Monday, December 19, 2011


Having promised an old family recipe for tamales previously in Never a Year without Tamales, I'm delivering on the promise now, just in time for Christmas.  As you will see in the ingredients section, ahem...yes, there is manteca (lard), I'm afraid. I do apologize for this, there's just no other way. Once a year is not going to hurt you, right? Be not and be merry and celebrate with these very special tamales.

Also, I feel I need to make a disclaimer about the work involved in making tamales. It will take you two days. And the first time they may not turn the way you want. You may have to "practice." On the positive side, it's a beautiful family tradition to cultivate. At this time, far flung relatives, young and old, will get together in one house and begin the tamalada, chatting, laughing, and sharing stories of the past and present, finally sitting down for a feast in the spirit of the season. (Photographs courtesy of Laura Lee)


Recipe Type: Entree, Main

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 16 hours

Cook time: 5 hours

Total time: 21 hours

Serves: 10

The recipe calls for a masa, (dough) purchased from Fiesta, a well known Houston chain of grocery stores selling Mexican products. This dough is fresh corn dough, nixtamal, but you can make your own corn masa following the instructions in a package of instant corn flour like Maseca, for example.


  • 10-12 dozen:

  • 6.0 lbs. Roast Pork if doing only pork tamales and/or portion of venison, if you are lucky enough to have some

  • 10 lbs. Masa (buy the freshly made from Fiesta. It comes in a 10 lb. Plastic bag)

  • You will just need to flavor it with salt, lard and pork stock)

  • 2 tubs Armour Lard (1 lb.ea.)

  • 12 chile anchos (shiny ones)

  • 2 bags corn husks (6oz.bags ea.) or 1 lb. bag

  • 1 box black raisins 15 oz.

  • 1 tsp. Cumin

  • 5 Garlic cloves

  • Salt




  1. On medium heat, begin cooking the pork in a deep pan of salted water and 2 garlic cloves (about 2 tsp. salt).

  2. Also cook the venison in a separate deep pan with 1 garlic clove and the salt.

  3. Cook about 2-1/2 –3 hours or until the meat flakes off easily with a knife.

  4. Save the stock from the pork. It will be used later.

  5. Discard the stock from the venison. S

  6. et the meat aside to cool off.


  1. Use gloves to remove the seeds from the chiles.

  2. Boil them in a pan of water.

  3. Cook until skin begins to come off.

  4. They will turn a pinkish color. (Do not rub your eyes!) You do not need to pull the skin off the chiles.

  5. Put chiles in the blender or food processor with 1-1/2 garlic cloves.

  6. Add stock from the pork pan.

  7. Blend into the sauce. The sauce should not be very thick or very watery, just somewhere in the middle. It will be added to the meat.

  8. Once the meat is done, chop up very very fine (use a cleaver) and cook together in approx. ¾-1 cup lard in a frying pan with the chile ancho sauce.

  9. Add one level tsp. of cumin.

  10. Add more stock and salt to taste.

  11. Add enough stock so it’s like a picadillo, a little bit watery.



  1. Put corn husks in warm water and let soak for a couple of hours, then rinse and separate.

  2. MASA (10 lbs)

  3. Put masa in large bowl and begin to knead with 1/8 cup salt, 1 cup lard and add pork stock little by little to make soft.

  4. Keep kneading and add a little meat to add color.

  5. Add more lard and salt to taste; you will build biceps doing this.


  1. Spread masa all the way to the edge of each corn husk thinly, as if you were spreading peanut butter.

  2. Add meat in a thin strip, not in center of tamal, but closer to the side that will be rolled first. Then dot with 3 or 4 raisins and roll up.

  3. Use a tamal pot purchased from Fiesta.

  4. This pot will have a steamer lid in it. Fill with water up to the line where the steamer lid goes.

  5. If you do not have a tamal pot, get a very large deep pan, measure ahead of time how many cups of water it will take to fill up one inch inside of pan.

  6. Then dump the water out of the pan. Line bottom of pan with a few left over corn husks. Start filling pan with tamales, standing up.

  7. This can be done easiest by leaning them against one another.

  8. Once you have a pot full of standing up tamales, add the number of cups of water you had counted before to the pan.

  9. Place damp cloth over tamales, cover, bring to boil and then reduce to medium heat. Tamales should be ready in about 1-1/2 hours. However if you have another layer of tamales standing on top of the first layer, it will take approx. 3 hours to cook.

  10. If you have masa left over and no more meat, fry a can of refried beans and make tamales with that.

  11. If you still have masa left over, you can make sweet tamales.

  12. Add sugar to the masa to taste, along with 2-3 crushed cinnamon sticks.

  13. Make a little ball with the dough, add some raisins, flatten the ball of dough a bit and fold a corn husk around it.


*Get the masa that is already prepared at Fiesta and buy it on the same day you are spreading it on the corn husks.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Camotes con Leche

Being a teacher at a boys' school where we sit at the table with our students for lunch, I have an unusual opportunity to observe the appetites of these hungry boys. There are those boys who are willing to eat the meals prepared by the school staff, which on most days are healthy, tasty, and presented appetizingly. Then there are the boys who perplex me with their fixation on eating the same cold sandwich of processed meat, rubbery cheese or a limp peanut butter and jelly, day after day. To me the question is whether this is nature or nurture. Does early exposure to different foods, their natural colors, textures, and smells make a difference for a child's developing appetite? Is it like a second language where if you get it early enough, you internalize it?

I am not a nutritionist, a pediatrician, nor a child psychologist, so I'm left to ponder this. I do know that as a child of my generation and region (the border to Mexico), I had no choice but to eat food in its most natural state. My mother didn't have the choice of reaching into a pantry filled with several varieties of Corn Flakes, Fruit Loops, or Lucky Charms; and actually, I'm thankful for that. In the winter, our breakfast might be atole de avena or maís. Another favorite was a poached egg in its shell with the top broken off (to be used as its own cup) with salt and pepper stirred into it with a toothpick. Not to be beaten for its basic simplicity was the baked sweet potato smashed into a bowl of cold milk my mother often served us. The texture of the sweet potato, or camote, as it is called in nahuatl, was smooth and creamy; the color was bright orange or straw colored and the taste of the cold milk against the steamy-hot sweet potato created an odd hot/cold sensation that added to the magic of this taste.

As it turns out, many nutritionists, including those at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) believe that the single most important dietary change for children would be to replace fatty foods with foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as...yes...the very plain and simple camotes we ate when we were little. According to the CSPI, sweet potatoes are considered at the top of the nutritional scale among vegetables. They are high in dietary fiber with naturally occurring sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.

So, I submit that eating well doesn't need to be complicated, and teaching your child to be curious about food doesn't have to be impossible. And starting early is key. But, as a caveat, I would also venture to say that, for your three year old, the presence of colorful boxes and bags in your pantry might possibly be too much competition. Or maybe not.

Camotes con Leche

Recipe Type: Breakfast

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 1 hour 30 mins

Total time: 1 hour 35 mins

Serves: 4


  • Sweet potatoes, whatever quantity you prefer

  • Milk, to add to the bottom of your bowl of hot, smashed sweet potatoes


  1. Bake the sweet potatoes at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or more, until they are completely soft and the peel begins to separate from the sweet potato

  2. Spoon some of the sweet potato into a bowl of milk and smash it so that it more or less blends with the milk.


I prefer to buy the thin purple skinned sweet potatoes in the belief they are sweeter and faster to bake since they're not huge.
Bake a large quantity and keep them in foil in your refrigerator for up to a week until you're ready to heat them quickly in the oven.