In honor of Señor Chompy’s trip to Colombia this week, I made Asian style tamales. Makes sense, no?
Shiitake mushrooms and scallions make this recipe Asian-ish, but the shining ingredient here is the authentic, bright orange, lantern-like habanero pepper, cutest of them all.
Don’t be fooled! They are spicy as all hell. I only used two in this recipe but I ended up soaking my fingers in sour cream five hours later because my fingertips were still burning. BAH. Don’t act invincible like me. Wear gloves, goggles, and a facemask while chopping these.
Okay, back to work. Mince yo mushrooms. A lot of them. This will be the base of your filling. It’s lovely to have a super sharp knife at this stage, especially if you overwash your mushrooms and they get a little soggy… oops. I employed my trusty sidekick, Richard Parker (Life of Pi, obviously), my all-purpose vegetable cleaver. Every good Chinese person has one.
Here is a better shot of Richard Parker, after going nuts with the scallions. J.A. Henckels made him, Señor Chompy bought him, and I named him after a fictional Bengal tiger. Doh.
Now heat up some oil in a Dutch oven, wok, or whatever Rachel Ray is selling these days. I recently purchased an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven so I’ve been using that for everything lately, but as long as the thing has a lid, use whatever you have. Fry it up! Then turn the heat down and cover it with a lid to simmer. Add a little water if it gets too dry or starts to stick. In the meantime, I have a confession. I used parchment paper instead of corn husks O.O Is that sacrilegious to tamales? I already made them Asian…
While my “tamales” suffer an identity crisis, you should go ahead and make the cornmeal dough.
Press a layer onto the parchment paper and spoon some mushroom filling on top.
Lift both sides (top and bottom) of the parchment paper towards each other. The cornmeal dough will come together in a roll. If it doesn’t hold its shape, it might be too dry.
Fold one side of parchment paper over the roll, tuck it in a little (but don’t squeeze too tight), and keep rolling until you run out of parchment paper. Tie the rolled up tamale with kitchen twine to secure it. Trim any extra parchment paper off the ends so the rolls will fit in your pot or pan. Steam them for an hour.
Cornmeal dough is best eaten steaming hot.
These are quite spicy, and I rather enjoy eating them straight (spicy lovers unite!), but if you are sensitive to spice, serve it with avocado slices, melted cheese, juicy tomatoes, and a heaping dollop of sour cream.
- Mince mushrooms, scallions, and peppers. Wear gloves when mincing the habanero peppers, or chop without touching.
- Heat oil in a dutch oven or frying pan of your choice. Add the minced mushroom mixture and stir-fry for a minute to coat the mixture in oil. Add salt, stir, and cover. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Let the mixture cook for 15 minutes, adding 1/3 cup water halfway through. Keep the mixture covered, stirring every few minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in the microwave (30 seconds if the butter is cold from the fridge) and mix it with cornmeal. Add hot water and stir to combine. Use your hands to knead the dough for a few minutes, adding a little more water if the consistency is too crumbly. The texture should be like mashed potatoes, but not a puree. It should be able to hold its shape when squeezed in the palm of your hand.
- Spoon a third of the cornmeal dough onto a sheet of parchment paper and press flat with the back of the spoon. Spoon a third of the mushroom filling onto the dough.
- Lift both ends of the parchment paper towards each other and crease in the center so that the dough comes together in a cylindrical shape. Unwrap the parchment paper. Fold the parchment half closest to you over the cornmeal "log" and tuck under. Continue rolling and tucking until you run out of parchment paper. It's okay if it's a little loose, because the cornmeal will expand as it cooks. Tie the center of the roll with kitchen twine, then tie both ends tightly.
- Place the tamales on a steamer rack and steam on medium-high heat for an hour.
- Serve hot with grated cheese and sour cream.
You can get creative with the filling! Leave out the habanero peppers if you don't like spicy, add frozen corn kernels, try other types of mushrooms. Play with different seasonings, like paprika and chili powder, or add a layer of cheese between the cornmeal dough and the filling.