The recipes you will find here are an exclusive preview of Western Spinster Magazine’s forthcoming new book “Cheap, Fast and Easy Cookbook: Delicious, Healthy and Gluten-Free.” This book will come out at an indeterminate date in the distant future.
You don’t have to have a lot of time or money to eat delicious food packed with nutrition. Once you know the fundamentals of how to keep your pantry stocked, and the basic order that you prepare and cook the ingredients, it will all begin to fall into place. A sign of true cooking success is when you can combine and contrast flavors, and use texture and color to create truly delicious recipes from scratch. These are my priorities in cooking, and I think you will see that I like highly seasoned foods.
Most of these recipes are low in dairy products, animal products and sugar. None contains gluten from wheat, oats, rye or barley, or any other gluten byproducts such as malt, maltodextrin or modified food starch. They make use of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes as much as possible. If there are no fresh fruits and vegetables in the recipe, they should be served on the side. If you want to be strong, you must be healthy.
F E A T U R E D R E C I P E S
1 cup lentils
1 heaping Tablespoon coriander
1 heaping Tablespoon cumin
1 heaping Tablespoon bouillon, “Knorr Caldo con Sabor de Tomate Y Chipotle Bouillon”
1 teaspoon Chipotle (spicyness varies by batch, so test picante level by adding half at first.)
4 cubes ‘Knorr MiniCubos Cilantro Sazonadores’ AKA “MiniCubes Cilantro Seasoning”
20 oz. can crushed tomatoes
Add lentils to a medium pot, and add enough water to cover them with 3 inches water. Make a note of the water level, you will be maintaining the same water level in the finished result. On medium heat, boil lentils for 30 minutes, monitoring water level so that lentils do not stick to the bottom or burn. If the lentils are no longer fully submerged, add more water. Continue boiling until about half of the lentils have lost their outer covering and become a fibrous pulp, and the other half of lentils still have their outer covering intact, about 45 minutes total cooking time.
If needed, add more water at about 45 minutes to maintain the original level of water. Add remaining spices, seasoning and canned crushed tomatoes, and cook for another 10 minutes. Can be eaten as a soup, or served over rice or quinoa.
Tamales: Pine Nut and Cheddar or Zucchini and Cheddar
“Creada Por Lobos” Tamales!
The corn dough (masa) for these tamales already contains seasoning, so there is no need to put additional salsa on top, making these the ideal brown bag lunch or quick meal. Tamales freeze well, so you can use them over the course of the next several months for a quick meal. Steam for 20 minutes until hot; or microwave, preferably in a microwave steamer, for 3 to 5 minutes depending on the microwave. Serve alongside vegetables of your choice, and optionally top with salsa and or cheese. PLEASE NOTE: This is a very large recipe, making 200 tamales or more, and it requires a day or more of preparation time.
Pine nut and cheddar filling is easily adaptable – add your favorite vegetables, such as diced carrots, sliced mushrooms, black beans, or anything you like.
Zucchini and cheese filling, once it is cooked, is a creamy, scrumptious and delicately seasoned alternative to green corn tamales.
Calculations for different number of servings are at the end of this post.
This is the basic process:
1) Prepare the masa by mixing wet and dry ingredients until you have the consistency of moist cookie dough.
2) Prepare the filling by mixing all filling ingredients thoroughly.
3) Spoon the masa on the corn husk, top with filling, and roll up so that masa is fully contained and no masa or filling is visible. If there is any masa visible, it will seep out while cooking.
4) Steam for an hour and a half.
You will need:
— 4 or 5 packs of dried corn husks (Get the largest size husks available – I prefer Mojave brand which usually has husks at least the size of two hand widths x length, or Palenque brand.)
— (If available) 200 parchment paper tamale wrappers (parchment para tamales, Mojave brand is most common)
— 1 or 2 large steamers, if available the very large steamers made for tamales, about 2 feet high and a foot and a half across.
Masa – for approximately 200 tamales
7 cups real butter
3.5 cups Crisco, butter flavor (For true decadence use real butter.)
4 tablespoons normal table salt
18 oz garlic powder
20 to 30 cups broth or vegetarian stock (depending on humidity. In desert climates, use 30. In humid climates start at 20 & add as needed.)
6 tablespoons chipotle powder, or other mild chile powder
2 tablespoons paprika (or more, for color)
9 cups sharp cheddar, grated (4 cups = 1 lb.)
36 cups masa harina (Approx. 3 bags; 1 heaping yogurt tub at 32 oz. = 4 cups, so 9 yogurt tubs)
Vegetable, pine nut & cheddar filling, mild* – approx. 100 tamales
6.75 cups frozen sweet corn (approx 32 oz. bag)
15 to 20 minced garlic cloves
3 cups dry roasted unsalted pine nuts
10-12 serannos, or other mild fresh peppers (half of them diced, half sliced and set aside.)
12 cups (3 lbs) sharp cheddar, grated
+ optionally a few cups of your favorite vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, French cut green beans, olives, small tomatoes, etc.)
*NOTE: If you like things very spicy – I do – add an ADDITIONAL 8 tablespoons chipotle and 8 oz garlic powder to the above filling recipe. OR, for midrange spicy add an additional 4 tablespoons chipotle and 4 oz garlic powder to the above filling recipe.
Zucchini & cheese filling – approx. 100 tamales
12 pounds fresh zucchini, grated
4 tablespoons normal table salt
4 cups chopped mild green chile, preferably Anaheim, New Mexican or a blend of several
8 tablespoons minced onion
4 tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups cheddar, grated
Measure twice, mix once!
I apologize in advance if you feel that I am being overly pedantic, but because of the investment of time and ingredients, tamales are not something that you can just throw together. With such large quantities, it is easy to get distracted and lose track of how many cups or ounces you have mixed in. Everyone has done it. Keep in mind how much better it would be to measure ingredients twice before you put together your final product, than to spend all that time, effort and money and then come out with a tamale that is no good, or even bad. This way you can be sure that your batch of tamales will taste great!
Be sure to read the entire recipe before beginning. Everyone has their own way of making tamales, often perfected over generations. This recipe is detailed and explains why I do each step, so that you can make tamales that have the same taste and texture as those that I make. Making tamales is not quick. If you are tempted to skip a few steps, you can make an informed decision based on the information here. If you ever have any tamale-making innovations, or ideas for better efficiency, please let me know!
For best results, if I am making them on my own, I like to block out two full days to make 200 or 400 tamales, or three evenings/nights. Assembly line production and making several hundred at a time makes the process less labor intensive. Collect a few movies and a few friends for the fun of it!
I like to make the masa the day before so that it has time to fully expand, and then chill in the refrigerator, which makes it easier to mold and less sticky on your hands. On medium heat, add 20 to 30 cups stock to a very large stock pot. Here in Tucson where the humidity hovers around 10 percent, add the full 30 cups of stock. In Northern California, I tend to only need 20 cups stock. *If you are not sure,* start with 20 cups and you can add more broth as needed to the dough. Add the butter and Crisco, sliced into pieces, to the hot water. Add half of each of full measurements of the garlic powder (for 200, half is 9 oz), the chipotle powder (for 200, half is 3 tablespoons), and the paprika (for 200, half is 1.5 teaspoon). Continue heating on medium until the butter and Crisco is melted. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from flame and set aside.
In a very large plastic bowl – I like to use the large tubs from the dollar store that are at least a couple of feet across – add the dry ingredients: the masa harina, grated cheddar, and the remaining garlic powder, chipotle powder and paprika. Mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended to distribute spices. The liquid ingredients should be cool enough to touch but still warm now. Wearing rubber gloves or with thoroughly cleaned hands, slowly blend the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. For the smoothest results, add one cup at a time, then mix thoroughly, repeat until all of the liquid is mixed in. Or you may want to add a quarter of the pot at a time, mix, and repeat. Once masa is fully cooled, the end result should have the texture of moist cookie dough. You should be able to form it into balls that are not so dry that they fall apart, and are not so wet that they cover your hands with sticky mixture. If it is not the right consistency, add small amounts of broth or more masa harina as needed. Once you have achieved the right consistency and it is fully cooled down, put the masa into plastic bags and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. You can use it immediately after it is mixed, but it tends to be more messy to work with, and the masa harina has not fully expanded, so your tamales may not get as light and fluffy. Now is a good time to have a break!
To prepare the corn husks, soak them covered by hot water in a large plastic tub, bucket, or the kitchen sink. Since corn husks naturally float, you may need to weigh them down with something heavy, such as a stack of dinner plates. After 30 or 40 minutes they should be softened and pliable. Separate them and rinse them with clean water, being sure to remove any dried corn silk or other debris. Put them back into fresh warm water, and sort them by size into three piles: largest, medium-sized (at least the length and width of your hand), and too small to do anything with. Return each sorted pile, except for the smallest, to the warm water to soak until ready for use.
To retain freshness, prepare the filling for 100 tamales at a time. I describe below how to prepare the pine nut and cheese filling, which can be frozen until ready for use.
If you are adding any special vegetables, chop, dice or slice them into the correct size. Of course you can use a food processor, but be careful that vegetables are just barely chopped and that they are not pureed into a mush or become too liquidly. For best results, you will want to chop vegetables by hand. Carrots, canned mushrooms or olives, frozen French cut green beans, and small tomatoes, are especially delicious.
When chopping the chiles, be sure to wear rubber gloves and do not touch your eyes or face. Even if they are mild chiles, the spiciness is cumulative and can really burn your skin! Slice the whole chiles one cut lengthwise, carefully remove and discard the seeds, then slice the chilies crosswise, creating a ring. This way you can add one or two chile slices to each tamale, and they will look very attractive: two circles of green. Be sure to slice carrots small enough to cook thoroughly. Halve them lengthwise, then thinly slice each. Purists will appreciate this extra effort! On the other hand, if you are in a hurry and preparing tamales for your own consumption, frozen peas and carrots also work well. Put chopped vegetables into separate bowls, and set aside.
Once you have chopped all vegetables, in an extra-large bowl or tub, mix all filling ingredients described in the ingredient list above. (For 100 vegetable, Pinenut and Cheddar tamales: 6.75 cups corn, 15-20 minced garlic cloves, 3 cups pine nuts, 5-6 serannos, 12 cups cheddar. You are including the diced chilies, but not the portion that are sliced) Mix well to ensure that all the filling is evenly coated with the spices. Do not add the sliced chiles, and any liquidy ingredients such as canned vegetables. Liquidy ingredients will make the cheese soggy, and it will go bad faster. Divide the filling into two bags and put in the freezer, to maintain freshness. If you leave the filling out at room temperature, the cheese can harden or become soggy.
If you were not able to locate unsalted dry roasted pine nuts, you can dry roast raw pine nuts yourself. On low heat, add a cup or two of raw pine nuts to a frying pan. Cast iron pans are best since they heat evenly. While stirring regularly, roast until they have darkened slightly, but are not burnt. They burn quickly, so watch them carefully and remove from the flame and pour into a bowl as soon as they start to change color. They will continue to cook even after you have taken them out of the frying pan, and you can’t toss water on them like you do to cool down pasta, so be sure to roast them with care. Roasted pine nuts make the whole house smell great.
To prepare the masa, use a level ice cream scoop to form balls of masa, and place in a large bowl and cover. Alternately, you can roll out the masa with a rolling-pin and cut into squares the size of the ice cream scoop. You will want them all to be the same size so that they cook uniformly without having to sort them by size while they are cooking. You don’t want to overcook some while others are raw. Cover and set aside masa balls or place in the refrigerator.
Now clear up a good workspace that will comfortably fit all bowls of ingredients, tamale wrappers, trays to stack the complete tamales, and people. Have towels, a couple of sharpie permanent markers, and maybe scissors handy.
Hold a large corn husk flat on one hand, smooth side up, with the cut side towards you and the tapered side facing away from you. Notice that one side of the corn husk is textured and one side is smooth. If you accidentally put the tamale on the textured side, it will stick. (You may, depending on the size of the corn husks, need to overlap two husks to form one tamale. This is where the medium-sized corn husks are useful. Spread the masa over the husks, as if they were one.) Take one masa ball and spread it over the smooth side of the husk, stopping short of any edges, and keeping most of the masa on the right side of the corn husk. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of the masa, and top with some of the extra vegetables of your choice, such as two slices of chile, and/or a handful of mushrooms. Make sure that the dough’s edges meet to enclose all of the filling. Secure the tamale by rolling it up to the right, so that the edge of the husk on the left not covered in masa overlaps around the tamale to the right. The tapered end of the husk will be pointing away from you and the cut side of the husk will be facing towards you, exposing the tamale inside. Fold down the tapered end over the top of the tamale, towards you. Now repeat the procedure with a parchment paper tamale wrapper, so that the loose tail of corn husk is secured down, and the open end of the tamale is encased in the parchment paper. The tamale should be fully encased in either husk or parchment paper, there should be no exposed masa or filling that may leak out during cooking. Gently press down on the tamale to make it more or less uniformly long and oval-shaped so that it cooks evenly. Do not wrap it tightly in either the husk or the paper, since it will need space to expand. You may want to use a permanent marker pen to write what kind of filling is inside. Repeat the procedure until all the filling and masa is used.
An alternate wrapping method, especially if you want the tamales to cook faster, is to spread the masa evenly on the entire corn husk, then spread the filling on most of the corn husk. Roll up the tamale from one side to the other so that the corn husk separates the masa by thin spiral layer, and if you took a cross-section of the tamale, it would be curled around the center in a spiral like a snail-shell. The tamale is cooked in thin, delicious layers wrapped around the tamale center, snail-shell style, rather than the dumpling style tamales you find most of the time. Be sure to wrap this style of tamale carefully in parchment paper, since they tend to leak and can be more messy. Wrapped this way, the tamale will cook more quickly.
Some people prefer to use only pre-cut parchment paper to wrap tamales since it is more efficient, but I think that the corn husks add a nice flavor to the tamale, and since corn husks are slick on one side, the tamale slides right out. I think corn husks are worth it. Banana leaves are also used in some areas. They too lend a nice flavor to tamales. Parchment paper is also available in rolls, but it is less convenient since it is not pre-cut into squares.
Place the tamales in the steamer, packing them loosely. Allow enough space between them for the steam to rise effectively and for the tamales to expand. I prefer to put them in upright, and leaning on the outer edges of the pot, with the parchment paper facing up. The center of the steamer will be empty since all the tamales will be leaning outwards. Add enough water so that you won’t have to keep filling it, but that water will not touch the tamales while at a boil. You might need a flashlight to check on the water level. Add the small-sized husks and any unused medium-sized husks to cover the tamales. Cover the pot and cook over simmering water (low to medium boil) for about an hour and a half.
You will need to check the water level several times during this time, and should taste them after 45 minutes or an hour, so set a timer so that you can check regularly. Once the steamer gets very hot, you may need kitchen tongs to lift the corn husks and pull out a tester tamale.
Cook until the masa is firm and no longer sticks to the corn husk. Unwrap one tamale and check its consistency. When it is done, it will have an imprint of the corn husk and will not be sticky, but instead light and fluffy. It needs more cooking if the masa tastes gritty or grainy. It has cooked too long if the cheese is hard, the edges appear hard, and the tamale appears oily or dried out.
Test tamale and adjust seasoning as needed for the next batch. Assemble tamales until all ingredients are used. If you have any additional masa and you have used up the filling, flatten the masa with a tamale press or rolling-pin and fry up some flavorful gordita tortillas on a dry cast iron pan, or a nonstick pan. If you have some filling left over, you can freeze it to use later to make quesadillas.
Tamales should be eaten warm. When the tamales are served unadorned, corn husks are usually left on, to be removed by each guest before eating. If you decide to top the tamales with salsa and/or vegetables, the husks should be removed first. Add spoonfuls of salsa (or pesto, or spaghetti sauce, etc.), grated cheese and more pine nuts, along with vegetables to garnish.
Take a rest, eat a few tamales, then prepare the next 100 tamales.
Zucchini and cheese filling preparation
To prepare the filling, place the grated zucchini in colanders to drain. Toss the zucchini together with the salt and let it drain for at least 20 minutes. Then squeeze the zucchini with your hands to drain more of its accumulated water. If you do not do this the filling will get very mushy.
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté the green chile in it’s own juices, along with the minced onion and garlic. Cook just until the mixture is dry but not browned or caramelized. Allow to cool entirely. Stir the chile mixture and the grated cheese into the grated zucchini and mix thoroughly. You will want to assemble the tamales immediately, since this filling – with moist zucchini and cheese combined – tends to get watery and mushy very quickly. It will go bad quickly if you leave it sitting for very long. Alternately, you can mix batches of filling for 25 or 50 tamales at a time. If you are not assembling immediately, be sure to freeze this filling immediately.
Assemble and cook as described above.
Masa – for approximately 100 tamales
3.5 cups real butter
1.75 cups Crisco
2 tablespoons normal table salt
9 oz garlic powder
10 to 15 cups broth or vegetarian stock (depending on humidity. In Tucson, use 15.)
3 tablespoons chipotle powder, or other mild chile powder
1 tablespoons paprika (or more, for color)
4.5 cups sharp cheddar, grated (4 cups = 1 lb.)
18 cups masa harina (Approx. 1.5 bags; 1 heaping yogurt tub at 32 oz. = 4 cups, so 4.5 yogurt tubs)
Masa – for approximately 50 tamales
1.75 cups real butter
1 cup Crisco, butter flavor
1 tablespoons normal table salt
4.5 oz garlic powder
5 to 7.5 cups broth or vegetarian stock (depending on humidity. In Tucson, use 7.5.)
1.5 tablespoons chipotle powder, or other mild chile powder
.5 tablespoon paprika (or more, for color)
2.25 cups sharp cheddar, grated (4 cups = 1 lb.)
9 cups masa harina (Approx. .75 bag; 1 heaping yogurt tub at 32 oz. = 4 cups, so 2.25 yogurt tubs)
Vegetable, pine nut & cheddar filling, mild* – approx. 50 tamales
3.3 cups frozen sweet corn (approx half a 32 oz. bag)
7 to 10 minced garlic cloves
1.5 cups dry roasted unsalted pine nuts
5 – 6 serannos, or other mild fresh peppers (half of them diced, half sliced and set aside.)
6 cups (1.5 lbs) sharp cheddar, grated
+ optionally a few cups of your favorite vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, French cut green beans, olives, small tomatoes, etc.)
*NOTE: If you like things very spicy – I do – add an ADDITIONAL 4 tablespoons chipotle AND 4 oz garlic powder to the above filling recipe. OR, for midrange spicy add an additional 2 tablespoons chipotle AND 2 oz garlic powder to the above filling recipe.
Zucchini & cheese filling – approx. 50 tamales
6 pounds fresh zucchini, grated
2 tablespoons normal table salt
2 cups chopped mild green chile, preferably Anaheim, New Mexican or a blend of several
4 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup cheddar, grated
“Creada Por Lobos” tamales Copyright 2011 – 2014 Kelina Lobo, all rights reserved.