Let’s hear it for Mark Bittman, food writer extraordinaire and cookbook hero to all! The 10th anniversary edition of his best-selling How To Cook Everything Vegetarian focuses squarely on all things produce. From soups and salads to elegant, hearty main courses, this is the book to pick up if you’re looking to expand your repertoire. Ever had a naked tamale?
This cornhusk-free tamale loaf is for the practical cook, not the purist, though you can make the husk-wrapped variation if you want the real thing (see “Cornhusk Tamales,” opposite). Forming one large tamale in a pan is easier than shaping individual ones, which means you might make it more often.
Traditional tamales are made with lard or vegetable shortening, because the creamy texture helps make the dough light and fluffy. The first is made from animal products and the second is fine only if you use nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening made from coconut oil and/or palm oil. The best solution, though, is solidified olive oil, which whips up very nicely, has good flavor, and makes for much lighter tamales than those made with butter (another option).
Much of this recipe can be done in advance: Put the oil in the freezer, prepare the onion and pepper mixture or any of the other fillings, and even make the sauce. After that, it’ll take only a little over an hour to get the tamales on the table, and most of that time is unattended. To add more flavor to the filling, you can roast both the red peppers and poblanos (see page 228), then peel, seed, and slice, but that’s totally optional.
- 2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
- 2 onions, halved and sliced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced
- 2 poblano or Anaheim chilies, cored, seeded and sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1-2 cups vegetable stock or water, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 ounces Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, or mild cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup sliced scallions or chopped red onion for garnish
- 2 cups Salsa Roja or Red Enchilada Sauce or Fast Tomato Sauce, warmed
For the tamales
An hour or more before cooking, put 1/2 cup of the olive oil in the freezer to solidify.
Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to color, about 5 minutes more. If you’re using fresh bell peppers and chiles, add them to the pan now, along with some salt and pepper. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and compact, about 25 minutes. If you’re using roasted peppers and chiles, cover and cook the onion as just directed, then add the roasted peppers and chiles after about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat when done. (You can make the filling in advance up to this point. Cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring it to room temperature when you’re ready to proceed.)
Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease a deep 9-inch pie plate, standard loaf pan, or a 10-inch cake pan with a little more oil. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Put the masa harina in a food processor, turn on the machine, and add the stock 1/4 cup at a time until a thick paste forms. (This paste is called a masa, or dough.)
Add the frozen oil, the baking powder, and a large pinch salt. Pulse a few times. Then, with the machine running, add stock 1/4 cup at a time until the masa is the consistency of thick batter. It should take a little tap to plop off a spoon.
Spread half the masa in the prepared pan. Top with the onion-pepper filling and the cheese. Spread the remaining masa on top. Cover the pan with foil and put it in a roasting pan.
Carefully pour boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the pie plate or loaf pan. Put the whole thing in the oven and bake until the masa is solid and pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 1 hour. The tamale will keep warm for 15 minutes or so in the water bath. When you’re ready to serve, cut into slices or wedges, sprinkle with the scallions and cilantro, and pass the warm sauce at the table.