Blue Corn into Tamales

A dream come to fruition!
Last summer we grew some corn for drying, Hopi Blue corn. It was a beautiful sight to see and hear rustling and it didn’t start turning blue until very close to maturity. Some of the ears were a good ten inches with straight rows of hard dark blue kernels. They were difficult to take off the cob. Next year I will have a pair of undyed leather gloves to make it easier on my hands. There’s probably a “machine” to do the work, but I don’t think I’ll go that route.
Hopi Blue Corn

The process for making nixtamal, or the corn-y mash used to make tortillas and tamales, is somewhat mystical… or so it seems. Actually, it was pretty easy to do the work, but not so easy to find the information. I wanted to take the dried corn we grew ourselves last summer…

… and turn it into something that wouldn’t crack a tooth… festival food… after all, Cinco de Mayo is my and my honey’s anniversary, this year being 23! So, naturally, tamales were obvious! I’m not going to give you the recipe, instead I am giving you the links to where I got my information. It’s a whole lot easier for both of us, I promise I’m not trying to cop out. I have wanted to do this process for so long, and now that I finally have, it’s a lot easier than it seemed. We had already ground some of the blue corn to make cornbread, and not only did it taste out of this world, it stayed blue after baking. Basically, one pound of dried corn will give you up to two pounds of nixtamal, which for us made ten tamales.
The first step after getting the kernels off the cob is to bring the corn slowly to a boil with some pickling lime, sometimes called “slaked lime” or “cal”. It’s not hard to find, I got mine at the Co-op.
soaking the corn kernals
As you can see from the photo above, it sort of turns the corn yellow, but do not be deceived, these tamales are definitely blue. After bringing slowly to a boil, you shut the heat off, cover, and leave till the next day. It smells pretty good, intensely corn-y. The next day the corn is rinsed, rinsed, rinsed in lukewarm water. The husks did not come off whole, but more or less dissolved. I have read that the blue type of corn is easier to process, but this is my first try. At this point you can now use the corn as hominy, which I guess it is. Mmmm, Posole Soup!
Next you have to whip the lard. I actually forgot about the lard (we live out of town and a trip to the store and back puts on 50 miles), could have got some good stuff at the health food store, but we got lucky. Our friend Sue keeps her freezer at our place (she lives off-grid) and she happened to have several jars of bear grease – that is bear fat rendered down just like pig fat, into lard. Pure white odorless and very clean flavored, it was just the thing!

Of course, a tamal has to have a filling, and I didn’t need a recipe for that. I simply used several types of roasted chiles, a zucchini, and some onion, simmered it down, and added it to a grilled pork tenderloin. I know, I know, shoulder or butt is traditional. This is what we had, and with the fat in the masa, we didn’t need extra in the filling.

Did I mention the pork?

So this is what it looks like coming together. You will notice I also forgot to get corn husks, but parchment paper worked fine. No, not traditional, but it still worked. Rolling it together was a bit of a challenge, as was tying the string around the little package.

I told you the corn mush, or “nixtamal”, was going to be blue!

All dressed up and headed for hot water! Diana Kennedy’s book, The Cuisines of Mexico, recommended that the tamales be upright and rather snug in their steamer. I had to improvise by tying the steamer basket partially closed so it could fit in the taller pot… improvise, compromise, it’s all good!

I’m so-o-o-o glad I read through the recipe early enough, because the tamales have to steam for over 2 hours. Yes, two, at least. I had no idea until around 3pm, good thing! “Do as I say, not as I do.”

As you can see from the photo above, the bright blue is somewhat subdued now, almost homogenous with the filling. But make no mistake, they are anything but boring.

Equal parts guacamole (which itself is almost half cilantro) and refried beans, and we had a meal fit for a muchacho and muchacha who are still very much in love… with good Mexican food.

And each other, always and forever.

Twenty-three years and just getting started!