Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas tamales

Here in Costa Rica, no Christmas celebration is complete without the requisite Christmas tamales. If you've had tamales, but not Costa Rican ones, they're definitely...different! Having spent many, many years in California, I personally prefer the Mexican version, but Costa Ricans (obviously) think theirs are better. In lieu of corn husks, Costa Ricans use plantain or banana leaves to wrap them, and they are not as dry as the Mexican ones, either. A little on the squishy side. Here, also, they pretty much always come in a pair, or piña.

The first time I had one was at my mother-in-law's house, way back in the days before she was my mother-in-law. I thought it was the most disgusting thing I had ever tasted! They sort of grew on me, I guess, because now I have to have at least one for Christmas. And, now that my palate is a bit more refined in the Costa Rican tamale arena, I can admit that my MIL's tamales are a lot better than others I've had. Usually, she makes dozens upon dozens of them, and we have tamales well into (our) winter (which hits around May-June). This year, though, the corn for the masa was not to be found in large quantity, so I ate the last tamale today. And it's not even January first. That is sort of strange.

Here is esposo's "New Costa Rican Cuisine" tamale recipe. I don't think he would mind. If he does, oh well, he's up on a mountain and can't really complain, can he?

Cassava and veggie tamales
Serving suggestion is two tamales with coleslaw and fried plantains.

  • 2 lbs fresh raw cassava root (yucca, tapioca) peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup corn flour
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 12 plantain or banana leaves pieces, tender, and about 8’ wide
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • salt to taste
  • 2 avocados
Veggie Medley:
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 small size carrot, cubed
  • 1 ear of sweet corn on the cob, grated
  • 100 g fresh heart of palm, chopped
  • 100 g butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/4 cup quality stock or broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large pot bring 1 quart of water and the cassava to a boil; then simmer until the root is spongy but not too soft. Drain and cool.
2. Grate it coarsely and combine with the flour, cheese, water, and salt. Reserve.
3. For the picadillo, start by sautéing onion and garlic in olive oil at medium heat for 3 minutes.
4. Add the vegetables, curry, and stock and sauté until fork tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.
5. Cut the banana leaves in 8" pieces and clean them with a wet towel. Lightly “toast” them over the flame until soft.
6. Form ten pieces shaped like balls with the dough and set on top of each banana leave.
7. Top with the vegetable medley and wrap carefully lengthwise then folding over the other two sides and laying it with the flat part facing up. Let rest for at least 15 minutes.
8. When finished tie them up together in pairs using twine.
9. Cook by steaming them for at least 10 minutes over water and let the remaining ones lay on a counter at room temperature overnight. Refrigerate after that up to a week or freeze up to three months.
10. Serve by removing from the banana leaf or cutting open in half or diagonally and topped by the fanned avocado and the coleslaw and fried plantain on the side.

Makes 12 tamales

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