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An introduction to "A Christmas kitchen in Mexico"

(En Español)

By Mexico Connect's food staff: Karen, Camille, Anita, Ana, Jan (Big Mama) and David

We warned you!

(After reading through this Introduction, you will find the doorway to the Christmas Kitchen at the bottom.

If you're one of those poor, unhappy souls who had hoped to lose 10 pounds before the holidays, promised yourself you would eat only fruits and vegetables, SWORE you'd only choke down one serving of grandma's fruit salad (the one where all the fruit is mysteriously absent and seems to have been replaced with coconut, cream and those really cute tiny marshmallows) and, no matter what happened, would donate all leftovers to the Starving Children in Cambodia fund - but didn't, this is a bad place for you to be.

Christmas in Mexico is a time for friends and families to get together, to renew acquaintances, to share a drink or two (or three or more) and some really great food - OODLES of food.

Now, as with holiday food from around the world, these dishes will probably never be approved by the American Heart Association or Weight Watchers International, as they tend to be a bit higher in fat and sodium than your doctor might like but they taste really good and, remember, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. come only once a year.

Our favorite Holiday dish is tamales because they are so practical. Although it seems like it takes forever to make them, once you're done, you're done. Back in the days when I lived in Los Angeles my brother Bob, his wife Terri, and I used to make them for gifts as well as for ourselves.

Between the three of us (and later my niece and nephew as well) we used to make 18 to 20 dozen tamales filled with pork, chicken, cheese and peppers and whatever else seemed appropriate. As the years went by we began to experiment with masa preparation - adding baking soda for fluffier results, jalapeño juice for a spicier masa, or soaked and ground Anaheim and New Mexico peppers for a different flavor.

It took all of a day, with one person spreading the masa on the corn husks, another stuffing and yet another popping them into the steamers, but when we delivered them Christmas eve to unsuspecting friends and neighbors, cries of delight went up - and the next day's roast turkey occasionally got thrown in the freezer to be cooked another day.

If you are planning on making your own tamales keep the following in mind:

There is nothing like a tamale steamer. They are made specifically for this purpose and you can fit lots of tamales into them.

Tamale steamers (as we found out the morning we first made tamales) don't come with instructions! Silly as that might sound, its nice to have a guideline to get you through the process. Here's what I did that works:

Pour boiling water into the base of the tamale steamer Add a couple of lightweight coins - old pesos are what were recommended but all we had were US dimes, leading me to conclude, therefore, that any country's currency can work. The coins need to consistently make a gentle "coin clacking" noise -not too fast, though. If they stop, your temperature is too low and if they rattle all over the place it's too high.

Once you have the water temperature just right, add a layer of corn husks (these don't come with directions either so just know that you have to place them in a large container the night before, cover them with boiling water and leave them to soak). The corn husks will prevent the tamales from sticking should any of the masa decide to runneth over.

Tamales take a while - 2 or 3 hours to cook so you might decide, like we did, to buy 2 steamers and get the job done quicker.

Lastly, know that you don't have to make 18 or 20 dozen. We gave about half as gifts and kept the rest frozen for use throughout the year. We never had any left over for the next Christmas.

It takes no more than a microwave or a steamer to heat them and they require no accompanying dishes, although I like to have some well-fried beans and red rice on the side just in case - oh, and a couple of salsas. If you use paper plates with holiday motifs, clean-up is a breeze too.

In the upcoming days we'll give you a basic masa recipe as well as some of the more common fillings, as well as a few other traditional and modern Mexican holiday dishes. I look forward to your comments and welcome any submissions you may have.

Mexico Connect's food staff would like to thank all our viewers and wish you all a very happy holiday season. May you share the warmth of the season with all your loved ones.

Karen, Camille, Anita, Ana, Jan (Big Mama) and David

P.S. We don't pretend to encompass all Mexican Holiday dishes but our December issue will be a good start. Additions will be made often.

Now, enter the Christmas Kitchen

Published or Updated on: December 1, 1997
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