Darlene Tenes of CasaQ Best Darn Tamales loves the wide variety of tamales, a small but sturdy dish lasting for generations. And while she often keeps with tradition, she’s been known to have fun with dessert tamales as well.
You hosted a tamale making workshop. How might I make a tamale different than what is served at most restaurants? I want a new idea, not to bore my friends!
Tamales can really be made with anything you want and like to eat. A tamale is basically made up of two parts – the masa (dough) and the filling. You can flavor you savory tamale masa with different broths, chiles and spices that will compliment the meat, vegetable or cheese filling that you choose. The fillings are where you can get really inventive. If you like carne asada, nopales and queso fresco, then put it in there. Roasted chicken, manchego cheese with sauteed mushrooms or vegetarians can opt for butternut squash, black bean and goat cheese. Don’t limit yourself! Use whatever flavors whether savory or seweet that you personally enjoy use it. From pork chile verde to spicy crab, pumpkin to portabello, goat cheese to guava, chocolate and everything in between be as creative as possible. Just remember the masa is just as important as the filling and the filling is just as important as the masa.
Why does it typically take two days to make perfect tamales? Yes, I’m willing to wait for good things.
Typically when making tamales at home you need to set aside two days to do it right. The first day is spent grocery shopping, gathering up everything you need for the next day and of course cooking the meats. If you are having a crowd over you’ll also need to set up the tables and get your knife/spreaders and bowls out. The next day you’ll make the chili, prepare the masa, spice up the meat and start spreading. Spreading and filling is the most time consuming part of the task which is why you want to invite lots of friends and family over to create an assembly line and remember to give them plenty of vino. Finally, you’ll steam them for about 45 minutes, then sit down and eat!
Other than rice and beans, which it seems everyone eats everywhere in the world, yawn, what else can accompany delicious tamales?
At our family Christmas party we traditionally serve Ensalada de Noche Buena which is a refreshing fresh-cut fruit salad on a bed of lettuce with a spicy sweet crema dressing topped with pomegranate seeds and roasted peanuts. Other options are a black bean or tortilla soup, avocado & tomato salad topped with a lime vinaigrette and crumbled queso fresco, seafood ceviche, jicama & carrot coleslaw with chile lime dressing.
Do you have any secret dessert tamales?
I came up with a Mexican chocolate raspberry tamale on the fly when I was teaching a sweet tamale class and thank goodness it came out great! I really love pumpkin pineapple tamales and I ate a guava and cream cheese tamale which sounds odd but it was fantastic.
Have you ever had an argument that was settled once everyone ate tamales and lived happily ever after? 🙂
Every year during the CasaQ Best Darn Tamale contest that I co-hosted on NBC Bay Area with Damian Trujillo, I would need to repeatedly say to the judges (especially those that grew up eating tamales) that, “These are not your mama’s tamales!” Everybody of course thinks their mom or abuelita makes the best tamales in the whole wide world that is until they taste something different. You can never replace the tradition, love and bonding that comes along with making tamales at home but there are some pretty darn good tamale-makers out there making everything from traditional fare to gourmet wrapped wonders. You do also have to remember that mamas come in every flavor hailing from the Cajun country to Guatemala, meat-eaters to vegans, and using ingredients that are native to the land and new discoveries brought in from immigrants. The tamales are thousands of years old and are an ever evolving cuisine. Once people open their minds and mouths to trying something new, sometimes they shockingly discover they actually like it.
Check out locations nationwide in the USA where you can buy Darlene’s tamales: