Tamales at Christmas: A Delicious Tradition
Christmas is a glorious holiday, rich and replete with history, tradition and myriad customs throughout the entire world. Foremost a deeply religious observance of Christians commemorating the birth of our Lord and Savior, it has long been a cultural holiday as well. And various cultures have their cherished customs and favorite cuisine.
Among my longest loved and dearest friends there is a tradition I have adopted, and continue to celebrate with new friends who also share this custom. Tamales at Christmas. While I am merely an admiring observer and grateful partaker of the end result, I love seeing chosen family up to their elbows in Masa. I love the smell of the fillings, and enjoy the rustling sounds of the Hojas being prepared.
This year I was allowed to help just a little. The Hojas or corn husks, need to be soaked to soften them up and make them moist and pliable. The real cooks let me dunk them over and over again in the big tub of hot water, and then stack them on a large tray for filling and undergoing the rigors of the not-quite-yet-famous Tamale Press 2000.
Now you might be wondering, "Just what is the Tamale Press 2000?" I'm here to tell you that it is one of the added bonus features of recent years' tamales-at-Christmas-adventure. This contraption is one of dear Vicente's many inventions, and it produces a more uniform shape to the Masa, lessens the labor in making tamales and showcases his ever impressive creativity and superior engineering prowess. Being a tad traditional and old fashioned, I prefer the hand-formed Masa. But please don't tell Vincente that. Of course its easy for me to like the more laborious method, being merely an observer and all.
After soaking, the Hojas are then spread with Masa, which is a rather coarsely ground white corn, specially processed for wrapping the tamale. The filling is placed down the center of the Masa, then the ends are folded in and they are rolled. At which point they are covered with wax paper and stacked in a really big pot to steam for about 40 minutes to an hour.
The fillings that go into the tamales vary depending on one's family traditions. This year we (that's the "royal we") made three kinds of tamales. My new favorite, Calabacitas: which is zucchini, corn, red bell pepper and green chili; and to this grated cheese is added. These tamales are moist, mouth-watering and bursting with flavor. We also made pork with red chili, a classic favorite. Then there are the shredded chicken with green chili tamales. I'm told they are also delicious and offer a nice alternative to pork. I say that I am told this because I haven't tried them. After all, one only has so much room, and chicken just doesn't excite me, even with the green chili in there. So, you'll have to take the word of people I trust on this one.
All of the fillings were prepared by our gracious hostess, the day before we arrived at the beautiful hacienda of our tamale-making familia.
What I know is that I treasure Christmas, and am deeply grateful for all that it means to me. To this, having the joyful tradition of tamales for the last twenty years or so deepens my sense of celebration.
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