I probably won’t be starting a food blog, but tamales anyone?

I came to a very significant realization this weekend. I primarily think of myself as a pragmatist, but every once in a while I realize I have several hidden-to-me pockets absolutely filled with flights of fancy!

Some time around mid-summer every year…EVERY year–I begin to think about how lovely it will be to begin baking and preparing favorite Christmas goodies. High on my list is fruit cake, or some-such baked delight requiring a little extra time and planning.

And every year, we WAIT for fall! I’m still waiting. This weekend the temperatures broke above 90 degrees both Saturday and Sunday. Low humidity coupled with the deadly combination of high temperatures and seasonal Santa Ana winds have kept Southern California on fire alert.

It just doesn’t bode well for Christmas pudding!

This weekend I followed up; however, with a new adventure.  My friend Linda and I took a tamale-making class! Yes, tamales!

 Our class was offered by Tarascos Mexican Restaurant. Antonio was a very attentive and patient instructor.

Traditional foods of the Mexican culture are very strongly represented in Southern California, and for those of us who make our home in this region, bring on the tacos, enchiladas and burritos–and for a special occasion, tamales!

Tamales, a delicious Mexican dish traced back to the Ancient Mayan people, are prepared with a wide variety of meat, cheese or vegetable fillings surrounded by a corn masa dough,  wrapped in a corn husk and then steamed. Tamales in some Latin American countries use banana leaves as the outer wrapping.

We were provided prepared masa (dough), made from freshly prepared hominy. In the dried and powdered form it is called masa harina, and once reconstituted with water the dough is used in making corn tortillas, tamales and other Latin American dishes.

This was a hands-on project! Years of teaching preschool made it easy for me to relax with sticky fingers mixing masa with paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt and a final addition of  soy bean oil  into a thick, peanut butter-like texture.

The corn husks (ojas) had previously been soaked in warm water to soften them in preparation for the filling. Masa is first spread in a thin layer across the open husk, and then topped by roasted vegetables and Cotija cheese, or chicken and tomatillos or any combination, including a mole, the generic name for a number of Mexican sauces. We were provided the basic ingredients for this time, but there are endless possibilities for tamale fillings!

When the tamales were  prepared and enveloped in the husk, they were tied closed by a piece of the corn husk, wrapped in an additional outer layer of paper to hold them together in the steaming process, then placed in a large pot for the two-hour steam bath.

Due to the labor involved, tamales are more typically reserved for special occasions. There are many little tricks to making a well-crafted tamale, and I have a lot to learn if I’m going to begin making this a part of my holiday traditions. But the first efforts were not bad! They tasted great, and the lesson learned is to perhaps make the masa layer a little bit thicker so it will hold together even better.

Another lesson learned? Those who create food blogs have my admiration! It was a challenge to take photos with sticky fingers!

And to my family…it’s a good thing that I’m the only one who likes fruit cake, isn’t it? I’ll buy myself a nice cake and maybe some figgy pudding at Cost-Plus!

And next year I’ll be ready to make the Christmas tamales!

Tarascos Mexican Food
3319 W. Sunset Blvd.
Silverlake, CA 90026