Stephan Pyles isn’t sure which he likes more: eating tamales or making them. These little packages of light corn flour dough embracing a filling of spiced meat, vegetables, or cheese are among his favorite foods. The dough is fluffy, tender, and sweet with the flavor of corn, and the savory filling punctuates each bite. Traditionally wrapped, steamed, and served in rehydrated cornhusks, tamales resemble party favors. That’s appropriate, because tamales, which come from Mexico, are often part of celebrations. The preparation of tamales is almost as important as the event itself, a tradition that has crossed over into the United States; at Christmastime, on both sides of the border, you can find friends and family packed into the kitchen, gossiping and turning out tamales assembly-line style.
Starting with the dough, he takes us through the steps of building a tamale. He stresses that even the dough can take in extra flavoring in the form of fresh vegetable or herb purées. Then he prepares fillings (his favorites include chicken, venison, beef, black beans, sweet potatoes, cheese, and sautéed, grilled, or smoked vegetables). The next step involves cornhusk wrappers, and Pyles is at your side to tell you what to do with this unfamiliar material at every step. A series of photographs shows you how to fill and wrap and tie up a tamale. Recipes include: Basic Tamale Dough; Sweet Potato Filling; Fresh Corn & Cheese Filling; and Spicy Beef Filling.