¡Salud!’s Leda Garside’s recipe for Healthy Tamales
Making tamales, which can be a daunting, multiple-day cooking process, is made easier with the assistance of a few kitchen helpers. As a bonus, the camaraderie makes for a pleasant afternoon of Spanish conversation in the kitchen.
¡Salud!’s Leda Garside was joined by her compadres (and fellow Costa Rican expats), Clarva and Lillian, who collectively made light work—and a lower-fat version—of this traditional dish.
“Traditionally we’d use a fatty cut of pork for the filling and lard (instead of butter) in the masa, but this way is healthier,” says Garside. “We’re not 15 any more,” she says—although by her giggling and that of her compadres in the kitchen, you’d never know.
Recipe: Healthy Tamales
Summary: Leda Garside, nurse and clinical manager for ¡Salud!, the non-profit organization that has provided medical and dental services to thousands of Oregon’s vineyard workers , shares her healthy tamales recipe
- THE RICE:
- 2 cups long-grain white rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons achiote paste (optional)*
- THE SHREDDED PORK:
- 2 pounds pork tenderloin
- 4–5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 bunch cilantro (leaves and stems)
- 1 quart water
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- THE MASA:
- braising liquids (from pork tenderloin)
- 1 large sweet onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems
- 4 cups water
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 36 ounces polenta (corn grits)
- 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 Tablespoon dried oregano)
- 1/4 cup butter (or low-fat butter alternative)
- FOR THE ASSEMBLY:
- 2 packages banana leaves, defrosted and cut into 48 squares (plus a few extras), each approximately 1-foot-by-1-foot in size
- 1 package frozen peas
- 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 cups roasted bell peppers, julienned
- kitchen twine, cut into 48, 1-foot lengths
- TO MAKE THE RICE:
- In a covered medium pot, add the rice, water, and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Reduce heat to low and cook until the rice is slightly underdone—it should not be soft, but still have a slightly starchy bite. (The rice will be done when the assembled tamales are steamed. )
- *Achiote paste, a ground mixture of annatto seeds and spices, provides a vibrant orange-red hue to the rice. Find it at specialty grocery stores or online, or you can substitute a few threads of saffron.
- TO MAKE THE SHREDDED PORK:
- Put all the ingredients in a medium braising pan and place over high heat until the water comes to a boil.
- Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for an hour.
- Take off heat. Set aside and let cool.
- When cool enough to handle, remove the pork from the pan and reserve the cooking juices (it will be used later in the masa).
- Use your hands to pull apart the pork into shreds.
- TO MAKE THE MASA:
- In a blender, add the braising liquids from the pork tenderloin, chopped onion, and cilantro, and blend until liquefied.
- Set aside until needed.
- In a large soup pot, bring the water to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, and then add salt and polenta, stirring constantly.
- Cook until all the water has been absorbed (about 5 minutes)
- Then add the blended mixture, grapeseed oil, olive oil, ground cumin, and oregano to the polenta mixture. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until polenta is slightly underdone. It should not be mushy; rather, there should be a little crunchy bite left to the grits. As with the rice, it also will finish cooking when the assembled tamales are steamed.
- Stir in the butter and set aside to cool.
- TO ASSEMBLE THE TAMALES:
- In a large pot of simmering water, submerge the banana leaves for about 5 minutes. (If the pot is not large enough to submerge entirely, you may need to soak the leaves one-half at a time.) This process will soften the banana leaves and clean them slightly.
- Once softened, remove them with tongs, and then wipe them clean with a damp cloth or paper towels.
- Refresh the water after the first package is done.
- One at a time, in the middle of each square of softened banana leaf, spoon about 1/2 cup of the partially cooked polenta
- Then by a spoonful (about 2 Tablespoons) of the partially cooked rice
- Then a few shreds of pork, some peas, a few olives, a pinch of shredded carrots, a few capers, raisins, and roasted peppers.
- Fold the left and right edges of the banana leaf over the fillings, followed by the top and bottom edges, until a small rectangular package is formed, and then turn over to hold the top fold.
- Repeat this process to make a “twin” tamale.
- If the banana leaf splits and the filling starts to ooze out, wrap the package in another banana leaf—you do not want any holes in the leaves or the filling will ooze out during the final cooking process.
- Stack the two packages on top of one another, and then slide a piece of string under them.
- Cross the string on top, flip the package, and wrap it around the opposite side of the package, and tie it on top—like a ribbon wrapped around a gift box.
- Once all the tamales have been assembled, bring a large pot of water to a simmer.
- Submerge as many of the packages as will fit, and cover. Cook for 40 minutes.
- Remove and serve warm with salsa, or let cool and freeze for later.