Lupita’s Homemade Cheese and Pepper Tamales
My nana is Polish, my papa is Italian, but I also have an abuela. No, I’m not Mexican by birth, nor by rearing (though most of my friends growing up were); one of my mother’s best friends, Margo, who has been an aunt to me since the day I was born, provided me kinship, advice, love, support, and this recipe.
Margo’s mother, Lupita, invited our family over years ago on a cool, fall afternoon to reveal to us the seemingly insurmountable task of making tamales. Lupita carefully guided us through the process, vigilantly correcting our mistakes the way grandmothers tend to do.
Spreading the masa against corn husks, ours seemed so sloppy in comparison and we were sure that, at best, we were coloring outside of the lines. But when we pulled our tamales out of the steaming basket and opened them up, we found perfection underneath each husk. Lupita had guided us to success.
Some years later–this year–my family invited another family–my (Polish) great aunt Pat and uncle Tony–to make tamales. We also invited Margo, who told us she’d be unable to attend because she was, as she often is, hosting a guest from another country.
As it turned out, Margo did come and she brought her Costa Rican guest, Mama Tica, with her her to watch over this, our second time making tamales. Our teacher and her guest were pleased.
Some of these ingredients may be hard to find if you shop at a big-box grocery in a non-hispanic neighborhood. Find your local “ethnic market,” as they are often called, and these ingredients should be easy to find. (Hint: the pre-made masa will be refrigerated, the cornmeal masa–treated with lime–will be in the baking isle).
Makes about 50
- 1 package corn husks
- 1/4 cup vegetable stock
- 5 lb masa
- 8 poblano peppers (chef’s choice!)
- 2 lb chihuahua cheese
- 20 small-medium tomatillos
- 2 seeded jalepenos, diced
- Soak cornhusks overnight (or for at least 4 hours)
- In a stand mixer, beat masa until fluffy, adding stock slowly. Beat for 5 to 10 minutes. (Masa test: masa is ready when you drop a tiny bit of masa in a glass of water; it should float to the top.) Set aside.
- Slice and clean poblano peppers; fry in 2 tbsp corn oil until soft. Set aside.
- Boil tomatillos until soft. Blend cooked tomatillos and jalepeno; mix with peppers.
- Slice or cube cheese.
- To assemble: using a spoon, place a heaping tablespoon of masa on corn husk, spreading on wide end. Leave a bit of space from the widest edge, and leave about 2 inches of space at top edge for folding over. Place a spoonful of cheese and a few peppers in the middle of the masa. Wrap the sides of tamale over one another, then fold down the top. This video makes this process a little more clear.
- Once you’ve assembled all tamales, start a large pot to boil.
- Grab your steamer basket. Assemble tamales into steamer basket, folded end down (you may need to do two batches).
- Once water is boiling, place steamer basket in pot; cover with pot lid or a towel and steam for 1 or 1 1/2 hours. (When masa is cooked and husks begin to separate, your tamales are done).
- Serve warm!