Cooking with EL CHAVO!

Preparing Fillings for Vegetarian Tamales!

There's a common concept that you can put just about anything into a tamal, and lots of people do, but that's no guarantee that it will turn out well. I think we should be a bit creative in our tamal making, but also practice a bit of restraint on what SHOULD go into a tamal. Not all things are appropriate, unlike what some "gourmet" tamal makers tend to think. (So sez the guy that invented the Kraft Cheez tamal!) But whatever, if they have buyers for their abominations, so be it. But I'm going to stick to some basic types of tamales that are that are fairly traditional, at least in my family.

Queso con Rajas

This is the saving grace of most tamaleros, an item I can eat. (Uh, we are not going to ask about how they make their masa, lest we can eat nothing!) It's a common style of tamal, filled with some sort of cheese, a green tomatillo sauce, and rajas which are typically just strips of roasted and de-skinned poblano chiles, and usually a very satisfying and tasty morsel of eats. Unfortunately, some less scrupulous vendors have taken to substituting the rajas with sliced jalapeņos, usually those en escabeche that come in a can. If you're going to make your own tamales, I suggest you not cheap out with the cans, just take the time to prepare some proper rajas.

Because really, its not that hard to do. Get your self some fresh poblanos, available at your nearest Mexican grocer but often called pasilla. Make sure to rinse them well because they will tend to have bits of dirt. But if you like dirt, by all means use them as is.

Once cleaned you can start roasting them. If you just have a few, putting them directly on the flame is a practical option, just make sure to keep an eye on them so that they don't burn, you want to char them all around lightly. If you have a bunch, like I do here, you can break out your comal and use that, it takes a bit longer but the heat distribution is much more even so there's less chance that they'll burn through. But still, keep an eye and rotate them so they blacken all around.

Getting close! Turn the green sides down to partake in the heat. Easier than trying to work a can opener.

Once you've roasted them enough, place them in a plastic bag for around 15 minutes. This will steam them an help loosen the skins which we want to remove.

I find it easiest to skin and remove seeds all at once, usally over the sink. Some skins will just glide right off, some you'll be trying to pick off with no luck. It's ok to leave some charred skin and it's ok if you end up with some green unroasted skin. If someone complains just make a mental note about that person: next year, no tamales for you! Since I often burn some part of the chile it tends to tear around that part so I just put my finger in and run the tear lengthwise making a long slit, and tear thick strips of chile. Tear off the stem with seeds and then run the chile thru your fingers to scrape out the remaining seeds. If you have dainty and sensitive skin from being an office worker, then you might want to put on some plastic gloves while you do this step.

You'll want to cut the rajas into long thin strips. I'm sure you can figure that out.

We have our rajas ready, we already made our masa and our salsa verde, now you need to cut up some cheese. I use the versatile Monterey Jack available everywhere in the US mostly because it works well and it's cheap. I've tried panela and ranchero before, but I don't remember those being spectacular. Feel free to try whatever cheese you think might go work. Just so you know, after the long cooking process the cheese will be more clumpy then melty. Cut it into 3 inch sticks, like you see in the pic. Someone recently told me they grated their cheese with less than acceptable results. Stick to the old ways people!

Not pictured for some reason, potatoes! I also make some cheese-less vegan tamales de rajas with papas instead of the cheese, and they turn out quite nice. Potato is an odd ingredient in tamales for some people but since my grandma did it, I feel safe in declaring it traditional. Peel your potatoes and cut into long sticks as well, rinse them in cold water, and add them raw into the tamal. They will cook perfectly during the steaming process, trust me. You can also add potatoes to the cheese tamales for an extra bonus ingredient, it works wonderfully.

Tofu and Papas

Err, not too traditional but a veggie staple in my house. This one requires a salsa roja. Details coming soon-ish!

Coming up next, roll 'em up!

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