Recipe: Star Spangled Banner Tamales

fisher july1 tamales.jpg

Photo by Phil G/FlickrCC

Think tamales are un-American? Think again. Food Channel producer and expert on all things Mississippi Delta Eleanor Barkhorn notes that tamales are a down-home tradition in that most storied of U.S. regions. That's right, the home of blues and barbecue, William Faulkner and Muddy Waters, is also home to the American tamale. The Southern Foodways Alliance is all over it, with a dedicated documentary and blog. You can hear SFA head and excellent food writer John T. Edge discuss the Delta tamales here.

My recipe isn't explicitly Mexican or Mississippian, although it does contain a lot of ingredients one might pronounce aloud with an accent. Whatever their origin, they're ideal for the Fourth of July or any patriotic summer cook-out, which is why I gave them the most jingoistic name I could think of. (John Wayne Freedomales was my second choice.) They're fun to make and can be enjoyed by adherents to any diet.

Makes 20 tamales.

    • 20 dried large corn husks
    • 1 1/3 cups Masa Harina corn tortilla flour
    • 2/3 cup finely-ground corn meal
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 3 cups water (or homemade stock, if you've got it)
    • 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • Grilled pepper salsa
    • 2 cups coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese
    • 5 cups corn kernels, fresh if possible, ideally from New Jersey
    • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

Place husks in warm water, weighed down so as to be totally submersed, soaking for one hour.

Combine flour, meal, baking power, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the water or broth and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup olive oil.

Mince half of the corn in a food processor. In a large pan, cook the onion in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the processed corn and half of the salsa to the pan, stirring for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. While you're waiting, mix 1 cup of the cheese and the rest of the corn into the dough. Once the onion-salsa-corn mixture is at room temperature, stir it into the dough.

To form a tamale, spread a corn husk flat on a counter or other work surface. Place 1/4 cup of the filling in the center of the husk. Make a depression in the center of the dough. Fill with enough of the remaining salsa and cheese such that they will be divided evenly between the tamales, about 1 tablespoon of each. Fold the wide end of the husk over the filling to cover, then fold in the sides. Fold the pointed end over the top and flip the whole thing upside-down to keep it from unfolding.

Steam tamales for about 1 hour over boiling water in steamer racks or a pasta pot insert. This can be done up to two weeks ahead of time.

Once it's grillin' time, grill tamales for about 5 minutes each, until grill marks appear, turning once.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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