Thanksgiving with a twist

Upstate New York based Laura Chávez Silverman is our first guest blogger. She has her own fabulous blog called Glutton for Life but is writing for us in celebration of Thanksgiving.

Talking Turkey: New traditions

If ever there was a super-sized meal, it’s Thanksgiving. A classic American Thanksgiving is all about bounty, an overflowing cornucopia of (allegedly) native foods.

Not only is there an enormous bird but there must also be bread stuffing and yams (with marshmallows!) and buttery mashed potatoes and rolls and several kinds of vegetables (thank god) and lots and lots of pie.

Any efforts to streamline this menu are always met with vociferous resistance and, inevitably, tradition triumphs. Fortunately, this quantity of food generally means one thing: leftovers. And leftovers often engender creativity.

I use leftover turkey for tamales, another of my family’s holiday traditions, from the Mexican-American side. Tamales are typically eaten at large parties and celebrations, in part because they require quite a bit of work and, if you’re going to all that trouble, you’d might as well make a big batch. That said, they are a very fun project, especially when there are extra hands around.

Have tamales made it to the UK yet?

I know you have had your food revolution and are no longer defined by fish and chips and mushy peas, but I wonder if masa harina can be had at Sainsbury’s.

If not, consider splurging on an airmail package of all the essential ingredients from Tamales (from tamalli in the Indian Nahuatl language) are made with a starchy usually corn-based dough (masa) filled with meat or cheese and/or vegetables, and steamed or boiled in some sort of leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating.

Corn flour is typically beaten with lard to create a light and fluffy masa dough, although it’s now fairly common (though ill-advised) to substitute vegetable shortening. I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, eating tamales filled with cubed pork, shredded chicken or a combination of mild yellow cheese and green chiles. They were a Christmas Eve tradition in our house, but they go down just as well after Thanksgiving.

This particular recipe contains a red sauce made with New Mexico chiles that have a dusky, sweetly complex and not-too-fiery spice.

The sauce envelops shredded turkey and gets tucked inside a rectangle of masa that is wrapped up in soaked corn husks.

These are tied into little bundles and steamed. Serve with a little more chile sauce on the side, and a simple cabbage slaw dressed with lime and cumin.

You’ll be grateful.

Red Chili Turkey Tamales

Masa Batter

makes 15

2/3 cup fresh pork lard, chilled

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 scant teaspoon sea salt

1 3/4 cups masa harina mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water and cooled to room temperature

2/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade

1.In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the lard, baking powder and salt. Beat until light and fluffy.

2.Add 1 cup masa and 1/3 cup stock; beat until thoroughly combined. Add the remaining masa and 1/3 cup stock; beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. The batter should be soft but still hold its shape in a spoon.

3.Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Batter may be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Turkey in Red Chili Sauce

8 large dried New Mexico chilies, stems and seeds removed

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade

1 pound (give or take) leftover roasted turkey, roughly chopped or shredded

1.Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Toast chiles, using a pair of tongs to press them against the hot skillet on both sides, being careful not to scorch. Transfer to a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak for 30 minutes.

2.In a blender or food processor, combine soaked chiles, garlic, pepper, cumin and salt with stock and enough chile-soaking water to make 2 ½ cups. Blend to make a smooth puree. Retain any leftover stock and chile-soaking water.

3.Pour sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a Dutch oven or heavy stock pot. Add about a pound of roughly shredded leftover turkey and enough stock and/or chile soaking water to make a slightly looser sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced to a thick sauce that coats the meat, and the meat can be easily broken up with a fork, about 20-30 minutes.


Making Tamales

1.To reconstitute the dried corn husks, place them in a deep heat-proof bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set a small plate on top of husks to keep them submerged. Soak for 1 hour. Remove from water and spread on a clean kitchen towel.

2.Return the tamale batter to the mixer. On low to medium speed, mix the batter for a few seconds to lighten the dough. Add 3 tablespoons red chile sauce and mix again to combine. The batter should not be stiff, but slightly loose and not runny. You may need to add a few tablespoons or so of chicken stock. Remember, the lighter the batter, the more tender the tamales.

3.To assemble, tear (or cut with scissors) one large corn husk lengthwise along the grain to make 1/4-inch-wide strips. You will need two per tamale; if strips aren’t long enough, you can tie two together. (Mother’s little helper comes in handy here.)

4.Place another whole husk, lightly dried, on work surface, pointed end away from you. Scoop about ¼ cup masa onto the middle and spread into a 4-inch square, leaving a 1 ½” border on the pointed end and a 1” border on the other sides. Spoon 2 tablespoons filling down the center of the masa. Bring long sides together to form a cylinder, making sure the batter encases filling. Fold the pointed end under; tie loosely with husk strip. Fold the flat end under; tie. Repeat.

I know, I’m making it sound easy, and you will probably find the masa sticking and the corn husk tearing, etc. But these are incredibly forgiving and it’s really not about perfection here. Take your time and you’ll get the hang of it!

Make these until you run out of masa. You may have leftover turkey. This is not a bad thing. Consider eating it over rice.

5.To steam the tamales, I use one of those flat, collapsible metal steamers set inside a big pot. Put a few inches of water in the pot and line the steamer with leftover corn husks. Then pile in all the tamales (they can be stacked on top of each other), cover and set the steamer over high heat. When steam puffs out, reduce the heat to medium. Steam 1 hour 15 minutes, adding more water when necessary. (Do not let the pot dry out—it’s a disaster!!) To check for doneness, unwrap a tamale. If it’s ready, the masa will come free from the husk quite easily and feel soft. If masa sticks to the husk, rewrap, and continue steaming another 15-20 minutes.

6.Remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes for batter to firm up. Tamales will remain warm for about 1 hour. Once cooled, these can be frozen and will keep for several months. To heat, place directly in steamer from freezer.

Laura describes herself as a writer, a reader, a cook, an eater, a novice gardener and a longtime nature-lover, born and raised in Santa Cruz, California. After many years in Manhattan, Laura has made the move to live full-time (with husband G and feline Titi) in a 1935 cedar-shingle cottage in Sullivan County, upstate near the Delaware River.

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