Friday, January 8, 2016

Little Corn Tamales from Guatemala

While this recipe is one generally made towards the end of corn growing season, I am posting it here today because I realized that in all this time since starting my website and blog, I had never entered this recipe. What an oversight!

While going back through older blog posts, I was correcting errors and remedying broken links when I found the post from December of 2012 where I wrote about tamales in general, listing the various sorts found in Guatemala. There are many and varied types of tamales found there. By far, for the most part they are savory. The little corn tamales I am writing about today are sweet. Sweet like corn bread or other lightly sweetened breads. 

I had not had access to field corn for all the years back in the U.S., up until just a few years ago. I finally got the chance to make them, much to my delight. I photographed every step of the way in the process, in order to have the photos for demonstration later, for my kids and anyone else who might be interested. The only problem?

I forgot to take photos once they were steamed and ready to eat! I had to go online and find photos from someone else to demonstrate the final product.... This photo above is from a website from El Salvador, but the tamalitos in the photo look exactly like mine!

Spanish Language Terms

Removing Kernels from Cobs
In Guatemala, these little corn tamales are called "Tamalitos de Elote." A "tamal" is one tamal. "Tamales" means more than one tamal. When the diminutive ending of "ito" is applied, this means that something is smaller. So, "Tamalitos" are little tamales. The word "elote" means corn, but refers to younger corn and not dried. Dried corn is maiz, in Spanish, or maize.

Now that that is straight, I will go a step further and relate what was spoken to me about just the right point to pick the corn for Tamalitos de Elote. I was told that the corn had to be dried far past eating as young corn, but not yet dried all the way through. The kernels must be dried to the point where if a fingernail is poked into a kernel, a little "milk" must still seep out. At this point, while not terribly easy, the kernels can be stripped off the cobs with the germ still attached. Too much earlier and it is a near impossibility to remove the kernels from the cob. Even at this stage, while stripping the kernels, some will pop and the milk will spray all over the place. My husband helped me the day I made these and we marveled for months after at the places we still spotted dried corn milk!

Green corn husks for use as wrappers

The Wrappers

Unlike other tamales, which are wrapped in maxan leaves (Calathea lutea), banana leaves or dried corn husks, Tamalitos de Elote are wrapped in their own green corn husks, shown at right. The husks must be removed carefully, so as to preserve sufficient large segments for wrapping the batter.This is easiest if the base of the cob is sliced off, leaving a smooth edge at the bottom of the husks, and making them easy to remove intact.

Tamalitos de Elote 

or, Sweet Corn Tamalitos 

Grinding Corn Kernels, 1st grind

makes about 2 dozen tamalitos

12 ears corn, nearly dry, kernels removed whole
½ to ¾ cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon true cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda

Grind the corn: I used a traditional hand grinder, brought back with me from Guatemala. The setting needs to be very tight, so as to grind as finely as possible. Even so, the whole batch must be ground through a second time in order to make the mixture finely enough textured. (Possibly a Vitamix blender as an alternative would result in finely enough ground corn.) 

Mix the resultant corn mush with the butter and sugar (start with the smaller amount, tasting and sweetening to your taste). It should be something like the sweetness of a Jiffy® Corn Muffin mix. Add in the butter, salt, cinnamon and baking soda and stir well. 

1) widest husks   -   2) a dollop of batter goes in   -   3) fold in the edges of husk to envelop

Using the green corn husks, select the ones with the greatest width as shown above. 1) Hold the widest end downwards, spread it open and 2) place a dollop of about ½ cup of the batter onto the husk. 3) Fold in both edges to cover the mixture. This is facilitated by the fact that the corn husks are naturally rounded and conform themselves to wrapping very easily.

4) Finish folding in both edges of the husk, and 5) a long tube shape is formed. 6) Flip the pointed end of the husk back along the length of the filled section. 7) Turn the tamal so the folded edge is downwards.

4) fold in husk   -   5) makes a long tube   -   6) flip pointed end up   -   7) Turn so pointed and open ends are upwards

Set this little packet into a large pot with a rack in the bottom. Set the remaining tamalitos against each other so the open ends lean upwards, to avoid spills. Pour about 2 cups water in the bottom of the pot. The water should not touch the tamalitos. Bring to boil, cover, reduce to a simmer and steam 1 hour.
Tamalitos in pan, with open ends upwards

Once the tamalitos are cooled, they may be stored in the refrigerator for about a week. 

To reheat, place a steamer rack into the bottom of a pot with water in the bottom, not touching the rack. Set tamales into the steamer and bring the water to boil. Cover and steam for 20 to 25 minutes.

TO SERVE: Serve these little gems as breakfast, or with breakfast, or as dessert - with butter, or honey, or sour cream, Mexican Crema or Queso Fresco.

NOTE: These tamalitos may be frozen. In this case, proceed exactly as for reheating the refrigerated tamalitos, except the frozen tamales can be set right into the steamer, and must be allowed at minimum 30 to 40 minutes steaming time. Watch the water level carefully. If frozen corn tamalitos are not steamed for long enough, they may be warm, but will result in a mealy product that is no joy to eat. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.