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Tamales: Tales, tips, and a recipe

Patricia Zarate, manager of Homegirl Café, readies a batch of tamales. December 2010
Patricia Zarate, manager of Homegirl Café, readies a batch of tamales. December 2010
Photo by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

The Latino culture site Remezcla tweeted this today:

Food of the Year: Tamales

Okay, so maybe it's a stretch. But tamales are the food of the moment, at least in much of Los Angeles, where people are in different stages of making them, ordering them, eating way too many of them, and swearing they won't eat another one again for a whole year.

I personally haven't reached that point yet, but the day will come.

For those who have yet to hit the masa wall, here are a couple of tamal tales for a rainy day, plus some tips and a recipe thrown in for good measure.

My KPCC colleague Adolfo Guzman-Lopez recently visited downtown L.A.'s Homegirl Café to report on the Homeboy Industries offshoot's intensified holiday tamal production. A quote from the cafe manager:

"The shift is beginning right now and we’ll be here at least 8 hours, from 8 to 10 hours, just to supply tomorrow’s orders. Because of the holidays we have plenty of orders. We will be making about 4 to 500 tamales tonight," she said.

More tamales are in the mix: Homegirl Café will soon have a City Hall outlet and another at LAX.

Remezcla's tweet linked to a short piece on a Chicago tamalera who defies the bitter Midwest winter to start selling tamales at 5 a.m. on the street:

Besides the loin freezing cold and frost bitten feet from still trying to rock your boat shoes during the transition from Chicago fall to Chicago winter, there is also one sure fire sign that the frozen dawn is upon us. This evident manifestation is the triumphant rise of the tamale lady.

She would scoff, no doubt, at those of us hiding from the rain at the moment.

Eastside LA recently posted some tips for making tamales on a budget, down to where to find cheap chiles:

For fresh chiles, Superking is the place to beat: Pasillas @ 99¢ for 2 lbs! Now that’s a bargain. For $4.22 I got me a big pot of chiles, ready to be cleaned and roasted.

And yesterday, the folks at the bilingual parenting site SpanglishBaby tweeted this "receta básica para tamales" (basic tamales recipe), courtesy of the ubiquitous Maseca brand masa mix. From the English translation:
3 Cups Maseca® FOR TAMALES corn masa flour
2 1/4 Cups Lard or vegetable shortening*
2 1/4 Cups Chicken, beef, or pork broth (for savory tamales); or
2 1/4 Cups Lukewarm water, cinnamon tea, or anise tea (for sweet tamales)
1 1/2 Tbsp. Salt (if tamales are savory)
1 1/2 tsp. Baking powder

*If you prefer, you may substitute 2 1/4 cups of corn oil.

Had enough tamales yet?