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'Tis the season for tamales

The Food Dude shares information and ideas on making tamales a part of your gift-giving tradition.
by Dave Cathey Published: December 4, 2012

At the sound of the B.C. Clark anniversary sale jingle, my olfactory senses fire off a distress signal seeking tamales.

And I'm not alone.

From Enid to Bolivia, folks hanker for this leaf-wrapped steamed masa pastry stuffed with a sweet or savory filling year-round but no more so than the holiday season. Growing up in Central Texas, my family was just as likely to exchange tamales as Christmas cards.

A mantel stacked with Christmas cards is right nice, but a bellyful of tamales is divine.

The tamales we're used to eating are the kind derived from Mexico: corn masa filled with chile-tinged pork and wrapped in dried cornhusks. Sure, the fillings can range from the aforementioned pork to any protein or perhaps a sweet version with pineapple, cinnamon, raisins and nuts, but the masa, whipped with fresh lard and loosened with chicken stock, doesn't change.

Mexican immigrants were the first to arrive in the U.S., bringing along their family recipes to sell out of wagons with kettles of chile con carne. A check of our Oklahoman archives showed mention of tamale/chile con carne vendors dating back to statehood.

But as immigrants from further south have filtered into Oklahoma, the variety of tamales has increased.

If you're looking to engage in heavy-duty tamale gifting this holiday season, you now have options.

Your friendly neighborhood Tex-Mex restaurant is remiss if it's not peddling tamales in bulk this time of year, so finding traditional corn-masa tamales in cornhusks is just a call or two away. But if you're feeling a little more adventurous, you might consider one of our Guatemalan or Peruvian restaurants.

At Cafe Kacao, 3325 N Classen Blvd., the Del Cid family is making traditional Guatemalan tamales, which are made of a masa that combines both corn and rice flour. The fillings come in chicken, turkey, and beef. The masa isn't loosened with chicken stock, it's combined with recado, an aromatic tomato-based sauce, on a banana leaf.

The head cook at Cafe Kacao is Veronica Del Cid, who along with her sons Luidgi and Alex own and operate the restaurant. Veronica demonstrated her tamale expertise for me, and used raw beef rather than cooked. Just a few cubes of beef steam into tenderness in this banana-leaf cocoon. She also added slices of sweet red pepper. The result was a reminiscent but altogether different tamale. The rice flour imparts a flavor quite different from the standard corn version.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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