Let me back up here. The problem with finding a good tamal is that my family and I have recently gone vegetarian. All the wonderful tamal places that people have recommended to us make the usual red chile, green chile and dulce varieties, but no one seems to have the coveted, vegetarian rajas con queso type. So we DIY-ed it. We bought 5 lbs of masa (corn meal paste), a package of hojas (dried corn husks), some Anaheim chiles, pepper jack, cheddar and roasted corn and made our own non-traditional weirdo tamales; three types in fact, green chile rajas with onions and tomatoes, and pepper jack and roasted corn (frozen from Trader Joe's) with cheddar cheese. After we made those two batches, we discovered that we still had masa left over, so we took some of my homemade frijoles con queso and combined them with some roasted red peppers and made another batch. We ended up with several dozen grrrmet tamales. They came out pretty good. But we made too many.
With apologies to Gary Soto and Ed Martinez.
I’d always had this inexplicable fear of making tamales. My mom used to say it was hard and time consuming and so we never questioned her because she bought us La Indiana tamales. Now that those aren’t available, I’ve figured out that making tamales is time-consuming, but not difficult at all. All you do is soak the hojas (leaves) for about and hour until they’re clean and soft, spread your masa (you can buy it preparada which comes ready to go but contains lard, or you can make it yourself with Masa Harina), then you prepare your choice of filling. My tip is to cook everything that goes into the filling before stuffing your tamales, that way you just wait for the masa to firm up without worrying about whether the filling is fully cooked. We steamed ours in a double boiler for about an hour per batch.
I guess the tricky thing - if there is a tricky thing - is to spread the masa onto the leaves evenly and not to make your layers too thick so that the masa will cook quickly and evenly. After stuffing your tamales, you fold them like you would a burrito with the ends folded under, then stand them up in the top part of the steamer, but don’t let them touch the water or they’ll dissolve and you’ll have a gross tamale soup.
Finally, while you’re at the market may I suggest that you pick up a bottle of Rompope (Mexican eggnog.)
It contains a little booze, but you can add some spiced dark rum to it and sip it while you’re waiting for the tamales to cook.