Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tzimmes Tamales -- New World Meets Old -- Merging Holiday Food Traditions

For a recent cooking column in the j. , the Jewish newsweekly of the Bay area, I highlighted how intermarried families also merge their holiday food traditions and wrote about Building Jewish Bridges, a program for Jewish intermarried in the San Francisco area headed by Dawn Kepler. BJB offers a variety of programming and workshops to help couples navigate the differences and compromises in a two-religion household. The site also has a wealth of clear explanations of Jewish holidays and traditions for anyone, intermarried or not, who needs a brush up on Judaism.

Dawn was able to give me some examples of families that had successfully merged food traditions and I was enthralled by the idea of a Mexican grandmother making "non-pork" tamales ( a Christmas eve staple) for her Jewish grandchildren for Chanukah. That inspired my tzimmes tamales. Replacing the lard with the chicken fat gave the tamale dough a lot of flavor and helped give the finished tamale a lighter taste. Beef tzimmes (sometimes spelled tsimmes) is a traditional Eastern European stewed dish. Adding the peppers also gives it a bit of a twist as well. To read my full article, click here. Below are the recipes.

Beef Tzimmes with a Kick
Serves 6, or 4 if also making tamales

The chipotle pepper gives the stew a nice tingle without much burn. Remove the seeds if you want the taste without much heat.

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 pounds of chuck steak or roast cut into 2” cubes
2 cups thinly sliced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 carrots sliced into ½ inch rounds
1 large sweet potato cut into 1” cubes, divided
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 chopped chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce (from a can, reserve remainder for another use)
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup pitted, dried prunes
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbs. tomato paste

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown the meat and set aside. Add onions and sauté until light brown. Add garlic and carrots, sauté for a few minutes. Add half of the sweet potatoes, the salt and pepper and the chipotle pepper. Sauté until vegetables have begun to color. Add the meat, apricots, prunes, chicken stock and tomato paste. Stir up any brown bits that may be on the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer. Cover, lower heat and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add remaining sweet potatoes. Continue simmering, covered, and stirring occasionally for another two to three hours or until the meat is falling apart tender. Taste and correct seasoning if needed. (Note: Sometimes the meat needs less time to be truly tender, sometimes it needs much more.)

Tzimmes Tamales
Makes 12 Tamales

Tamale making is often a time to have friends or families over to help stuff and wrap the tamales. While extra hands help, the recipe below can be managed by one person without much trouble. I adapted the tamale-making process from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen cookbook.

8 ounce package dried corn husks
1 ¾ cups masa harina (look for the type labeled for tamales)
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. of hot water
5 ounces chilled schmaltz (chicken fat) or vegetable shortening
1 tsp. baking powder
About 1 ¼ cups chicken stock
¾ tsp. salt
2 cups chopped solids from Beef Tzimmes with a Kick recipe above
Salsa, for serving

Put the corn husks in a large pot. Add water to cover. Bring to boil. Let stand for about an hour, keeping the husks submerged by putting a plate on top of them. Separate out 12 unbroken husks to wrap the tamales in. Tear one of the remaining husks into 12 long ¼” “strings” to tie the tamales. Separate and keep the rest to line the steamer.

Make the batter by mixing the masa harina and hot water together. Set aside to let cool. Beat the schmaltz or shortening and baking powder in the bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the prepared masa mixture in three batches, mixing well with each one. With the mixer going, add in a ½ cup of the chicken broth until combined and then add ¼ cup of chicken broth at a time as needed until the masa mixture is soft but still holds its shape. Mix in the salt, tasting and adding more if necessary.

Spread a corn husk open in front of you with the pointed, narrow side at the bottom. Wipe dry with a paper towel. Place ¼ cup of the masa mixture about ¾ of an inch from the top of the husk. Spread it into about a 4” square, being sure to leave a ¾” margin on each side and at least 1 ½ inches from the bottom point. Place 2 Tbs. of the chopped tzimmes filling down the center of the masa. Next pick up the two long sides and push them together, making the batter enclose the meat filling. Roll both flaps in the same direction around the tamale. Flip the stuffed husk so the seam side faces you and fold the pointy end of the husk up to close off the bottom. Secure it by using a torn husk strip to tie it together. Repeat to make remaining tamales.

Prepare or improvise a steamer at least 4” deep. Put several inches of water in the pan underneath. Line the steamer with 2/3 of the remaining corn husks. Place tamales inside the steamer with open (top) sides up. They should be packed in so they are standing up. Place a bowl or some crumpled foil to the steamer basket to help the tamales stay upright if needed. Top with remaining corn husks and cover. Bring to and keep water at boiling. Add water as needed and steam for about 1 ¼ hours or until the husk peels away easily. Let tamales firm up for a few minutes before serving with salsa.

1 comment:

Shelly said...

Fantabulous photo. The light hits the tamale in just the right way.