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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 12:58 am

Fresh corn tamales

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I used traditional dried corn husks for the Hope School Benefit, but since then have discovered that fresh corn leaves and husks are even better – and easier. 

  • 24 fresh corn leaves OR the fresh outer husks of sweet corn, washed and dried.
  • 1 fresh poblano chile
  • 8 T. 1 T. unhydrogenated lard OR unsalted butter (*See note below.)
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. salt plus additional for seasoning the corn mixture
  • 1 c. fresh corn, including any juices
  • 1/2 c. minced white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2T. chopped cilantro leaves
  • 6 c. masa harina, available in the ethnic section of many groceries
  • Approximately 6 c. lukewarm chicken or vegetable stock

Cut both ends of the leaves to form strips about 15 inches long. Bend each leaf in half, rough side outside, gently breaking the central rib.

Roast the poblano over an open flame of a gas burner or grill by holding it by its stem with tongs or laying it on a rack. Turn until the skin is completely blackened. Put the chile in a paper bag and close the top. Steam for about 5 minutes. Wipe off the blackened skin with a paper towel, remove seeds and stem and coarsely chop.

Heat the tablespoon of lard and/or butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until they are softened and just beginning to brown. Add the poblano and cook for another minute. Stir in the corn and cook until it’s tender and any juices have evaporated, about 4 or 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and salt to taste. Cool to room temperature and set aside.

 Put the masa in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer and beat in enough of the stock to form a stiff but pliable dough. Now gradually beat in the lard and/or butter in large spoonfuls. Sprinkle in the baking powder. Continue beating 3 to 4 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in more stock by tablespoonsful if it appears stiff – it should resemble light cake batter. Test by putting a dollop in cool water – it should float.

Stir in the corn mixture. If using leaves, spread about 1/3-1/4 c. of the mixture over one half of the smooth side of a leaf, leaving a border around three sides. Fold over and gently press so that the upper side adheres to the filling. Layer the tamales horizontally no more than three deep in a steamer basket, and steam them over simmering water for 20-30 minutes, adding more water if necessary.

If using husks: trim off any small leaves and about 1 inch of the pointed end. Place 1/3-1/2 c. of the masa mixture in the center inside of the husk, leaving a border and the upper third of the husk bare. Gently fold the sides in to cover the masa, gently cracking the edges if necessary. Fold the pointed end up to make a neat package. Lay it pointed side down while repeating with the remaining filling and husks. Stack them standing upright, folded side on the bottom in a steamer and steam for 45 or more minutes.

The tamales are done when firm to the touch. Serve with mole verde or a good bottled green salsa. Makes about 24

*Note: Lard – at least lard that hasn’t been chemically altered (hydrogenated) – has gotten an unfairly bad rap. It actually has much less saturated fat than butter, and almost twice as much monounsaturated (a.k.a. good) fat. To learn more, check out my 10/22/08 IT column, Food’s Four-Letter Word.

Unhydrogenated lard is available locally at Humphrey’s Market, 1821 S. 15th St., 217-544-7518, and at Stan Schutte’s stand at the downtown Wednesday Farmers Market. Stan also makes monthly Springfield deliveries to his buying club — call 217-895-3652 or e-mail him at stan@triplsfarm.com

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