Tamales are one of the most popular Hispanic holiday foods that can be purchased at restaurants, tortillerías and supermarkets. But keeping to tradition, many families still prefer to take the time to make the delicious staples of Mexican cuisine at home.
Mariela Díaz is from Guanajuato, but she now lives in Fort Worth, and for 10 years she has been making tamales herself at home. Her mother, María Nava, used to make tamales, and while at first Díaz showed no interest in learning tamale-making, one day she asked Nava to teach her.
Ever since, Díaz has been making tamales at her home, especially every December. The 46-year-old woman makes chicken, pork, rajas and sweet tamales with corn husks.
Tamale-making is not an easy task, so Mariela suggests teaming up at least three people to prepare them. Usually, she likes to make a kilogram of tamale dough, which is a little over two pounds.
To teach us how to prepare them step-by-step, she decided to make rajas con queso [chili slices with cheese] tamales over corn husks.
First, she left about 30 corn husks soaking in water for about 20 minutes, so they aren't stiff when spreading the dough on them. Then, she started folding the dough. Which can be purchased at the store and it is called ready-made tamale dough. She then mixes in the lard, baking soda, water and salt.
For every kilo of dough, she adds 3 teaspoons of baking soda and about half a pound of lard, which she likes to heat for a while over the stove so it softens. Then, she adds about two cups water, and adds the salt as she tastes the dough.
One thing she does differently is avoiding mixing spices into the dough, especially cumin, which is widely used in the U.S.
One of the beliefs she follows is that only one person mixes the dough. Some believe that when it is mixed by more than one person, the dough "gets cut."
She usually prepares the dough in an hour.
Some people believe dough can be judged to be ready by putting a ball of dough in a water-filled glass; if it floats, it's done.
While one person folds the dough, another one can start drying the corn husks. Another person can cut the serrano chilies and about three packages of queso fresco. When the husks are ready, you can start spreading the dough over them, then add the filling (chillies, queso, pork, etc.) and wrap them over.
Other belief Mariela follows is that only one person arranges the tamales in the steaming pot. Some people say they won't taste as good if more people are involved.
Lorena Flores is a member of the Al Día staff.