05 January 2010

Rustic Blue Corn Tamal

I love tamales but nearly all of them have meat or lard in them, so, I learned to make my own. They are a fair bit of work but really not difficult. However, there is an easier version that Rick Bayless calls a 'rustic tamal'. These are like a 'super tamale' and are traditionally baked wrapped in banana leaves. I don't know about you, but I have never even seen a banana leaf for culinary use, so I'll stick to good old aluminum foil.

I have often seen Bobby Flay using blue corn masa on Iron Chef but have never seen anywhere to buy it. Blue corn masa is not the same as blue corn meal. Masa is dried corn which has gone through a process involving lye/wood ash and it removes the outer skin and releases some of the nutrition of the corn that would otherwise not be available to your body. I was happy to find some from NM, at Jane Butel's Cooking School.

The day the masa arrived, I had already planned to make a dish based on Missouri Native Americans' use of corn, squash and beans together in a stew. Why not mix the two ideas and have a native type stuffing for the tamal?

The Native Americans also used buffalo fat, but we're vegan here, so that is definitely out... In fact, most tamale/tamal recipes call for quit a bit of lard, which, even when you substitute vegetable shortening is, in my opinion, way too much fat. The normal recipe for this would call for at least a cup of shortening. I have trimmed that down to about 1/3 of a cup.

You only need a small winter squash for this, or you could use leftover squash. I used a Sweet Dumpling, but delicata would also be excellent in this, or Heart of Gold.

Rustic Blue Corn Tamal

2 c blue corn masa
2 c stock, divided
1 t baking powder
1/4 c shortening
2 T olive oil

1/2 c corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 c cooked beans, drained
1 c small winter squash
1 t salt
1 t chile powder
1/2 c Daiya cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F/190C

Spray a 5x7 loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Hydrate your masa by adding the masa to a mixing bowl with 1 1/4 c cool stock. Mix well so all the corn is damp. Set side 5 minutes.

Take your winter squash and cut it in half lengthways. Remove seeds and place halves cut side down on a microwavable dish.

Add 1/4 c water, cover with plastic wrap and poke 2 or 3 slits in the plastic. Microwave for about 6 minutes until fully cooked. Uncover and set aside to cool a little.

While the squash is cooking roll your masa into a ball and set on the chopping board. Add the shortening, oil and baking powder to the bowl. On a low speed, use your mixer to froth up the fats and baking powder. Add the masa back to the bowl as your beat it together, adding more cool stock as needed to keep it soft. Continue until all the masa is incorporated.

Put masa in the fridge until it is needed. Leave the mixer out.

Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium heat. Add the beans and corn and a little of the leftover stock. Take the cooked squash and using a spoon, dig out about a cup of small bites or balls of squash. When the beans are hot, add the squash, chile powder and salt, mix well, and turn off the heat.

Remove the masa from the fridge. If it has firmed up some, add a little more stock and beat it some more. Corn doesn't have gluten, so you don't have to worry about over-beating it. The masa mixture should be soft and not quite as runny as a muffin batter.

Take half the masa and put it into the loaf pan. Using the back of a silicon spatula or spoon, spread the masa all along the bottom, into the corners, and start pulling it up the sides. You want it to look like a masa bowl inside.

When you have the bottom layer, add the cheese, if using, then pour the filling into the middle of the loaf pan and spread it out. Press it down slightly so the top surface is flat.

Add the rest of the masa and spread it evenly over the top.

Cover with foil.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 325F, 165C and bake another 30 minutes.

Remove foil and bake another 15-30 minutes until the top feels crunchy and firm and the sides have pulled away from the pan.

Dump the loaf pan out onto a plate for easier slicing. Serve a slice over greens with garnishes of vegan sour cream, salsa, guacamole, or chopped chiles.

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