Daring Cooks January 2012 Challenge - Tamales

Growing up in rural Upstate NY, things were, well...a little homogeneous.

When civic pride is encapsulated by which part of the 1700's your town or village was founded (even the 1600's in some cases), that's a pretty good sign that diversity is not high on the list of things to be found. 

At least that was the way it was in the 1970's when I first nudged my way into the world.

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!

Back to homogeneous... There were many amazing things about growing up in "the country". Lots of space to run around. Cows. Sheep. Horses. Chickens.

But cultural diversity? Not so much.  Meat. Starch (potato or bread). Vegetable.  If you didn't grow it and it wasn't at the local Grand Union, you probably didn't even know it existed. 

That is, until I met my BFF. 

We were as different as night and day. It probably shouldn't have worked out so well. But it did.

I was the little ghostly-white-blond-haired-blue-eyed girl whose looks could not deny my English/ Dutch/ French/ Irish heritage. My BFF's mom was born in Colombia. Her dad came from Latin America. And she had the brown eyes and beautifully tanned skin I could (and still do) only dream of. 

I was an introvert. She was spunky and out there.

We were both book worms. And we both went through quite the awkward stage.  (The pre-teen years were not kind, people...)

We made quite the pair. Usually well-behaved. Sometimes in trouble.

I know we often confused people.  And drove our parents crazy. 

My family introduced her to my dad's mom"s "famous" egg noodle tuna casserole and creamed corn on toast.

Her family introduced me to ramen, burritos, tamales, sofrito, and enchiladas. I never realized that such things existed.

Good times, man. Good times.

The tomatillo chicken filling was off the hook
With these memories in hand, I was super-stoked (yes, I just said super-stoked) when I saw this month's challenge was tamales. Because I think the last time I had them was at my BFF parents house. Many years ago. (We won't talk about how long). 

Hunting down the wrappers proved to be the most challenging part of making tamales. I never found corn husks, but I did find frozen banana leaves (who knew?) and thought they would make a suitable substitute. 

After I bought the banana leaves, I researched and found that they were indeed considered a good substitute. (Yes, I probably should have done my research on the front end. Ready, Shoot, Aim and all that).

I couldn'f find a local store that carried corn husks, so we used banana leaves.
The chicken-tomatillo filling was insanely good. I added a packet of Sazon to up the flavor.  The Dude was eating the filling straight up - out of the bowl...
We tackled the tamale making assembly style - once we had a pattern going, it went pretty quickly. 

Tamales getting ready to come off steam (tortilla soup simmering in the background)
Tamales were served with tortilla soup - with a bit of hot sauce for that little extra kick. It was the perfect Saturday night meal. 

This is one of those things that I love to eat, but would have never had the gumption to try on my own. Now that I know how easy it is, I see more of these in my future. Perhaps even some sweet ones with pineapple mixed into the dough...

Maranda, thank you for the nudge!

This post participates in The Daring Cooks. The link for this month's challenge can be found here.


  1. nice recipe...awesome


  2. YUM. I love tamales, but, like you, would never have thought to make them myself. Those look delicious.

  3. Loved the story about your childhood BFF. The best way to learn about other cultures is to learn it from friends and colleagues. So fun!

  4. Looks like you had a great time with this challenge! Glad it brought back some wonderful memories because that is what its all about!
    Come see mine at http://www.willcookforsmiles.com/2012/01/daring-kitchen-pork-tamales.html

  5. Wow, Cher - these look great. Tamales are a lot of work. Many of the Mexican women I know only make them at Christmas time and buy them the rest of the year. I love your roasted tomatillos.

  6. Yes, I second the pineapple version, my brother asked me to make some the next I tackle tamales. Great job on the challenge!

  7. These look delicious, but I always wait for one of my secretaries (who is Mexican) to bring me some of her homemade tamales. Great post!

  8. I love Mexican food but I have not tastes tamales before. After seeing your post, I am very curious to find out how it taste. What an great challenge this is. You did well my dear.

  9. These look so good! It's hard to believe they were easy to make, but if you say so then I might have to give them a try...

  10. Chicken tomatillo tamales are my favorite. Good choice on the banana leaves substitution. How interesting to me that corn husks are not readily available where you live - you find them almost everywhere here - even at Target now. I've been wanting to make tamales again - thanks for the inspiration!

  11. These look amazing! We have a similar banana leaf wrapped patty called "pastel" that is made with mashed root vegetables. You are way ahead of me! I've never wrapped anything in a banana leaf.


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