How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

More gratuitous lunchtime tamales

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Cuban-style tamales on Noche Buena, December 24, 2010

The holidays aren't over yet, right?

I'm close to hitting the wall, but not until I finish the leftover Cuban-style tamales that graced my parents' Noche Buena table the other night. These are sweet corn tamales with pork, mushy and slightly crumbly and very good, though not easy to make (to do it right, one has to grind the corn).

I usually make Mexican-style tamales, which can be whipped up from dry masa mix and still taste spectacular. But this year my mother sought out the work of a professional, i.e. a woman in Bell who makes Cuban tamales and sells them underground via one of the local carnicerias. So to the unnamed tamal lady, mil gracias. They were delicious. I only wish I'd had more room for them amid the lechón, yuca, black beans and rice.

For anyone who is feeling ambitious and has yet to completely burn out on tamales, here are a couple of Cuban tamal recipes. One calls for either fresh corn or frozen kernels and requires a food processor, unless grinding corn by hand is your thing. Another employs a shortcut mix of canned creamed corn and cornmeal. The latter trick is something my late grandfather adopted after grinding corn became too much of a chore, and the results weren't bad. Some people have been known to add a little boniato (sweet potato) to sweeten the masa, but the corn should do.

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