The countdown to Cinco De Mayo starts today. And what better way to kick it off than with a basic tamales recipe. For advice, we look to the excellent Mexican chef Roberto Santibañez, whose Brooklyn restaurant Fonda is the go-to haute Mexican spot for in-the-know New Yorkers. 

Here, he lays out his recipe for tamales. There are a fair amount of steps, but follow the instructions carefully and you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying, versatile side dish or snack that can put your hot sauce to use. 

These packets of masa dough, which can be wrapped in corn husks, banana leaves, and many other things, deserve an entire book of their own. But for now, you’ll have to settle for this great recipe, which you can use to make a variety of tamales by filling them with the delicious leftovers from your adobo- and mole-making adventures and topping them with whatever salsa you’d like. Tamales also make a great stand-in for rice, potatoes, or other starchy sides when you’re serving a saucy dish. Be sure to get dried masa that’s specifically called tamal flour because it’s a bit coarser than the kind you’d use to make tortillas.