A while back my friend Chris started talking about a joint tamale-making venture. I love tamales and hate how hard/expensive it is to find vegan ones, so of course I told him I was game. I also may have a bit of a weakness for epic food projects that involve making lots of things from scratch, and Chris seems to have the same affliction.
Thus, a couple weeks ago we invited a bunch of friends to his place in Tacoma for tamales, his signature margaritas, and some desserts in early celebration of my birthday. Jud jumped in to help also, so we had a good crew to step gingerly around the large dog flopped in the middle of the kitchen floor, putting together fillings and dough. We relied pretty much entirely on Terry Hope Romero’s excellent book, Viva Vegan, which has yet to steer me wrong. No, I’m not going to steal her recipes and publish them here. If you like Latin food, you really really should get this book for yourself.
It turns out that tamales are so expensive because they are really very labor-intensive. But if you’re chatting with friends while you do it–and spread out the work by making a sauce here, a batch of seitan there, and stashing it in your freezer ahead of the big day–it can still be fun and worth the effort. You definitely want to make a bunch at once and either freeze them or feed a bunch of people, since making a lot of tamales is not much more work than making a few.
Chris’s sister Sara showed up early on and whipped up some cook-fortifying guacamole, which proved invaluable as we powered through three batches of tamale filling: Black Bean-Sweet Potato, Chocolate Mole Veggie, and Red Chile-Seitan.
Going to be cooking for hours? You’d better have something delicious and munchable like guac and chips to keep you going!
Red Chile-Seitan tamales getting filled
Here’s some masa dough spread over a soaked corn husk, ready for a strip of the seitan mixture. Since every one of us was a first-timer at making tamales, we learned as we went, but the book’s clear instructions kept us on track. The colorful package you see in the corner is something I picked up in Tucson last year: paper squares precut for use as tamale wrappers, instead of corn husks. After being assured by every Latino we consulted that tamales could be made with corn husk or plantain/banana leaf, period, we only broke into the paper when the soaked husks ran out. No surprise, the husks worked better, especially when it came time to peel and eat the tamales, where the paper ones stuck noticeably to the filling. But the paper would definitely accommodate more filling if you wanted to make larger tamales, and the package takes up a lot less space than a bag of corn husks if that’s an issue in your kitchen.
Chris pulling together Chocolate Mole Veggie Tamales, by now an old hand at the technique.
Here’s most of the spread, minus the Mole tamales, which were served from the stove.
My plate, with some cilantro-lime rice and two tasty salads from Whole Foods.
Chocolate cake with orange buttercream, from Bouteloua
Almost-devoured birthday cake
The cake was beautiful and very good, though I did hit some sugar overload with the buttercream frosting. Bouteloua does a fantastic ganache, and I’ll order that next time for a little less sweetness.
That’s Key Lime, two slices of Tiramisu, Banana Cream, and Pumpkin (with swirls).
In order to let people try different flavors and also not completely overdose on sweets after a filling dinner, we cut the pies into bite-size samples and passed plates around for people to take from as they wished. The winner, based on number of plate-passing requests, clearly was the Tiramisu (there was a reason I got two of those!), but I really liked all of them and liked the Key Lime so much I’ve had trouble shutting up about how great it was.
Tamales are great cold-weather foods to make as well as to eat, since all of that cooking and steaming definitely warms your place right up, and long evenings seem to leave room for a bit more patience for time-consuming menus. But if the busy-ness of this time of year is getting to you, or you need a kick-ass dessert to convince your skeptical relatives at Thanksgiving that vegans are ascetics who don’t do decadent, rest assured that these two bakeries (among others, of course) have you well covered.