Cooking from scratch these days always seems to be considered such a chore… and as much as I wish I could argue with that, I can’t. I mean, I was that person and, actually, being totally honest, I still am that person. Confession: at this exact moment, we’re baking these really interesting fish fingers that I found in the frozen-foods section the other day. That’s real life, I guess. But I think a lot of us also want good, clean, healthy food. I mean, not to be put into a box or within limitations with a label (vegetarians, vegans, carnivores, and pescatarians), but just to serve and eat fresh ingredients and plant-based foods when possible. I’m that way! I’m no physician but, for my family, I always try and opt for fresh ingredients and the plant-based piece really comes into it for me when we’re talking about healthy foods and vegan foods and plant-based foods.
But you guys, it’s almost wrong to even mention that these are plant-based because they are so freaking good. Also, while these tamales are 100% plant-based, here's just a reminder that it’s never a good idea to eat 20 tamales made with a combination of vegetable shortening/coconut oil… I mean, 1/5 of the masa is essentially pure fat! That said, the first time they came out of the steamer, it took everything I had not to go for the 7th… so you know, just use common sense!
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a sweet tamal but, made properly, they are soft and billowy and perfectly sweet and completely addictive. These little clouds of pineapple perfection defy explanation unless you get a little scientific, so I’m sorry in advance for that! I mean, you could start by Googling the difference and importance of both baking powder and baking soda. Baking soda needs an acid, so the pineapple is not only the main flavoring agent, but it’s also necessary to activate the baking soda (by creating carbon dioxide bubbles) and leaven. Too much baking soda, though, and you could either neutralize the acidic flavor (and what we DO want is pineapple flavor) or end up with an over-production of carbon dioxide which could leave you with a metallic taste. So that’s why you add the powder... to aid in the rise. Baking powder comes with the acid included (cream of tartar) and a little bit of cornstarch.
Anyway, don’t think about it too much... just follow the instructions I’ve provided carefully because this magical masa is probably much runnier than any other masa you’ve made. It almost feels like a banana bread batter… soft, shiny, silky, and very wet. So to help you out, follow these KEY tips:
-Use your hands. There’s nothing like the feel of fingertips to guide your way!
-Use warm water. You’re looking for a loose batter; cold water will stiffen the fat.
-In fact, everything should be on the room temp/warm side.
-It’s better to err on the side of the batter being too wet versus too dry.
-Let it rest… give the sugar a chance to melt into the batter. Otherwise, you’ll get grainy tamales that aren’t as soft as they could be. Plus you’ll see the masa expand and rise when the baking soda activates. It’s pretty cool, actually!
-Not even kidding: NO FEAR. I avoided making these for a decade, but the only real secret to mastering tamales is practice.
I will surely get more than a couple comments about how your abuela made these sooooo differently and how I have no idea what I’m doing, but hey, just make them. Eat them warm (not hot) and then we can chat. Oh, and you can look for a vegan shortening, just use all coconut oil (more coconut flavor never hurt anyone), or go rogue and use regular shortening (but I honestly haven’t have time to research if it’s full-vegan or not). I’m too tired. And too hungry. I’m still on the plant-based kick, and I’m honestly feeling a bit frustrated because my energy is still somewhat lacking, but I was told it could take a few months to reset so I’m just trying to be patient at this point. These days, I’m trying to stick to low-fat plant-based foods during the week, but on the weekends I try not to worry too much about oils and nuts. And on that note, I think I might be getting into confusing territory… so just know that these are awesome and plant-based. Also, they are being made and steamed today. Once they’re room temperature, they’ll go into a zip-top bag to be frozen until December 10th for my mom’s side of the family’s posada. Pineapple tamales and apple pie are my responsibilities this year!
I’m sitting here with David asleep in my arms while I type, and I just had to mention that I’m super excited about some new things happening… please come back next week so I can share! Oh, and I’m loving the rain that’s falling over my garden right now and thanking God and nature that it waited to fall until today and not over the weekend at my in-laws 50th anniversary party! Which reminds me… we have some gorgeous photos and ideas that are coming up next week, too! Stay tuned!
Gracias, familia! M
4 dozen medium-sized tamales
- 4 cups masa flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup raw turbindado sugar
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (use just enough to create dough)
- 2- 20 oz cans crushed pineapple, undrained
- Corn husks, soaked in water overnight
In a large bowl add dry ingredients except sugar. Add coconut oil and vegetable oil to dry ingredients. Using your hands combine ingredients together, until dough starts to form. Dough will be coarse and crumble like.
Gradually add warm water and continue to mold.
Add pineapple and continue to form dough. Dough will become sticky and a more batter like consistency. Do not over knead dough.
Add sugar at the end and continue to mix batter with your hands.
After adding sugar, allow sugar to melt into batter. Let masa rest for about 15-20 minutes. Masa should have become more like a batter.
Holding an opened, softened corn husk in one hand, spread about 1/4 cup of masa dough on the wider half of the corn husk. Bring the sides of the husks together overlapping one another. Fold the top and bottom of the husks over each other to close. To close up tamales, tear small strings of corn husk to use as a tie. Tie both ends of the husks together. Repeat process with the rest of the masa dough.
Place the folded tamales in the steamer basket of a large pot. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot by several inches, but not enough to touch the tamales themselves. Bring to a boil, cover with a towel and a lid and decrease the heat to a medium low, and steam for about 2 1/2 hours, adding more water to pot if necessary. Do not allow the pot to boil dry. After 2 1/2 hours open a tamal and check for doneness. The tamales should be firm and pull away from the husks without sticking. If still sticky, continue to steam until done.