Tamales de pollo y de frijoles – Chicken and Vegetarian Bean Tamales

cooked tamalesMy children’s Abuelita Conchita made tamales every Christmas. After marrying her son, I do too. She visited us on our first Thanksgiving together and taught me how to make them with our leftover turkey.

I’ve been tweaking the recipe ever since.  I now make them with boneless chicken breasts with a few legs for flavor. The boneless breast eliminates the risk of choking on a rib bone, which are easy to miss while shredding the chicken. I also make vegetarian tamales using frijoles pintos, roasted chili and jack cheese.

I make my masa with olive oil, with a bit of chicken fat and bacon grease for flavor. That kind of balances the heart-healthy effects of the olive oil.

tamales with tomatoesMakes 40 medium tamales.

Ingredients for filling: Some stores sell the dried chilies in cellophane packets, so I am including the equivalents here. Also be aware that some locations will call the poblano chilies fresh pasilla chilies.

16 cups of water (To use some of the broth for frijoles, increase the water to 24 cups.)

2 chopped onions

8 minced garlic cloves

2 Tb chipotle powder

2 Tb cumin powder (comino)

2 tsp cocoa powder

2 Tb dried oregano

6 cups diced Roma (plum) tomatoes or a 28 oz can (or two 14 oz cans) diced tomatoes. Frie roasted tomatoes are nice.

2 green bell peppers

2 Tb salt to taste

6 poblano (sometimes sold as fresh pasilla) chilies

10-12 dried pasilla chilies (2 cellophane packets)

6-7 dried California chilies (1 cellophane packet)

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves and 6 chicken legs

Heat a large pot with the water and bring to a boil.

There’s the easy way to add chili to the broth, which my mother-in-law did, by adding chili powder to it.

3 kinds of peppersThen there’s the labor-intensive way, adding fresh poblano and dried pasilla and California chilies. Pasilla chilies are dark and wrinkled, like giant raisins (pasa is raisin in Spanish) They make for a more intense, earthy flavor. I use a cast iron comal (coMAL), which is a shallow frying pan to toast the chilies and peppers to intensify their flavor. I wear thin disposable latex gloves when I work with the dried chilies. This way I emerge from the process without stained and sore hands and can rub my eyes afterwards without fear of blinding myself.

toasting pasilla chilisToast the dried chilies lightly on the comal. If you don’t have a comal, use a heavy frying pan. Sometimes the  pasilla will blow up like a balloon! Remove them to a plate while they are still soft.

soaked pastillaWear gloves for this part: Discard the stems and some of the seed pods from the chilies and but keep some seeds for spiciness, depending on your taste. Ladle 3 cups of the boiling water into a medium saucepan. Boil the chilies for 10 minutes, then soak them for 20 minutes until they soften. Let the California chilies cool, then peel them, discarding the outer skin. There’s no great need to peel the pasillas, as their skin is softer. Chop the chilies  and add them along with the soaking water to the broth.

While the dried chilies are boiling and soaking, prepare the rest of the broth ingredients:

blistered pasilla chilisDiscard the stems, ribs and some of seeds of the poblano and bell peppers  (add a few poblano seeds to make the broth spicier if you want.) Cut into strips and blister them on the comal.  Set aside a few handfuls of poblano strips to insert whole into vegetarian tamales. Coarsely chop up the rest and add to the water.

Add all ingredients except salt and chicken, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour out 10 cups into a separate pot to make Frijoles pintos.

For vegetarian tamales: Salt the broth and mix it in the blender. You will use it for mixing in the masa and making sauce.

For chicken tamales: Salt the broth and bring it to a boil. Add chicken legs  and cook for 45 minutes. Cut chicken breasts into large chunks and add to the broth, cooking for 20 minutes, until done. Remove chicken from water with slotted spoon, reserving broth.

Drain broth through a sieve into a large bowl. Place the chilies, peppers and onions and tomatoes in another bowl, with enough broth to make it soupy enough to blend into a thin sauce. Blend in batches to make the chili sauce and set aside.

Bring the strained broth back to a boil. Let chicken cool until you can handle it, then remove the bones from the legs and break them to expose the marrow (I use a kitchen shears). Return the bones to the soup and let it boil while you shred the chicken by hand. The marrow will add great flavor and nutrients to the broth.

Skim the fat from the broth and refrigerate it. We will add some of the fat to the masa for flavor. (You can freeze the broth briefly or refrigerate for several hours or overnight to ease skimming the fat.)

Pour 2 cups chili sauce into a skillet and heat it Add half the shredded chicken. Simmer and stir until chicken absorbs most of the sauce, but is not too dry. You should be able to see some sauce between the meat. Make the second batch, (I use 2 skillets at a time) then store in refrigerator until ready to use. It’s best to make this part the day before so that the chicken will absorb the sauce while it sits overnight. If you don’t have time, just let it cool in the freezer or fridge.

This is plenty of chicken. If you don’t want to turn it all into tamales,  they are great in tacos or enchiladas.

Reserve 5 cups of broth for the masa. Reduce any leftover broth in a saucepan to add to the sauce for the tamales.

Vegetarian tamales: Cook  Frijoles pintos the day before. Roast 4 more fresh poblano chilies on a grill or heavy frying pan until the skin chars. Cool in a covered container to aid in peeling, then peel charred skin, discarding skin, seeds and stem, and cut into strips. You can use canned chilies to save time, but I am giving you the fresh recipe, which has a much more earthy and intense flavor. Slice jack cheese.

Preparing the tamales:

Soak an 18 oz. package of hojas (OH-hass) (dried corn husks) in warm water in a large pot (such as the tamale steamer) until soft, about 1 hour. I put the steamer pan on top of the hojas and weight it down with a large bowl of water. Rinse them well afterward and remove the corn silk.

Masa

Most of the Mexicans I know with swear by lard, the traditional fat used to make tamales. I make my masa with heart-healthy olive oil, combined with a couple of spoonfuls of chicken fat and bacon grease for flavorful chicken tamales. You can substitute 1/2 cup + 1 Tb (5 Tb) chicken fat if you want kosher tamales. I use only olive oil for vegetarian tamales.

Be sure you are using pure olive oil (California olive oil is a good bet) which will solidify in the fridge. Some Spanish and other European “olive” oils are mixed with other oils and will not solidify. You can also solidify it in the freezer.

I make my masa in 2 batches, so I can fit it in my electric mixer. I’m giving the 1/2 measurements in parentheses.

Masa for 40 tamales (20):

7  (3 1/2) cups masa harina (corn flour) for tamales. This is coarser ground than the masa harina that is used for tortillas.
1 Tb + 1 tsp (2 tsp) salt
1 Tb (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder
2 Tb (1 Tb) paprika
6 1/2 to 7 cups (3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups) reserved warm broth. If you run out of broth, add some chili powder to warm water

For chicken tamales: 1 1/2 cups (3/4 cup) olive oil, refrigerated or frozen until solid

1/4 cup plus 2 Tb (3 Tb) solidified chicken fat

1/4 cup (2 Tb) solidified bacon grease

For vegetarian tamales:

2 cups (1 cup) olive oil, refrigerated until solidified

Directions:

Mix masa harina with baking powder, salt and paprika.

For chicken tamales: Beat chicken fat and bacon grease in mixmaster on high. Add solidified olive oil and beat again.

For vegetarian tamales: Beat solidified olive oil on high

Add  broth to the dry ingredients, mixing with a spoon, then with your hands until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add about a quarter of the masa to the oil and beat well, then add another quarter of the masa, repeating until all masa is incorporated. Beat until dough has a fluffy and moist consistency.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate the masa for an hour or so, then return it to the mixmaster. Beat it again, adding more broth if necessary to make a soft dough.

ball of masaIt should not stick to your fingers, and you should be able to form a smooth ball of masa.

Assembling the Tamales

Now you are ready to assemble the tamales. This is best done with your family and/or friends helping – a tamalada.

Spread the masa in a thin layer on the wide end of the hoja, leaving  about 3 inches bare on the pointy end and a small border around the sides.. You can use the back of a spoon, or your fingers. I find it works best if your fingers are moist and not too full of masa.

For chicken tamales, put in a spoonful of the shredded prepared chicken. Make it into a long rectangle.

For vegetarian tamales, place a spoonful of beans without liquid, a strip of chili and a piece of jack cheese. Vegans can skip the cheese, or use vegan cheese.

fold in one side

Fold the other side in so they overlap,

then fold up the pointy end.

Tear thin strips from several hojas to use for tying the tamales. I use the torn or ugly hojas. Tie tamale with the strip of hoja.

When all tamales are assembled, heat water in the bottom of a tamale pot or large steamer Put a dime in the water. Add the tamales with the folded end down and the tied end up on the steamer tray. Cover the steamer, and cook on low heat for 1 ½ hours. The dime will rattle in the water. If the water runs out, the dime will stop rattling and you must add more water or the tamales will burn!

When the masa separates easily from the corn husk, the tamales are done. Uncover the pot, turn off the flame and let dry out for 15 minutes or until you can’t wait any longer to eat them!

Unwrap and enjoy with sliced Roma tomatoes. Warm the reduced broth mixed with leftover chili sauce and pour over the tamales, or top with Frijoles pintos.

Feliz Navidad!

serving tamales with sliced tomatoes


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Enchiladas Verdes

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When tangy tomatillos ripen at the end of summer, I get a hankering for Enchiladas Verdes (green enchiladas) . I used to think that tomatillos were little green tomatoes, but I found out they are actually not tomatoes at all, but related to the gooseberry. The ancient Aztecs grew them and gave them the name miltomatl. Best eaten when green, they come wrapped in a papery husk, which must be removed before cooking. They are high in pectin, which helps thicken sauces. Roasting the tomatillos, chilies and garlic enhances their flavor.

Makes 8 enchiladas

Salsa Verde

10 large tomatillos (about ½ pound), husks removed

1 ½ small spring onions or 1 small white onion, peeled

3 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 poblano chilies

2 jalapeño peppers and 4 Serrano chili peppers (This will make a spicy sauce. Use less chilies if you want a milder sauce)

1 ½ tea. salt (to taste)

juice of one lime

1 cup cilantro leaves, plus a few for garnish.

1/3 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)

1 tea. minced fresh oregano leaves (or ½ tea. dried oregano)

1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup

Enchiladas

8 corn tortillas

3 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (1 large whole breast). See Roast Chicken

OR one pound ground turkey

½ cup reduced fat shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Olive oil cooking spray

You can make the sauce and filling ahead of time, then assemble and heat right before serving.

Preheat oven to 425’ Spray a baking pan with non-stick olive oil spray. Place tomatillos, chilies, garlic, and onion on baking pan.

Bake for 10 minutes, remove garlic and tomatillos, and flip other vegetables. Bake 10 minutes more, until chilies are charred and soft and onions begin to brown. Remove from oven and let cool in a bowl or container. You can do this part a day ahead and pop the container in the fridge.

Toast pepitas on a comal or heavy frying pan over medium heat until they begin to pop. Let them cool, then grind them in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder. If you don’t have a grinder, you can run them in a food processor. Reserve a few whole pepitas for garnish.

Remove stems and seed pod from chilies. Keep some seeds in for extra spicyness.

removing seeds from chilies

Remove stems from tomatillos over container or blender container since they will make a mess. Add roasted vegetables and liquid from them, ground pepitas, lime juice, oregano, cilantro, salt and 1 cup chicken soup and blend until smooth.

Bring sauce to boil in a saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then let simmer for 15 minutes until the sauce is thick and coats the spoon. If it is too thick, add up to 1/2 cup more broth.

While sauce is cooking, shred the chicken breast. Stir in about 1 1/4 cups of sauce to the chicken breast and reserve the rest. Heat sauce and chicken in the saucepan over medium heat until the sauce permeates the chicken, about 10 minutes. Let it cool until you can handle it. Again, you can do this part ahead of time.

chicken for enchiladas verdes

You can also make this dish using ground turkey. Brown one lb turkey and drain fat. Add 1/2 cup sauce to turkey and let it cook 5 minutes until sauce permeates it.

Assembling the enchiladas: preheat oven to 350’

Traditionally tortillas are dipped in hot oil before coating with enchilada sauce. I use olive oil spray to cut down on the fat. I only bake with some of the sauce, so the enchiladas won’t get soggy. I pour heated sauce on the enchiladas just before serving.

Pour half the warm sauce into a shallow bowl. Lightly spray each tortilla with olive oil spray before heating briefly on the comal or heavy frying pan. When tortilla is hot and soft, dip it into the sauce so that it coats the tortilla on both sides.

Place tortilla on a plate and place a few tablespoons of the chicken or turkey inside the tortilla

then roll it up.

Place seam side down on a baking pan sprayed with olive oil cooking spray. Continue with all tortillas. Spoon the sauce that’s left in the bowl over the enchiladas (about ¼ cup).

Bake at 350’ for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle grated cheese over enchiladas.

Put back in oven for 5 minutes so that cheese will melt.

Heat remaining sauce until hot. When you remove the enchiladas from the oven the second time, pour hot sauce on and around the enchiladas. Garnish with cilantro leaves and whole roasted pepitas.