So it's official! We're Californians! (WHAT?!?! FINALLY.) :)
There are so many things I love about this state (food is grown really close by! wine is produced really close by! toxic chemicals are carefully regulated! the pacific ocean! everybody is unbelievably nice!). Did I mention food? Because it's awesome.
Last week, I had the chance to visit Gracias Madre, thanks to the uber great recommendation of Talia at Party in My Plants. Gracias Madre - part of the Cafe Gratitude family - is an all-organic vegan Mexican restaurant that sources its produce from its farm outside the city.
(During my visit, I overheard the following:
Customer: Don't the quesadillas usually come with sweet potato? This says squash.
Bartender: We just harvested the squash this week on the farm, so that's what we're serving it with right now.
YES. YES. YES. THAT'S SEASONAL EATING! THAT'S EATING WHAT NATURE PUT ON THE MENU, NOT TRYING TO CHANGE OR SIDESTEP NATURE JUST TO GET WHAT WE WANT. #YAY!!!!)
As it turns out, Gracias Madre is on to something. My vegan Mexican lunch of Calabaza Quesadillas (with insane-o good cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa) and Spicy Seasonal Greens was possibly one of the tastiest things that has ever happened (and I am a sucker for any restaurant willing to serve a gigantor plate of [spicy] kale.) -- So family, please be warned: we're taking you to GM when you visit. ;)
Needless to say, I am super stoked for more [vegan] Mexican culinary adventures in California, and thought that this would be the perfect week to introduce these Vegan Tamales. Be warned: they're a little untraditional, but they're yummy, and without the extra corn flour and animal fat, they're a pretty clean-eating option!
Growing up in Ontario, authentic Mexican cuisine wasn't something we were exposed to often. My mom would make chili often (hers is the best!!) or quesadillas from time to time, or we'd have taco night a few times a year -- but the intricate, specifically-spiced dishes that I've come to learn are native to that gorgeous country weren't really on our radar.
Having traveled to Mexico several times since university (including the trip to Puerto Vallarta a super awesome girlfriend and I planned on a whim, tired of winter and desperate to get out of Vancouver's rain for a bit -- we left within a week of entertaining the idea), I've had more authentic Mexican food experiences and have a little more understanding of what it takes to make an awesome Mexican-inspired meal.
I've also learned that corn and my body don't always get along super well, and because Mexican food tends to be corn-heavy, I've spent some time experimenting with making less corn-tastic versions of dishes. Tamales, in particular, have always been kind of interesting to me. They're kind of like vegan haggis, no? Cooking an ingredient in something that used to be part of it? ;) I love reducing waste, so in particular, using the husk as part of the preparation feels both eco-friendly and delicious.
Usually, tamales have a ball of masa harina (essentially a ball of cornmeal, cooked until porridgy) stuck in the middle. In my research on traditional methods of tamale preparation, I noticed this was the centrepiece, but figured if we left that out and upped the beans/ veggie component, these could still be pretty good! After all, the most tamale-tastic element is the fact it's cooked in a corn husk.
So: keeping the corn husk, upping the beans, upping the veggies, reducing the corn. Also: these are steamed instead of grilled, making them a nice simple option if you don't have an open grill and/or you live in a wee apartment and need cooking methods that keep heat down and use space well.
The filling is a simple skillet saute of veggies and beans - we used fresh corn from our CSA. Fresh corn tends to be a little easier to digest than milled or refined corn products, especially if you cook it up just a tad.
Once it's cooked up, you can set a steamer basket on to heat (I used a metal veggie steamer basket in a pot, but if you have a wicker dim sum style basket, that's also perfect!). While that warms up, blend half of your veggie-bean mixture in the food processor.
Lay out your corn husks in Xs on the counter, then drop a scoop of your blended mixture into the center of each X.
Top blended mixture with un-blended mixture.
Working in a circle, fold the edges over, then flip over once the last side is folded down. Pinch or press slightly to seal.
Move tamales to your steamer basket or metal steamer in a pot. Steam for 3-5 minutes until heated through.
Voila! Mexican-inspired spices, tons of veggies and a super simple meal. Plus, the tamale filling makes an uber-fueling breakfast (over kale) if you have any leftover. I've taken to baking it in muffin tins for 20 minutes at 350F to firm up: it makes little beany-corn bites that are awesome to pre-fuel your day.
Enjoy, foodie! Take care of you,
- 1 15oz can black beans (about 1 1/2 cups), divided
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- Kernels from 3 ears of fresh corn, divided (keep husks for cooking)
- Handful of fresh chopped cilantro
- 1. Steam corn for 3-4 minutes until tender.
- 2. Sautee together onion and garlic, adding tomato and spices once garlic and onion are fragrant (about 2 minutes). Cook together for 5 minutes.
- 3. Transfer all except 1 cup of corn and 1/2 cup beans into the blender and process until smooth. Empty into a mixing bowl.
- 4. Add whole corn and beans into mixture and stir to combine.
- 5. Lay out inner (clean) corn husks in X's on the counter, then drop a scoop of your mixture into the center of each X.
- 6. Fold the edges over, working in a circle, then flip over once the last side is folded down. Pinch or press slightly to seal.
- 7. Move tamales to a steamer basket or metal steamer in a pot. Steam for 3-5 minutes until heated through.
- 8. Remove and serve.