I have a real passion for Mexican food fused with a French twist. I love the delicate nature of French cuisine mixed with the comforting textures of Mexican dishes, the exceptional use of herbs in French along with the directness of seasoning with chilies in Mexican foods. In both Mexican and French cooking, it’s all about the sauce. Whether it is an intensely flavored reduction, a smooth cream based bisque or a chunky and hearty sauce, pairing the flavors of the course is paramount with both cuisines.
Tamales are the ultimate comfort food as far as I’m concerned. Steeped in tradition and symbolism, they were eaten by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations as far back as 8000 BC. In Mexico they are eaten during holidays such as Christmas, Day of the Dead, Las Posadas, La Candelaria and Mexican Independence Day.
Last weekend we made these beautiful tamales filled with cheese and a confit of onions and peppers cooked slowly over low heat, which concentrates and intensifies the flavors. The French style sauce was delicate and smooth…absolutely scrumptious, so much so, that I barely had a chance to photograph the tamales before Ric and I dove in and polished them off.
Caramelized Onion & Red Pepper Tamales with Sauce Vert
To caramelize the onion and pepper:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or another type of light-colored vinegar)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 red onion, peeled and sliced lengthwise in narrow wedges
A pinch of sugar
If you’d like a little extra heat, add 1/2 – 1 finely diced jalapeno chile to the confit.
Use a wide, thick-bottomed sauté pan for maximum pan contact with the onions and peppers. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and turn heat on to medium. Add the onion and pepper slices and stir to coat with the oil. Spread the vegetables out evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or so. Add the tablespoon of light-colored vinegar. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. Turn heat to low.
Let simmer on the lowest heat possible for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are reduced and browned and the peppers are soft.
Place husks in large pot or large bowl; add hot water to cover and let soften for at least a half hour until soft and pliable.
For the tamale dough:
4 cups sweet corn kernels
1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill masa harina
1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill stone ground cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne
1/4-1/2 cup milk
Using food processor, mix the corn meal, salt, sugar, masa harina, baking powder, and cayenne by pulsing a couple of times. Add in the butter, pulse until it is fully incorporated and then add in the corn and pulse again a few times. Pour in milk, and pulse again forming tender dough.
Place a steamer into a large pot with enough water (about 2 inches) to reach bottom of insert.
Tear 3-4 large husks into 1/4-inch-wide strips to use as ties and set aside.
Grate 1/2 pound cheese such as Monterey Jack or a Colby Jack.
Assembling the tamales:
There are a couple of ways to do this, I prefer to use my hands by spreading 2 to 3 tablespoonfuls of dough on one slightly damp hand, then placing a piece of cheese and a tablespoonful of the filling in the center. Using both hands, press the corn meal around the filling creating a bullet shaped pellet. Place the dough on an open husk, fold the long sides of husk over the dough and then fold the sides over, making a rectangular package that can be tied up with the husk strips. Repeat.
You could also spread the masa directly on the corn husk making a 4 inch square, then place the filling in the center and fold the wrapper up, enclosing the filling in the masa.
Loosely arrange the tamales on the steamer being careful not to over-crowd the tamales as they will expand while they cook. Bring the water in the pot to a boil and then reduce to a strong simmer. Cover pot and steam tamales until dough is firm to touch and separates easily from husk, adding more water to pot as necessary, about 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.
Tamales can be frozen after steaming once they have cooled and then resteamed or microwaved for a minute or so. Freeze them by placing them on a cookie sheet for a half hour in the freezer and then once they have hardened a bit, place then in a plastic bag or air-tight container.
1/4 pound spinach, washed, blanched in boiling water until wilted and drained
4 poblano peppers, roasted, cleaned and seeded
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup cream
Place the peppers, spinach, cilantro and broth in a food processor and puree until completely smooth. Pour puree into a saucepan and heat to just below boiling. Add the cream and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Place a few spoonfuls of the sauce on a plate and then place unwrapped tamales on the sauce. Garnish with cilantro.