Thursday, July 28, 2016

Carlos's Tamales Verdes (Green Sauce Tamales)--makes about 46 tamales

Carlos's tamales verdes
My friend and neighbor Carlos makes his special delicious tamales every so often when we get together. Growing up my mother would make her bundle of tasty treats wrapped in banana leaves or bamboo leaves but never in corn husks. Carlos graciously shared with me his Mexican family recipe from a cookbook that one of his sisters had compiled for him and his dear late wife Cindy for their wedding gift. Carlos uses stock in the corn flour instead of water for his masa. He has always used dried corn husks to wrap his tamales. According to him some people use banana leaves but he never did because they were not available. Carlos's tamales recipe calls for soaking the dried husks in very hot water for 30 to 60 minutes. I must admit I boiled the heck out of them prior to using since I don't trust how they were dried. I hate to write this but they may have been dried on the street for all I know! Although he does not do this, some people take time to tie up the ends with thin strips from the husk to make them look pretty. I prefer to take this extra step by tying up the ends not just for presentation but to secure them. They resemble little gift packages when you serve them! Carlos lines the finished tamales up in a vertical position in a pot to steam--this method works well as the heat distributes evenly during cooking.

I had never made tamales until a month ago. For the first experimental batch I saved the husks from boiling a few fresh corn cobs. They worked great as a wrap--supple, easy to use, pretty and even provide a subtle corn flavor. I tweaked with the filling and masa by adding bone marrow and substituted garlic cloves with garlic leaves. The next day I made another batch and added a little bone marrow to the filling along with fish sauce and sugar. After cooking the pork I had some extra liquid. I made a gravy with the liquid by adding a little cornstarch to thicken it. I drizzled a little of this yummy gravy on the tamales. Tasty! 

This recipe that I am posting is from a third and most recent batch. I made these slightly larger than the first 2 batches. These took about 25-30 minutes of steaming time to cook. Instead of using garlic leaves this time I use garlic cloves due to easy availability for most people. I also use pork butts and pork bellies with some fat and skin for extra flavors and to ensure the pork will not get dry. Fresh ingredients such as tomatillos may not always be available at your local grocery. I bought a can made by Goya. Carlos's recipe did not call for fresh cilantro leaves, scallions, ground coriander, fish sauce, sugar or bone marrow. His recipe did call to add a dash of baking soda which I left out.

For the first 2 experimental batches I saved some in a freezer for Carlos. He is one of the top pilots for a large airline. Once back from one of his exotic destinations he thawed the tamales and steamed them until they are soft. I was surprised when he told me that some people actually make a gravy to drizzle on top! And here I thought I just discovered something grand! According to him people make sweet tamales for desserts. At Christmas time some people add a red color in the masa to mark that it is a dessert. Thank you Carlos and your family for sharing this recipe with me and my readers!

tamales from 1st batch
tamales verdes using fresh corn husks (from 1st batch)
tamales verdes with hydrated dried corn husks (from 2nd batch)
tamales verdes using fresh corn husks (from 3rd batch)
Carlos's Tamales Verdes (Green Sauce Tamales)--makes about 46 tamales

tamales pork filling
Tamales Pork Filling:


2.46 lbs pork belly bone in (this has skin, pork, bone and fat)
2.60 lbs bone pork butts
1 6-inch beef (0.88 lb) marrow bone
1 long hot chili pepper, seeds removed (add more if you prefer spicier)
1 can (26 oz) whole tamatillos, drained or 15 fresh tomatillos, cut into quarters
A handful of young cilantro leaves (about 1/2 cup chopped)
2 large scallions, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, smashed, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin, plus 1/2 tsp to be used later
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
5 cups water (or enough to cover the meat)
1 Tbsp fish sauce


1) Boil the pork belly and pork butts in at least a 5 1/2 quart (preferably in a cast iron or Dutch oven) for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
2) Once the meat is cool enough to handle (or may rinse with cold water to cool it down quickly) scrape the skin and remove any hair with tweezers.
3) Wash the meat pieces well and put them back in a clean pot.
4) Add chili pepper, tamatillos, cilantro leaves, scallions, onion, garlic, 2 teaspoons cumin, coriander, salt and pepper to the pot. Pour enough water to cover the meat.
5) Use medium high heat to cook everything. Once the liquid starts to come to a boil turn heat down low to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for about 1 1/2 hour or until the meat is tender and breaks apart easily with a fork.
6) Turn heat off and let the pot sits on the stove to cool down. Remove the meat from the pot and shred the meat. Chop the skin and fat.
7) Use a strainer to separate the solid pieces from the liquid (there should be about 6 cups of liquid--save this to make the masa) left in the pot.
8) Puree the solid pieces (about 3 cups) until well blended.
9) Pour the pureed mixture with the shredded pork in a large pan. Add about 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and about 1 tablespoon of good fish sauce and cook on high heat until most of the liquid evaporates (about 30 minutes). Scoop out and discard any remaining liquid fat.

*I prefer to use a piece of meat with some fat on it. If your meat has some fat then you may omit the bone marrow.
*May use the filling right away or store in a glass container in the refrigerator. I stored mine in the refrigerator and the next day I heated it up a little in the microwave to soften it. I then seasoned with a few more pinches of salt and sugar before using.

using fresh corn husks for the tamales
Fresh Corn Husks:

Fresh husks are easy to use, a lot cheaper and probably cleaner than store bought dried husks. If you cannot wait for the tamales to be done cooking you can eat some of the cooked corns! I used butter and sugar corns. This bi-color variety is very sweet and is available in abundance during the summer months in this part of New England. This batch requires husks from 10 fresh corns. I used almost all of the husks including the thinner and light yellow ones next to the kernels.

most of the husks stripped away from the cooked corns
to be used for the tamales
Trim off the tip of each ear of corn and wash them well. Boil them for about 5 minutes. Once done remove them from the pot and let them cool. If you want to use them quickly just run cold water over them to cool faster. Trim off a little of the base with a sharp knife to help the husks come off easily and without tearing. Carefully remove the husks with your fingers. Keep the husks in a vertical position on a strainer to keep them dry. Be sure the husks are dry prior using them to wrap. May take a clean towel to dry them further if needed. Trim off any hard ends at the base since this part is too hard to use and will cause the husks to tear easily. Save the water to steam the tamales if interested.

masa for the tamales
Tamales Masa:


6 cups Masa Instantánea de Maíz (Instant Corn Masa Flour)
6 cups broth (used from cooking the filling)
2 tsp of salt


Mix the corn flour, broth and salt. A whisk or a pair of chopsticks will work fine.

*I use 1:1 ratio for flour and broth.
*I prefer to make 1/2 batch as a start using 3 cups of flour, 3 cups of broth and 1 teaspoon of salt.
This way I am not risking that it dries out during the assembling process.
*If you are lucky to have any extra broth you may make a gravy to drizzle on the cooked tamales for extra deliciousness! In a small pan, heat the broth. Once the liquid is hot add a tiny drizzle of fish sauce, a pinch of sugar and a mixture of cornstarch and cold water. Stir and remove from heat. Continue to stir until everything is smooth and thicken.  
*My friend Karen said salsa and sour cream make a delicious addition to the tamales.

To Assemble the Tamales Verdes Using Fresh Corn Husks:

Lie 1 large or 2 smaller husk (if using 2 then have them overlapping by about 1/2 inch) on the work surface.

2 husks overlapping on the surface
Spread about 2 tablespoons of masa at the center of the husks. Add about 2 tablespoons of meat filling on top of the masa. May add a drizzle of hot sauce (I used store bought Sriracha hot sauce) if you want to make it a little more spicy. May make your own hot sauce if you prefer a lot more heat.

add masa and meat
Add a little masa over the top.

finish with a little more masa
 Fold the long sides (facing you) slightly up to keep the filling inside.

fold the long sides up slightly to keep the filling inside
(almost like a canoe)
Place a small piece of husk over the masa and filling.

place a small piece of husk over the masa and filling
Fold the long sides up and then fold the ends and tuck them underneath. Break about 1/8 inch wide pieces of the husk into strings and secure the ends. This last step of tying the tamales is optional.
fold the long sides up
--fold the ends and tuck them underneath
--secure them with strings
*For the plain tamales I tied 2 strings. For the spicy tamales I tied 3 strings.
*Steam the tamales for about 25-30 minutes. May freeze them and then re-steam until soft and hot.

tamales with gravy
Yes, they were as tasty as they looked!
*After we ate some of the tamales my husband and I took a drive to York, Maine. It was a beautiful night with very clear skies and warm breeze. Below are are a few photos that I took of Nubble Light.

Nubble Light (York, Maine)--2016
Nubble Light (York, Maine)--2016

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