Nov 20, 2009

Terry Conlan's Mushroom Tamales with Poblanos & Goat Cheese

Here's the next recipe installment from the "Mas Masa and Mushrooms" class I took from Terry Conlan recently. Conlan is the chef at Lake Austin Spa. He's known for offering big, fresh flavors that are good for you but also very satisfying.

(Excuse the photo quality. This was taken in the class with my iPhone.)

Tamales are often eaten around the holidays probably because they are fairly labor-intensive to make, so it's handy to have the whole family around to lend some hands. But the work is easy if you take it step-by-step and they are so good!

Conlan said that traditional tamales use lard and water with the masa, but he can't do that at the spa. So he works in a little chevre (goat cheese) and light butter into his masa to add flavor and richness. Since these are veggie tamales and he's using small quantities, there's room for this extra bit of fat without being too naughty. He also recommended other flavorings for the masa: achiote oil, bean purée, ancho purée or ground hominy for texture.

Conlan pairs these tamales with a grilled tomato salsa. That recipe follows.

As a variation on individual tamales, Conlan said he's made a giant tamal instead and served it in slices. Steam time on that would be 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

One note on the masa: Conlan said that the masa usually used for tamales is a little coarser, but if you want to use tortilla masa, that's fine. He recommends MaSeCa brand.

I love the flavors in these tamales. I also like that the mushroom filling makes them a little lighter. You could enjoy a couple of them with a salad for a light dinner (I recommend the Conlan's pineapple avocado salad from the previous post .) Or you could make these a part of a Mexican feast. The masa, mushrooms, goat cheese and poblanos meld into a very comforting and satisfying "super umami" storm of flavor. (Umami is the supersavory "fifth taste" to the usual sweet, salty, bitter, and sour that you usually hear about.)

On a practical note, Conlan said he uses pieces of foil to wrap the tamales instead of the traditional corn husks because he's cooking large quantities and it goes much faster. To use corn husks, soak the husks in hot water for 30 minutes before forming the tamales.

Find a tamale steamer at your local Mexican market or online. We have a large pot with a pasta insert that works great too. You can lift the whole thing out and still have your tamales contained.

Mushroom Tamales with Poblanos and Goat Cheese

2 tomatillos
1/4 cup sliced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup cilantro
pinch of salt
6 cups of assorted wild mushrooms, chopped
Cooking spray
salt & pepper
2 poblano chiles
4 cups masa harina de maiz
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
8 tablespoons butter, softened (he uses light butter with olive oil)
1/2 cup chevre, softened
16 6x4-inch foil rectangles
crumbled queso fresco, to garnish
chopped cilantro, to garnish

Roast the poblanos over a direct flame "hot and fast" so that the chile skin blisters but the flesh retains its strength. If you don't have a gas stove, you can use a propane torch or the broiler. When chiles are black and blistered on all sides, place them in a paper bag to steam while they cool. When cool, take them out of the bag and slide the skins off. Remove the stem and seeds and cut into thin strips. Set aside.

Boil the tomatillos and onion covered in water for 2 minutes. Drain. Purée with the garlic, cilantro, and salt. Set aside.

Sauté the mushrooms in a pan sprayed with cooking spray over medium heat until the moisture releases and completely evaporates. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatillo mixture and stir together. Set aside to cool.

Combine the masa, salt and stock. Work in the softened butter and goat cheese. If necessary, add a bit more stock until the masa is the consistency of Play Doh.

Take one of the foil rectangles and pat out a 4 x 2 1/2 inch rectangle of masa. Place a line of mushroom filling down the center lengthwise. Top with 2-3 poblano strips. Roll the bottom edge of the foil up and over to the top edge. Then crimp and shape the tamale. Seal the edges and then roll up the short ends to seal it completely. Repeat until all tamales are formed.

Stack or stand tamales vertically in a tamale steamer or a large stock pot with a steamer insert in the bottom. Be sure to check the water level periodically to see if you need to add water. Steam time: 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

Grilled Tomato Salsa

6 medium tomatoes
3 thick slices of onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
tomato juice (as needed)

Grill the tomatoes and onions until charred over a fire grill or using a grill pan or broiler.

Purée the grilled tomatoes and onions with the remaining ingredients. Thin the sauce to the consistency you like with the tomato juice. Use just a few tablespoons at a time and then taste so that you don't dilute it too much.

To serve with tamales, spoon salsa on a plate and spread into a circle or swash with the back of a spoon. Unwrap two hot tamales and place together on top of the salsa. Sprinkle with crumbles of queso fresco and chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

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