Holiday recipe: traditional tamales

Christy Vega Fowler has hot sauce in her blood.  She’s the owner of Casa Vega,  a well-known Mexican restaurant in Sherman Oaks, CA.  Vega Fowler took the reins from her father, Rafael Vega about four years ago, but Casa Vega has been serving patrons in the Los Angeles area for almost 60-years.  Vega Fowler comes from a long line of restaurant owners. Her grandparents migrated from Tijuana, Mexico in the 1920’s,  and opened their first restaurant, ‘Café Caliente’ on LA’s historic Olvera Street in the early 1930s.

“All of the recipes at Casa Vega are actually the original recipes from Cafe Caliente,” Vega Fowler says proudly.

Her earliest memories of Casa Vega are in the kitchen. She’d spend lots of time with her grandmother Mary while growing up, and was taught recipes that she cherishes to this day.  Some of her favorite holiday memories with abuela are of when they made tamales during the holiday season.

“I think making the tamales is as much of a celebration as is eating the tamales– and just serving them at different holidays. When I was little I used to do this in my grandmother’s kitchen and she was one of eight sisters and they used to all come in and visit and we would stand in her kitchen and make tamales.  I  would listen to them gossip,  and they would drink wine and they would have a really good time. ”

Those fond food memories have found their way back into Casa Vega’s kitchen.

Christy Vega Fowler.

Christy Vega Fowler.

“My grandmother used to always make a sweet corn tamale. They really remind me of Christmas. We brought that back and we added it to the menu and it was a big hit, and since then I added gift bags where people can come get a bag of frozen tamales and it’s gift-wrapped for them, or we do piping hot trays of tamales you can take ready for a party. ”

And Vega Fowler still finds time to make tamales at home with the family, though her group looks a little different from back when she made tamales with grandma and her great-aunts.

“It’s something fun to do,  and to carry on and to pass on to my kids.  Now I do it with my mom and my sister.  And even though my mom is Irish– it’s great that we still carry on all these Mexican traditions.  And I think that’s what being American is really about.”

Here are Vega Fowler’s personal family recipes for traditional Mexican tamales.

SWEET CORN TAMALES (10 SERVINGS)

15 corn husks

3 ¾ cup of sweet corn, cut from the cob or frozen if not in season

½ cup of sugar

¼ cup of flour

¾ cup butter

1 tsp baking powder

10 strips of cheddar cheese

10 small strips of freshly cooked, skinned and seeded Anaheim chilies (canned will work too-Ortega)

INSTRUCTIONS

1. In a large container, place the corn husks deep in hot water and cover for a couple hours until they are soft and pliable.  Tip* you may need to weigh them down with an inverted plate and a heavy can to keep them submerged.

2. In a food processor, grind the corn and then add the sugar, flour, corn meal, butter and baking powder.  Grind together very well making a masa.

3. Drain water from husks.  One at a time, flatten out the husks with the narrow end towards you and place 3 oz of masa spread in the middle of the husk.

4. Add the strip of cheese and small strip of chili in the middle of the masa.

5. Take the left side of the husk and fold it directly over the right side. Fold the narrow bottom end of the husk onto the folded tamal. ** For parties and presentation you can tie with strip of corn husk when serving dry tamales.

6. As you are making the tamales, stand them up on their rolled ends in a prepared steamer basket.  Steam over boiling water for approximately 30-40 minutes, until masa is firm and holds its shape.  *Tip: Cover the tamales in the steamer with a layer of the left over corn husks.  You can also fill empty spaces with gently wadded aluminum foil to prevent them from falling over.

7. Serve dry with Tapatio and Mexican Crema.

BEEF, CHICKEN, AND CHEESE TAMALES (10 SERVINGS)

CHICKEN FILLING (YOU CAN ALSO USE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN)

1 whole, cage-free, all natural chicken- cut into pieces (keep bones on for flavor)

1 small onion, chopped into large pieces

½ head of fresh, minced garlic

1 tablespoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

• Immerse chicken in big pot of water. Then add onions, garlic and salt.  Cover and set to medium heat.

• Boil together for 35-40 minutes or until chicken is fully cooked.

• Once chicken is fully cooked, remove from water, cool to touch and debone.

• Shred the chicken, place in large mixing bowl.

• Pour flavoring salsa over chicken and mix with hands.

BEEF FILLING

2 lbs all- natural chuck tender

1 small onion

½ head of garlic

1 tablespoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

• Immerse beef in large pot of water.  Add onions, garlic and salt and bring to a boil.  As soon as water boils, reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Let simmer for several hours.  The meat should be medium rare when it’s ready and shreds easily.

• When beef is done, remove from pot and allow to cool slightly and then shred.

• Place shredded beef in large mixing bowl.  Pour in flavoring salsa and mix with hands.

VEGETABLE & CHEESE FILLING

10 strips of Monterey Jack Cheese

10 small strips of cooked, skinned and seeded Anaheim chili

10 green olives

INSTRUCTIONS

• Once masa is spread on husk add a strip of cheese, chili and green olive in the middle.

• Fold, cook and serve same as meat tamales.

TAMALES

15 Corn Husks

3 1/8 (25oz) masa (Virgin)

1 tablespoon chili paste (recipe below) or store bough

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup canola oil

1 cup water

CASA VEGA CHILI PASTE

The Chili Paste is made with dried (no spicy/no seeds) California and dried Pasilla chilies. Soak in pot of hot water for 15 min and then grind into a paste.  **We can Fed-X this to NYC

TAMALE INSTRUCTIONS

1. In a large container, place the corn husks deep in hot water and cover for a couple hours until they are soft and pliable.  Tip: you may need to weigh them down with an inverted plate and a heavy can to keep them submerged.

2.In an electric mixer add masa to the bowl.  Then at medium-low speed add the following ingredients one at a time: chili paste, baking powder, salt, oil and water.  Mix everything until it gets soft and heavy.

3. Drain water from husks. One at a time, flatten out the husks with the narrow end towards you and place 2.5oz (a little more than 1/4c- size of palm of hand) of masa on the middle of the corn husk, leaving a little more room at the bottom of the husk. Then add 1.5oz of meat filling in the middle of the masa.

4. Take the left side of the husk and fold it directly over the right side. Fold the narrow bottom end of the husk onto the folded tamal. ** For parties and presentation you can tie with strip of corn husk when serving dry tamales.

5. As you are making the tamales, stand them up on their rolled ends in a prepared steamer basket.  Steam over boiling water for approximately 30-40 minutes until masa is firm and holds its shape.  *Tip: Cover the tamales in the steamer with a layer of the left over corn husks.  You can also fill empty spaces (if you have them) with gently wadded aluminum foil to prevent them from falling over.

6. In Casa Vega we serve them “oven-style”: gently remove the tamal from the husk and plate.  Cover with homemade enchilada sauce, sprinkle with cheddar & jack cheese and cook in hot oven for 2-3 min (until cheese is melted.)

7.  At home we serve them dry.  Let everyone unroll their own tamal and serve with Tapatio and Mexican Crema.

MEXICAN CREMA

1 cup sour cream

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp salt to taste

Whisk in large mixing bowl.  Cover and let sit at room temp for several hours.  Serve or refrigerate until ready to use. Bring back to room temp before serving.

ENCHILADA SAUCE (FOR OVEN-STYLE TAMAL):

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup flour

2 tbsp chili paste

1 cup water

1 tbsp chicken base

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

INSTRUCTIONS

• Heat oil.

• Add 4 tbsp flour and bring to a boil.

• Next, add the chili paste, mix.

• Pour in 1/2 cup cold water followed by 1/2 cup chicken broth.

• Then in small mixing bowl, mix together the chicken base, cumin, garlic powder and remaining 1/2 cup water.

Pour mixture into sauce pan and simmer for 10 min.

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