with EL CHAVO!
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
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
and tasty morsel of eats. Unfortunately, some less scrupulous vendors
have taken to substituting the rajas with sliced jalapeņos, usually
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
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
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
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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