Spicy Mushroom Tamales

Tamales Hot Tamale
We are a pretty non-traditional family when it comes to many things, but most especially when it comes to Valentine’s Day celebrations. We’ve done the giant chocolate chip cookie heart, and of course the heart-shaped pepperoni pizza. Most years, we have the mother of all Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Bars so that we can over indulge in creamy iced goodness. This year, my family has gone rogue, again, and it’s weird.

I have been asked to make a Valentine’s Day Thanksgiving. Yup, you read that correctly. The forecast is for the upper 70s this weekend, and I will be roasting a turkey. In all fairness, I did promise back in early December that I would do a Thanksgiving in the new year, because we all agreed that we just didn’t get enough in November. Silly me, I figured we would still be having winter weather in February. It was also before we made our plans for Spring Break. Now I have margaritas, beaches and tacos on the brain.

So, as head chef, I am going to pull rank. We can do the turkey on Sunday and they can just like it. For Valentine’s Day I want a margarita or five, and something hot and spicy (besides the husband…nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and chocolate. Let’s not forget the chocolate.

Tamales are traditionally made and eaten at celebrations, and I think these would be perfect for this weekend. Time consuming, yes, but oh so worth it. Serve them with some tasty beans and a salad and we have our own Fiesta del Amour!

¡Arriba! (I know, just go with it.)

Spicy Mushroom Tamales
Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen by Rick Bayless
Makes 6 medium-size tamales

4 ounces dried corn husks
4 ounces ( 1/2 cup) to 5 1/2  ounces (2/3 cup) chilled rich-tasting lard or vegetable shortening—depending on how tender you want your tamales
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pound (2 cups) coarse-ground masa for tamales OR 1 3/4 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water, then allowed to cool
About 2/3 cup cool chicken (or vegetable) broth, plus up to l/ 3 cup more for optional second beating
Salt, about 2 teaspoons
1 pound (2 medium-large round or 6 to 8 plum) ripe tomatoes
About 1/2 pound (3 medium-large) fresh poblano chillies
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 small white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
l/4 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
8 ounces (about 4 cups) sliced flavorful mushrooms (shiitakes are excellent, as are chanterelles or other wild mushrooms, when available )

The corn husks
Bring the corn husks to a boil in water to cover in a large saucepan, then
weight with a plate to keep them submerged and let stand an hour or so.

The batter
With an electric mixer, beat the chilled lard or shortening with the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) in three additions. Slowly pour in a generous 1/2 cup of the broth, beating all the while. Continue beating for another minute, until a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should softly hold its shape in a spoon. Season with salt (yes, it will involve tasting raw batter), usually 1 scant teaspoon, depending on the saltiness of the broth.

For the lightest-textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then reheat, adding enough additional liquid to bring the mixture to the consistency it had before. (You may find it necessary to add a little salt, too.)

The filling
Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet set 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened and blistered on one side, about 6 minutes; flip and roast the other side. Peel and roughly chop, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes.

Roast the chiles directly over a gas flame or 4 inches below the very hot broiler until blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes for open flame, about I 0 minutes for broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes. Peel, pull out the stem and seed pod, then rinse briefly to remove bits of skin and seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch strips.

In a large ( 10- to 12-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high, then add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until nicely browned but still a little crunchy, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and herbs, toss a minute longer, then stir in the chiles, tomatoes and mushrooms. Cook, stirring regularly, until everything is reduced to a thick mixture that easily holds it shape in a spoon, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon, and cool.

Fan and steam the tamales
Pick out 16 nice corn husks for forming the tamales, then use 2/3 of the remainder to line a steamer (you’ll need one that’s at least 4-inchesdeep- a Mexican tamal steamer or a vegetable steamer in a deep pot); fill the bottom of the steamer with 1 to 2 inches of water. Tear 16 long, 1/4-inch-wide strips of corn husks for tying the tamales.

Form the tamales
Lay a corn husk in front of you, lightly dry it, then spread about a scant 1/4 cup of the batter into a 4-inch square, leaving at least a 1 1/2-inch border on the pointy end of the husk, a 3/4-inch border along the other sides. Spoon a good 2 tablespoons of the filling down the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the husk and bring them together (this will cause the batter to roll around the filling, enclosing it). Roll the flaps of the husk in the same direction around the tamal. (If the husk is so small that the tamal doesn’t seem very well wrapped, roll it in another husk.) Fold Up the empty pointy 1 ½ -inch section to close off the bottom, then secure it by loosely tying one of the strips of husk around the tamal and folded flap. Stand the tamal on the folded end in the steamer (the top of the tamal will be open).

Continue spreading, filling, rolling and folding until all the tamales are made (you may have a little filling left). Fill in any gaps in the steamer with loosely wadded foil to keep the tamales from sliding down. Lay any unused husks over the tamales. Cover the pot; bring to a boil and steam over medium heat for 1 to 1 1/4 hours (ones made from reconstituted masa will take a little longer than those made from fresh); make sure that the water stays at a steady boil and never runs out otherwise your tamales won’t be as light. The tamales are done when the husk peels away easily. Let them firm up a few minutes in the steamer, off the heat, before setting your fragrant creations before your guests.

Advance Preparation
Tamales hold beautifully, covered and refrigerated for several
days; reheat them in the steamer.

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