Tamales are a food that often graces Mexican tables during the festive season. It's a culinary tradition that brings families together to make the ethnic specialty.
“People like our masa so they come,” says Antonia Quintanilla as she packages up an order of masa, the dough used to make tamales and corn tortillas, at La Pasadita, the store on Main Street in the Indiana Harbor section of East Chicago that she owns with her husband Rudy. “This time of the year we are so busy we stay open seven days a week.”
Quintanilla learned to make masa from her mother who opened La Pasadita in 1977 as both a restaurant and a place to buy the masa she made as an ingredient for many of her Mexican dishes. The restaurant part is gone, but La Pasadita is the place to go for masa particularly during the holiday season when it’s traditional to eat tamales.
From the exterior La Pasadita is an unassuming place but inside it’s a swirl of activity as five large Hobart mixers, capable of holding 20 to 40 pounds of dough, grind away producing more than 3,000 pounds of masa between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This year Daniel Corona and his wife Diane bought 50 pounds of masa from La Pasadita to make holiday tamales.
“I’ve been making tamales for at least 40 years,” said Corona who lives in Chesterton. “But this year we decided to do something different. The Saturday after Thanksgiving we had a tamale holiday open house and we had friends come over who wanted to know about tamales and wanted to learn to make them. We had wine and champagne and started making tamales around 11 in the morning and pulled the last pot off of the stove at 5 in the evening.”
The Coronas and friends made 50 dozen tamales, a process that started when Diane Corona cooked 65 pounds of pork roast, allowed it to cool off overnight and then cut the meat into 1/2inch to 3/4-inch squares before frying them in oil on top of the stove.
Using the mole sauce Daniel’s mother Rose Corona makes, the group assembled the tamales, spreading the masa on the corn husks, topping the dough with the meat and then rolling up the husks, forming a package containing dough and meat.
“It was like an assembly line,” said Diane Corona. “My friends were just amazed, they were just thrilled. One of my friends ate a tamale right out of the pot. Another said I like tamales but now they have to live up to the Corona tamales.”
Corona said she tells her mother-in-law at Christmas time, don’t buy me a present, make mole for me.
“I’ve watched her make it,” she said. “She’ll give a little taste and say oh it needs more chocolate. She uses peanut butter in her mole. I tried writing the recipe down but it was too complicated.”
Like her son and daughter-in-law, Rose Corona, who also lives in Chesterton, buys her masa at La Pasadita.
“It’s very good, I think it’s the way they add the lard,” she said.
“We buy raw corn and cook it and grind it,” said Rudy Quintanilla, explaining why he thinks their masa is so popular.
After cooking the corn, they add lard and mix it all together in the large Hobart mixers producing a dense yellow dough that can be shaped to hold a variety of fillings for traditional Mexican dishes such as sopes, gorditas, tamales and, when rolled or patted very thinly, delicate and tasty corn tortillas. Quintanilla said their customer base draws from Northwest Indiana as well as Chicago, South Bend and Indianapolis.
The Coronas typically make pork tamales using a family recipe that has morphed as it’s been passed down through generations. This year they also made tamales with a cheese and chile pepper filling.
Next year, said Diane, there’s talk to concocting sweet tamales with pineapple and raisin filling.
“We always have big plans and then we run out of masa,” she said. “We didn’t even make enough cheese and chile tamales and everyone liked them so much.”
Daniel Corona learned to make tamales from his mother and in turn, he and his wife taught their children to make them when they were little. Now grown, the Coronas believe their children will do the same when they have families.
“It’s a wonderful tradition,” said Daniel Corona who is planning on having a tamale making holiday party next year. “I think it’s something that my children will be doing with their children in years to come.”
Daniel and Diane Corona’s Tamales
10 pounds pre-made masa dough
7 pounds shredded or cubed pork roast
Oil for frying pork
4 ounces mole sauce (can be bought in jars at Mexican grocery stores)
DIRECTIONS: Cook the pork roast as you would as you would typically cook any pork roast. When done remove from oven and allow to cool overnight. Then cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch pieces. Heat oil in a large skillet and add meat, making sure not to crowd the meat. Cook until browned on all sides. Add enough mole to moisten the meat and heat through. Let sit over night so the meat absorbs the flavors.
Tamales con Mole Poblano
From Latin Road Home: Savoring the Foods of Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru by Jose Garces (Lake Isle Press 2012; $35)
Guajillo Chile Sauce:
1 guajillo chile, toasted
1 plum tomato, quartered
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped Spanish onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, toasted
1 cup water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup lard
1/2 Spanish onion, chopped
4 to 6 cloves roasted garlic
1/3 cup each of shelled, toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted sesame seeds, toasted peanuts, and blanched, toasted almonds
1 2-inch-long stick of cinnamon, toasted and ground
5 whole cloves, toasted and ground
5 whole allspice berries, toasted and ground
2 star anise, toasted and ground
2 mulato chiles, toasted
1 ancho chile, toasted
1 pasilla chile, toasted
1 guajillo chile, toasted
1/3 cup raisins
1 ripe plantain, peeled
1 Granny Smith apple, peel left on, cored and chopped
1 plum tomato, chopped
2 quarts chicken stock
1 (3.3-oz) tablet Ibarra sweet Mexican chocolate, chopped
1 cup masa
8 dried corn husks, soaked in cold water about 15 minutes or until pliable
DIRECTIONS: Combine the chile, tomato, onion, garlic, cumin, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée to make a very smooth sauce. Heat the oil in a clean saucepan, add the sauce, and fry over high heat for 10 minutes. Take it off of the heat and add the salt, adjusting to taste. Allow the sauce to cool thoroughly and refrigerate in an airtight container until needed, up to 3 days. To make the mole, melt 1/4 cup of the lard in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the onion and roasted garlic, stirring often, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, and almonds and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cinnamon, clove, allspice, and star anise and cook, stirring now and then, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add toasted chiles, raisins, plantain, apple and tomato and stir to incorporate. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.Transfer the mole in batches to a blender and purée until very smooth. Strain each batch through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the mole with the back of a spoon. Melt the remaining 1/4 cup lard in a clean Dutch oven over high heat until just smoking. Add the mole and chocolate. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to low and simmer, stirring often to prevent the chocolate from scorching, for 1 hour. Season to taste with salt. To make the dough, combine the masa with 1/2 cup of the guajillo chile sauce (store the remainder for another use, such as marinated grilled or roasted meat or chicken). To assemble the tamales, lay out a cornhusk with the pointed tip facing away from you. Mound 2 tablespoons of dough in the center. Fold the two sides of the husk to the center, over the dough, to overlap. Fold the top down and the bottom up, overlapping, to form a tight package. Lay the tamales flat, in a single layer, in a steamer basket. Bring a few inches of water to a rapid boil in a stockpot and place the steamer basket over the water. Cover and steam the tamales gently until they are firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Transfer the steamer basket to a plate and leave the tamales to firm up, covered, for about 10 minutes. Serve the tamales with the mole poblano and garnish with cheese, radishes, and sesame seeds.