Thursday, March 9, 2017

Cookbook Thursday: Delta tamales!

One of the culinary specialties of the Mississippi Delta are mouthwatering tamales and author Anne Martin spotlights a vegetarian style with spinach, corn and cheese filling in “Delta Hot Tamales: Histories, Stories, and Recipes” (The History Press). The recipe follows, but so does a tamale trivia game. Check back next Cookbook Thursday to find out the answers.

Martin grew up in the middle of the hot tamale epicenter, Greenville, Miss. She is an award-winning journalist, having spent 30 years in broadcast news. She is now a writer, documenting the stories of her beloved Mississippi Delta and is a regular contributor to Life in the Delta and Eat. Drink. Mississippi. Anne is a co-founder of the Delta Hot Tamale Festival.

Books available locally and online at 

Vegetarian Tamales with Spinach, Corn and Cheese Filling
From “Delta Hot Tamales: Histories, Stories, and Recipes” by Anne Martin
2 teaspoons oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
1 small green pepper, chopped 
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen 
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed 
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin 
1⁄2 teaspoon chili powder 
salt and pepper to taste 
1 8-ounce package shredded colby jack cheese 
Directions: Heat oil in a pan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add green pepper, corn and spinach. Cook covered until the veggies are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Mix well and turn off heat. 
Corn Shucks 
Directions: While the filling is cooling, prepare the corn shuck. Dried shucks need to be soaked in warm water prior to using to make them soft and pliable. Fill a deep pan with warm water and soak for about 15 minutes. Soak additional shucks in case a shuck tears during the process. You will also need a few to line the bottom of a steamer basket. When the shucks are ready, drain and set aside. 
Prepare the Steaming equipment 
Set up the steaming basket. Fill the pot with 2 to 3 inches of water. Keep water level below the steamer basket. Line the bottom of the basket with a few corn shucks. 
Masa Dough 
1⁄4 cup vegetable shortening 
1⁄4 cup margarine 
13⁄4 cups masa mix (available in most grocery stores) 1 teaspoon baking powder 
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder 
1⁄4 teaspoon salt 
11⁄2 cups vegetable stock (may use canned) 
Directions: In a large mixing bowl, with a handheld mixer or a stand mixer, cream together the shortening and margarine until creamy and light. Sift in the masa, baking powder, garlic powder and salt, then continue to beat for about three minutes, until a sandy looking mixture forms. Pour the vegetable stock into the masa mixture and continue to beat until all the liquid is absorbed and a fluffy dough forms, about five minutes. The tamale dough should have a moist, almost mashed potato consistency and should be easily spread with a rubber spatula. If the mixture appears too wet, sprinkle in a little more masa. If too dry, drizzle in a little vegetable stock until you reach the desired consistency. Use dough immediately. 
Assemble the tamales 
For each tamale, spread a generous 1⁄4 cup of dough down the center of a pliable, soaked corn husk, leaving at least 11⁄2 inches on either end and at least a 1⁄2 inch on either side. This will form a rectangle roughly 4 to 5 inches wide and 3⁄8 to 1⁄2 inch thickand about 5 inches long. Spoon 1 generous tablespoon of filling down the center of the tamale dough, then top with a little of the grated cheese. Grab both the edges of the corn husk that are not covered with dough. Bring the edges toward each other and push the sides of the masa dough together to encase the filling. Gently press the side of the tamale to form a firm, solid tube shape. Tightly twist each end of the tamale wrapper and tie with a soaked corn husk strip. You can also use kitchen twine to tie the tamales. Repeat until filling and dough are gone. About halfway through the tamale making, turn on the eye where your tamale pot is to get the water hot for the steaming process. 
Steam the tamales 
Place the tamales in the steamer basket and steam for at least 55 minutes or up to 1 hour, 5 minutes. Check the pot occasionally to make sure that the water has not completely evaporated; add more hot water as needed. Test to see if the tamales are ready by removing a tamale and peeling back some corn husk. Fully cooked tamales will be tender but solid, not wet. Remove the entire basket from the pot, place on a dinner plate and let stand, covered, for at least 15 minutes to cool. Handle the tamales carefully as they will be very hot. Serve the tamales with any chili sauce, plus beans, rice or salad, if desired. Don’t eat the corn husks! Tamales can also be frozen. Cool the tamales completely, then stack them into plastic bags and freeze them for up to a few months. Frozen tamales can be microwaved until hot. 

Tamale Trivia 
1. True or False: It is well known where hot tamales came from. 
2. Where is the Hot Tamale Capital of the World? 
3. Who was the king of the very first Delta Hot Tamale Festival? 
4. True or False: Hot tamales and the blues go hand and hand. 
5. True or False? There is only one right way to eat a Hot Tamale. 
6. Originally, the hot tamale mixtures included which two types of meat?
7. True or False: You can buy hot tamales from a restaurant, shack or even the trunk of a car.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country.” She writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire. Write her at