. He loved geneology, and he and my father spent hours discussing family and doing research, and they were always excited to “find” various relatives. When I was a little girl, I liked to “do up” Grandpa’s hair, putting my barrettes in it and playing with it. I remember his garden. I remember being young and sneaking strawberries when I wasn’t supposed to, and I remember the smell of the dill he had growing. To this day, dill always brings me back to Grandpa’s garden. When my younger sister was a toddler, and we came to visit, it was time for her to choose a cereal to eat for breakfast. She chose “Yucky Charms” (she couldn’t pronounce “Lucky”), so of course, at every subsequent visit, Grandpa would tell her that he bought her “Yucky Charms”, because she loved them so much! He loved to sing, and was likely a large influence in my Dad’s love for music, and mine as well. I could go on and on. He was a great man.
After reminiscing a bit, I got to thinking of how I can pay tribute to his life and the wonderful, profound effect he had on everyone around him. As I told my Dad, since food is my “thing”, why not find out some of his favorite dishes, and re-create them and blog about it? My Dad and Aunt had some great ideas, but one of the first things mentioned were canned tamales.
Canned tamales? Yuck. As you can see by my Dad’s unique contributions (he created a personalized label for canned tamales, so we could show a *ahem* fair comparison) these are not exactly gourmet. But apparently, when my Grandmother was away, Grandpa ate canned tamales. My Grandmother cooked all the time, of course, but she did not prepare Mexican foods, and especially not anything resembling tamales. Pretty funny, if you ask me, because like most canned, processed products, canned tamales are pretty gross. (Sorry to any of you that actually like these things.) Mushy, greasy stuff, wrapped in parchment paper. Appetizing. So I decided I would make real tamales, in memory of Grandpa.
I have always had it in my mind that tamales were a serious task. Tamales are usually reserved for the holidays, when a large group of people can be gathered to help, and it’s made into a big event. Thankfully, around here (in Texas) there is usually someone around that makes them from scratch (I have regular “suppliers” myself!), so you can buy a few dozen, but again, outside of restaurants, only around the holidays. But they’re so worth it, because there is nothing like a steaming hot, spicy tamale! Except maybe another one…or two…
Honestly, these were not all that difficult to make. Time-consuming, yes, but not difficult. Having a few people to help would, of course, make the time go by more quickly. I had some good music playing, (a little Bob Marley, B.B. King, ZZ Top, Pat Green, too many artists to name on the ipod!) so for me, it was relaxing and therapeutic. You can also opt to break the work up over two days, which is what I did. (I prepared the meat the first day, and prepared the tamales the next.) These tamales are made with pork, but if you choose, you can substitute beef brisket or chicken. I based this recipe loosely off of Diana Kennedy’s recipe, changing up the filling ingredients to suit my taste. (Which also included sending text messages to a friend of mine. Her Grandma makes tamales every year and they are the best I’ve eaten! Had to ask what type of chiles she used. Turns out – just chili powder, and then cascabel chiles as well. If you can’t find cascabel chiles, just use chili powder.)
I also made things easier by using my slow cooker for the meat. If you don’t have a slow cooker, simply add the ingredients for the meat in a large stockpot, and you’ll need a bit of additional broth, bring to a boil, and reduce to low and simmer for 2-3 hours or until the meat is fork-tender. But I strongly suggest the slow cooker if you have one, then you can dump everything together and leave it, saving your energy for the next day!
The amount of chili powder I use here makes the tamales pretty spicy. If you prefer a milder tamale, reduce the chili powder to 1/3 cup.
These turned out pretty tasty! My parents came over to help us eat them, and we all stuffed ourselves with as many tamales as we could. I honestly can’t think of what to change, except to consider making more next time. Certainly, there was no real comparison to the canned stuff! I hope that Grandpa would have enjoyed them as much as we did.
For the filling:
1 triangle of Ibarra or Abuelita chocolate
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c chili powder (a mix of half chili powder and cascabel chili powder)
1 ½ T cumin
1 t salt
4 c chicken broth
5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes
Additional chili powder, cumin, and salt (to taste)
2-3 bags (1 lb each) corn husks
8 c Masa harina (I used Maseca brand)
2 c Lard or vegetable oil
1/2 t salt
4 ½ c pork broth
Add filling ingredients together in slow cooker and turn on low, cook for 6-8 hours. Refrigerate overnight if desired. When removing from refrigerator, skim fat from top. Reheat gently.
Soak corn husks in water for at least 30 minutes or until pliable.
Remove pork from broth and set aside. Strain broth and reserve, you’ll need this for your masa. Shred pork and chop until as fine as desired. Taste and adjust seasonings. (I added another 2 tablespoons of chili powder and about ½ teaspoon of cumin, plus a bit of salt.) Keep warm.
Mix masa harina, lard, and salt together, and mix in pork broth, one cup at a time, until dough comes together and resembles cookie dough. (You should be able to roll a ball in your hands and it will stick together.) If it does not hold together, add more broth. If too sticky or thin, add more masa.
Remove corn husks from water and let drain on paper towels. Take a few corn husks and rip into thin strips. These will serve to tie together the tamales. This is an optional step, but it makes the tamales look like a nice little present.
Now is the time you’ll want to set up your “assembly line”. Set up the corn husks, then masa harina, then meat mixture, and have a place to set the finished tamales.
Spread masa harina on corn husks about 1/8 inch thick, leaving at least ¾ inch on each side of the corn husk, and about 2 inches from the ends. Add about 2 T pork down the middle of the masa harina. Fold the masa over so the ends meet, and then roll the corn husks up snugly (like a cigar). Fold the narrow end over, and tie with a thin strip of corn husk. Fold the other end over and tie this end with a thin strip of corn husk as well. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Once all tamales are done, fill a large steamer with enough water so it just comes below the bottom of the steamer insert. Line the steamer insert with corn husks (this is so the tamales won’t get soggy). Place the tamales on end in the steamer. Place a damp cotton towel over the tamales and cover with the lid.
Bring water to a boil and reduce to medium-low, and steam for 1 ½ – 2 hours, checking the tamales after 1 ½ hours to see if the masa is firm and no longer mushy. When the tamales are done, remove them with tongs.
You can serve them now, or you can opt to place them in a Ziploc bag and keep them in the refrigerator for a few days, or freeze for up to 6 months. To reheat, place in a single layer on top of damp paper towels and cover with more damp paper towels. Microwave, rotating the tamales frequently, until warmed through.
Serve as is, or with whatever condiments you desire. We frequently eat them with hot sauce or salsa.
Makes about 3-4 dozen tamales.