Spring into Cinco de Mayo Olive Oil Tamales

Basket o' tamales

Tamales and Spring. Two great things that are just brilliant together. Consider that tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo–a holiday that you don’t need to be Mexican to appreciate the robust delights of Mexican cuisine–and that we’re now full swing into Spring, and connection becomes clear. Or at least to me it does.

I’m not going to make sweeping assumptions on what you’ll be doing this Thursday, but if you ever lifted a margarita to your lips or enjoyed an plate of enchiladas on the occasional 5th of May it sounds like a perfect time to make tamales, no matter if you’re a seasoned pro with masa harina or never got any closer to tamale crafting beyond peeling away a steamed corn husk.


It might be a slightly chilly Spring in NYC, but it’s still the ideal time to seek out those fresh green flavors our palates crave after the heavy richness of winter foods. I haven’t had a chance yet to get down the princess charming of spring vegetables, asparagus, so into the tamales they went. Olive oil enhances asparagus like nothing else, and not since my Veganomicon days have I experimented with an oil-based tamale, so this recipe has Mediterranean bend that just feels so right with the whole spring theme. Note that olive oil gives the masa dough a moist, dense and tender quality unlike the fluffy shortening-based tamales in Viva Vegan!. Any boldly flavored extra virgin olive oil will really sing with the capers, a garnish sometimes found in traditional tamales, so reach for a good quality oil for these guys. Alongside the asparagus lightly cooked mushrooms, leeks and a hint of carrot lend their talents to fill these tender corn dough bundles with fresh spring intentions. Serve with a green tomatillo salsa, either homemade or store bought spiked with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro and you’re on your way to a totally fresh and green tamale fiesta.

As with all tamales these can be assembled a day or two before steaming. Reheat already steamed tamales in the microwave, wrapped in moist paper towels or set once more in the steamer basket for 6-8 minutes until hot in the center. Tamales freeze beautifully too and require just an additional 10 minutes or so of steaming to reheat.

Olive oil tamale heaven

Olive Oil Tamales with Asparagus & Mushrooms
makes 18-20 four inch tamales

Be sure to take a look at these photos for more detailed steps on tamale assembly.

Tip: To freeze olive oil pour into a thin plastic container (like the kind used for takeout soup) and freeze for 1-2 hours until opaque and the consistency of soft sorbet. If the oil becomes too hard let sit on the kitchen counter for a few minutes to soften up.

Tamale tip: Have a bowl of warm water handy when patting out the masa dough; anytime things get sticky dip your fingers in water and continue to pat away.

Masa dough
3 ½ cups Mexican masa harina corn flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
⅔ cup olive oil, partially frozen
2 ½ cups flavorful vegetable stock, slightly warm (I love vegetarian Vegetable Better Than Bouillon)

Filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small leek, cleaned and sliced into ¼ inch pieces
3 tablespoons white wine or vegetable broth
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, brushed clean and sliced into quarters
3 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1 small carrot, scrapped and shredded
1/2 pound asparagus, thick end trimmed and sliced into 1 inch pieces
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

24 large dried corn husks plus 5 or more additional husks for making ties and lining the steamer

1. Set corn husks to soak in a large baking pan filled with enough hot water to cover and soak until husks are soft and pliable, at least 20 minutes. When husks are soft tear 2-4 husks into strands no thicker than ¼ inch to use for tying ends of the tamale (sort of like a huge wrapped piece of candy). In a large mixing bowl stir together masa harina, baking powder, salt and garlic powder. Spoon in olive oil and use an electric hand mixer to beat until mixture looks sandy. Slowly stream in half of the vegetable broth, continue to beat with the hand mixture and stream in the remaining both until a soft fluffy dough forms. If too dry add a tablespoon of additional broth at a time, if too moist sift in a tablespoon of masa harina. Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.

2. Make the filling: Saute in a deep 12 inch skillet over medium heat the olive oil and garlic for 30 seconds until fragrant, then add leek and saute 3-4 minutes until softened, then add wine and deglaze the pan for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and sweat for 5 minutes, covering half way through to soften mushrooms. Stir in capers, crumbled rosemary, and oregano and remove from heat. Stir in shredded carrot and chopped asparagus, season with pepper and salt and let cool enough to handle.

3. To assemble a tamale spread about 3 heaping tablespoons of dough in the center of large soaked corn husk and pat it into a rectangle shape less slightly more than ¼ inch thick, leaving at least an inch of free space on the husk. If your corn husks are on the small side overlap two or three husks to make one large husk. Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of filling down the center of the dough, then grab the long ends of each husk and press the dough together to encase the filling. Tuck one side of the husk under the dough to cover it, then wrap the remaining half of the husk around the tamale. Tie both ends of each tamales with a strip of soaked corn husk; it will look a little like a giant piece of wrapped taffy. Repeat with remaining husks and dough. Line the bottom of a large steamer basket with leftover husks and gently stand tamales upright in the basket but don’t pack them in; tamales will expand during steaming and it’s best to make two batches if you can’t fit them all in the steamer at once. Steam for 40-45 minutes until dough is firm (a little like soft, cooled cooked polenta) and easily peels away from a corn husk. Serve hot to guests and let them unwrap their tamales before dipping in salsa or enjoying naked as is.

Spring has sprung: Vegan empanada class, New York Vegetarian Festival


Last night’s northeast snow and hail be damned, it’s finally spring and I know you’re feeling it too! Time to get out of the house, or maybe not head home after work right away and do something. And that something could be making vegan empandas with me next Thursday March 31st at the Brooklyn Kitchen!

Spaces are still available, and if you mention “Terry’s Discount” in the notes section of online registration you’ll get a $10 store credit good for good towards any of the fantastic cooking wares, books, aprons, canning and brewing items and other goodies that the fabulous Brooklyn Kitchen has to offer.

Also, for some really exciting news; did you know that New York is going to have it’s very own premier, kick-ass, large-scale vegetarian food festival next month? Join me and loads veggie-hungry New Yorkers on Sunday, April 3rd for first ever NYC Vegetarian Food Festival. A boatload of veggie food vendors; two stages of speakers, events, cooking demonstrations (including one from yours truly); and a few other surprises are waiting for you April 3rd at the perfect price of FREE for general admission.

And now a question: what should I make for my demonstration? Sarah from Rescue Chocolate has requested something “meaty” and I’m suspecting seitan tacos will fit the fast and furious bill just fine. But what other sort of edible, veganlicious treat do you think would celebrate this great vegan-friendly city?

Thanks for everything empanadas

The day before heading to Paris I woke up realizing even though I’m not having a traditional Thanksgiving there were all the elements of that once-a-year food smackdown in the fridge. Add a bag of cranberries, purchased on a whim for muffins or bread, I felt that I had to attempt some kind of holiday-ish cooking before becoming estranged from my kitchen for next two weeks.

And I wanted empanadas. The solution: empanadas stuffed with “faux” Thanksgiving leftovers, with a supporting cast of leeks and winter squash stuffed into pump, over-filled pastry pockets. And the cranberries? The classic fresh-cranberry relish spiked with smoked paprika makes for a hybrid cranberry-chutney chimichurri.

You’ll need roughly about 3 cups of filling for 12 plump empanadas, or more if you want really overstuffed treats. The basic idea is to have an element of soft sweetness (roasted squash or sweet potato), savory softness (stuffing), and a “prize” of a chunk of Brussels sprout or mushroom. Finely diced leftover meatless roast–Tofurky, veg sausage or ham–makes a tasty add-in to the stuffing mix. If your leftovers look a little dry moisten them up with a little vegetable broth; the savory mixture should be moist and sticky, but not soupy. You can either choose to layer the ingredients (my husband wasn’t a fan, reminded him of a meal just moved from the plate into the insides of an empanada, but I took that critique as mission accomplished) or gently fold the ingredients together for a uniform consistency.

I wish I had thought to bring these empanadas for snacking on the plane (blame the pre-flight jitters), but I bet your tofurkey that they would make a great weekend breakfast or hearty late night snack this post-Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving Leftover Empanadas with Cranberry Chimichurri

12 large empanadas

You’ll need roughly 3 cups of filling for 10 large empanadas. This can include a mix of chopped meatless holiday roast, stuffing, roasted veggies, sweet potatoes, you name it. I recommend a ratio of 2:1:1 roast (protein), stuffing, veggie.

This filling mimics that Thanksgiving leftover experience with hearty white beans and leeks, if you just want to skip T-day and head right for the glorious mashing of flavors wrapped in a tender wheat crust. A quick cranberry “chimichurri” relish is tart, sweet and subtly smoky companion to these little hand held meals.

12 six-inch rounds Whole Wheat Empanada Dough (prepare and chill dough before making filling) or any empanada dough from Viva Vegan!

1 large leek (about 1 lb), trimmed and carefully cleaned to remove grit

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

½ cup dry white wine or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon rubbed sage

One 14oz can white kidney (cannelini) beans, drained and rinsed

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups mashed, roasted butternut or winter squash. Lightly season with salt to taste. (just under 1 lb fresh squash)

12 Brussels sprouts, roasted until tender, lightly season with salt to taste

If desired: about ½ cup chopped meatless holiday roast, seitan, or vegan sausage

Soy creamer or almond milk for brushing

Chop leek in half then slice into ½ thick pieces. In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat, add leek, sauté until softened about 5 minutes then add garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in wine, thyme, cumin, sage and bring to a boil, then add beans. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until most of wine has been reduced. Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.

While mixture is cooling preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. If desired fold squash and chopped holiday meatless roast into beans, or don’t if you want a layered empanada. Brush a dough round lightly with soy creamer, add about 2 ½ tablespoons of filling total, either half bean/squash mix or separate layers and plunk a roasted Brussels sprout in the center. Fold over dough, crimp or braid, gently place on baking sheet and brush with more soy creamer. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden, turning baking sheet half way through for even browning. Let cool for a few minutes (filling will be piping hot!) and serve with cranberry chimichurri.

Cranberry Chimichurri Relish

makes about 2 cups relish

I use less than ¾ cup of sugar, but if you want it sweeter add up to 1 cup, tasting as you go.

12 oz fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon lime juice

grated zest from 1 orange

¾ -1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet or hot smoked paprika (obviously hot paprika will make this spicy, so go easy if not accustomed to using)

pinch allspice

Clean and dry cranberries. In a food processor bowl pulse all ingredients until a chunky relish forms, scrapping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Taste and season with more lime juice if desired. Store in a glass container tightly covered and let stand overnight or minimum 2 hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Wheat Empanada Dough

makes 12 large six inch diameter dough rounds

Tip: Drop a few ice cubes in the water for colder water that helps keep the gluten strands in the dough shorter. Shorter gluten equals more tender pastry. And tender pastry equals tender, more loving empanadas.

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

8 tablespoons chilled non-hydrogenated shortening

2 tablespoons chilled vegan margarine

3/4 cup or more cold water

In a food processor bowl pulse together flour, salt and baking soda for a few seconds. Slice shortening and margarine into 1/2 inch chunks, add to food processor and pulse. Pour flour/shortening mixture into a large bowl and stream in cold water while mixing with fingers. Continue adding just enough water until to form a soft and stretchy dough. Briefly knead a few times, separate into four balls and flatten each into a disc about an inch thick and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Handle the dough minimally to keep it from getting tough. Chill overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Tear 12 pieces of waxed paper about 7 inches wide. Lightly dust with flour rolling surface and a rolling pin. Roll one of the dough discs about 3/8th thick, stretching and pulling the dough a little if necessary. To keep dough from getting too tough use long rolling motions on dough, occasionally lifting the dough by the edges and turning it a little to ensure even thickness throughout. Using a 6-inch diameter bowl pressed into the dough as a guide to cut circles, take a small sharp paring knife and run it around the edge of the bowl to cut out circles. Or use a huge round cookie or biscuit cutter. Stack circles of dough on top of one another, using small squares of waxed paper or plastic wrap to separate each piece to keep from sticking. Chill dough scraps and repeat rolling and cutting with remaining dough disc. Gather up all the remaining dough scraps, re-roll only one more time and cut out as many circles as possible. Chill rounds while preparing the filling or store in the refrigerator for up to a week, tightly wrapped in plastic to keep from drying out. Keep chilled until ready to fill and bake.

2010 year of the seitan tamale: Viva Vegan! is VegNew’s Cookbook of the Year

The cat’s been out of the bag for over a week now, so I’ll say it here. While attending the Boston Natural Expo East (helping a friend in the name of vegan research) I received a tweet from VegNew’s editors in San Francisco to call the next free moment. In between nibbling seaweed crackers, inhaling geranium scented air at the laboratory-style oxygen bar and foraging for vegan chocolate I broke free of this demanding schedule and got the exciting news.

Admittedly I was giddy. Viva Vegan! was quite the project when I first strapped myself in over 2 years ago and I was clueless as to what kind of response it would receive. I had no idea that the notion of meatless, dairy-free Latin cuisine would seem anything less than insane to avid cookbook readers and kitchen enthusiasts, not just the vegan population at large. Yet it has made an impression beyond anything expected. I’m happy and hopeful Viva Vegan! will continue to serve the palates of Latin-food lovers gone veggie, long time vegans and the adventurous veg-curious in the US and beyond.

Perhaps this post is the closest I can get to a virtual podium and speech? If so I’d like to warmly thanks Viva Vegan! recipe testers putting up with demands of learning the distinction between masa harina and masarepa, patting out endless pupusas and steaming enough seitan to heat a spa (next up, seitan saunas?). Thanks also to VegNews staff and readers for making an impact with a vibrant, modern magazine to spread the vegan way o’ life. And of course huge, papaya-sized thanks to readers of Viva Vegan! itself…I’m hoping your copy is crusted with bits of masa harina dough and post-it-notes as much as my own copy (and my kitchen sometimes too).

As they say in the distant vegan utopia of “Veganzuela”, Viva los Vegans!

Me, you, tamales and the Boston Vegetarian Festival this Saturday

Tamale making elves...I mean students, at work

Tamales tamales tamalesthe cry of the street tamale vendor sometime heard in Queens reminds me that it’s time to get cracking making tamales. In the spirit of the fall tamale making season (tamales are year round eating, but I love the smell of steaming masa in cool weather) I’m going to be presenting a vegan tamale-making demonstration this Saturday morning 10:45 at the 2010 Boston Vegetarian Food Festival. These tamales will be stuffed with of chipotle-seasoned beans and roasted sweet potatoes, a damned fine combination for fall-inspired eating.

If you can’t make it to Boston I still hope you’ll have tamales on the brain as much as I do right now. Here’s a snippet of how I put together a tamale assembly line, essential for mastering batch after batch for your next tamale party explosion.

For assembly I like to set up my workspace as follows:

1)  Soak the dried corn husks. Make sure to soak an additional 4 for tearing into strips and 6 or more for lining steamer basket

2)    Prepare filling and let cool enough to handle.

3)    Set up the tamale assembly space such as a large clean cutting board and large plates for stacking finished tamales. Set up steaming basket and fill steaming pot with 3 to 4 inches of water. Line basket with soaked corn husks. Have a small bowl of cool water handy for moistening hands, useful for patting sticky tamale dough.

5)    Make the tamale dough. I like to make it right before I’m ready to start filling and use it while still warm.

6)    Assemble the tamales by spreading the dough onto soaked husks, filling, wrapping and tying. About half way through making the batch of tamales I like to put a lid on the steaming pot, turn the heat on high and try to time getting the water boiling by the time I finish the last tamale.

7)    Place tamales into steamer basket. The easiest way to do this is by leaning tamales against the sides of the basket, overlapping tamales slightly in a spiraling pattern. If you have too much space in the center (enough that tamales tend to fall over), fill the space with a crumpled ball of foil. Don’t pack tamales too snug; leave a little room to allow tamales to expand while cooking. Place basket into preheated pot, cover and steam tamales for at least 50 minutes, up to 1 hour.

8)    Test cooked tamales by using tongs to removing a single tamale, let cool for a minute and peel back the wrapper from one end. Tamales are done when the husk wrapper pulls away easily from the tamale. Cooked masa feels solid and has a somewhat firm yet tender texture. Maybe you could say it’s like firm, sliced polenta, but way better. Sometimes cooked tamales may still be a little sticky. Slightly sticky tamales sometimes just need a little more cooling, about 20 minutes, to firm up and be no longer tacky.