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Spicy cheese tamales

January 11, 2009

Corn husks can be found in either the produce or ethnic aisles of larger grocers and specialty foods stores. This recipe calls for 16 husks, but buy more to allow for tears and for lining the steamer.

The husks serve as tiny cooking parcels (similar to the way parchment paper is used in some French preparations, known as en papillote), in which a variety of ingredients wrapped in masa dough can be cooked.

This cheese filling is an easy and fast way to make tamales, but pulled chicken with tomatillo sauce, minced pork and roasted red peppers and tomatoes are other traditional variations.

If you have one, an Asian-style bamboo steamer basket works well for these. Otherwise, a steamer insert used with a large stockpot does fine.

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MONTEREY JACK TAMALES



Start to finish: 4 hours (1 hour active)

Makes 16 tamales

16 corn husks
1/2 cup lard, refrigerated until firm
1 pound (about 2 cups) masa for tamales
2/3 cup chicken broth, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 2-by-1/4-inch sticks
4 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, minced
Kitchen twine

In a large stockpot, separate the corn husks, then add enough water to cover. Heat over medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, then place a plate over the husks to keep them submerged. Soak for 2 hours.

When you are ready to make the tamales, remove them from the water and pat them dry.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the lard until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add half of the masa, then beat until well blended. Add the remaining masa a bit at a time, alternating with the broth.

The mixture should have the consistency of thick cake batter. Sprinkle in the baking powder and salt, then beat for 1 minute. Scoop out 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture and drop it in a glass of cold water. If it floats, the dough is ready. If not, continue beating for another minute. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cheese and chipotle chilies and toss well. Set aside.

To prepare the steamer, place a steamer basket in a large stockpot filled with several inches of water. Arrange several of the spare corn husks over the bottom of the steamer, being sure to leave gaps for condensation to drip down.

To form the tamales, one at a time spread each corn husk flat with the tapered end toward you. The husks naturally curl; the curl should be upward toward you. Spread 3 tablespoons of dough into a 4-inch square at the center of each husk.

Top each square of dough with a bit of the cheese and chipotle chilies.

To fold the tamale, fold the long sides up over the filling, overlapping slightly. Crease and fold each short end up over the center, one overlapping the other. Use a length of kitchen twine to gently tie each one shut around the center.

Arrange the tamales on the corn husks in the stockpot, then cover them with additional spare husks. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and steam for 1 1/4 hours. Check the pot regularly to add water as needed.

The tamales are done when the husks easily peel away from the dough. Uncover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes, then serve. Let guests unwrap their own tamales (don't eat the husks).

(Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless' "Authentic Mexican," William Morrow, 2007)

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