Recipe provided by Simon Bryant
Tamales are a traditional Latin American dish, used by the ancient Aztec and Maya peoples to feed armies and travellers. They are made from masa lista (maize flour with limewater added), which is rehydrated and cooked with vegies and seasoning, then wrapped in a corn husk parcel. I was curious to learn how to make them and convinced a local restaurateur, Caesar Aguillar, to teach me a few tricks. He invited me to his home for a cooking lesson, followed by an unexpected invite to dinner and a glimpse of how El Salvadoreans share their table. It was an amazing experience, and it reminded me just how lucky we are in Australia to have food and people from just about every corner of the world to enrich our lives and kitchens.The last of the season's corn, still around in early autumn, is ideal here. Look for big cobs with plenty of husk intact. When corn is plentiful, I set aside a few husks to dry every time I use a cob, then chuck them in a 50°C fan-forced (70°C conventional) oven for a few hours and store the dried husks in an airtight container until I get a tamale craving. This way I can still make tamales when corn is long gone and just season the masa with different vegies. Alternatively, you can buy pre-dried husks from Mexican grocers, where you'll also find masa lista.
3 corn cobs, husks stripped and reserved
100 g grated cheddar or crumbled feta
1 cup (180 g) masa lista
Salt flakes and cracked
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red onion diced
500g cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 bunch coriander, leaves and stems chopped
Juice of 2 limes
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 long green chilli seeded and finely chopped
Small pinch of sweet paprika
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Strip the corn kernels from 2 of the cobs by snapping them in half and running your knife down the cob. Lightly crush the kernels with a rolling pin or potato masher, then mix together with the cheese, masa lista and 3 cups (750 ml) of water; the mixture should be like stiff mashed potato. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Place it in a small heavy-based saucepan over very low heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, to create a soft dough. It should be fairly dry but not crumbly.
Lightly oil a fresh corn husk with the vegetable oil. (If youre using dried husks, rehydrate them first in warm water and pat dry before oiling.) Spread
a heaped tablespoon of the masa mixture over the thick end of the husk, and wrap it up into a matchbox-sized parcel. Place another oiled husk perpendicular to the first one and wrap it up again to seal the sides. Tie the parcel with a fine strip of husk. Repeat with the remaining mixture and husks to make 12 tamales.
Place a large tiered steamer over a large saucepan of simmering water. Place the tamales in the steamer, then cover and steam for 20“25 minutes. Remove the steamer from the pan. Allow the tamales to sit for 5“10 minutes to finish steaming and to cool a fraction.
Meanwhile, blacken the remaining corn cob on a dry char-grill plate or pan over high heat. Turn the cob regularly, as it will go from blackened to completely burnt very quickly. You just need to achieve a smoky flavour and create a few black contact spots on the kernels. Leave the corn cob to cool slightly, then strip the kernels with a knife. Place them in a bowl along with the remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt. Combine to make a salsa.
Arrange three tamales on each plate with the salsa alongside.
Serves 4 (makes 12 parcels)