Our southwestern riff on the 3 sisters includes the True Red Cranberry Bean (which is nothing like the Italian "cranberry bean" which is actually a Borlotti bean). This rare heirloom, which indeed resembles a cranberry, had been grown by Abnaki Indians centuries ago but became extinct shortly thereafter. Thankfully seed savors revived it but now it is only grown by a handful of farmers. The True Red plumps up to be marble sized jewels with a dense yet creamy texture and a rich, earthy flavor. It pairs wonderfully with corn and butternut squash and mole sauce brings in the perfect balance of heat.
1. Pour boiling water over your corn husks in a bowl and set aside to soak.) Remember, prepping tamales with masa harina goes much faster, so it helps to have soaked, pliable husks ready for assembly that aren’t too hot.
2. Start the filling: Drizzle a bit of oil into a skillet. Saute the onion until translucent. Add the beans with a bit of the cooking liquid, corn, squash and mole sauce. If not using a mole sauce add the chopped chipotle and adobo from the can along with cumin, salt and sugar. Cook on medium heat until the sauce has a nice thick consistency. This can be more spicy than you would normally like because the corn masa will balance out the heat.
3. Make the Masa: Using 2 cups (about 268 grams) Masienda masa harina, use about 2 cups water, chicken broth or vegetable broth (I love using corn stock). Don’t add all the water or broth at once, instead add 1.5 cups at first and then continually add the rest until you get a nice, uniform not-too-sticky dough. What you are looking for is a dough that, when you roll together a ping-pong size piece of dough and then press it between your two hands, there aren't any cracked edges. For the tamales, err on the side of slightly drier as opposed to too hydrated. If you think the dough is too wet, add a little masa harina. For this application it's okay if the dough is just slightly on the drier side as opposed to too wet, because you're adding additional elements like fat to the mix, later on. Set aside.
4. In a stand mixer or in a bowl with a hand mixer, if using butter whip the butter until light and fluffy. Here's where it's a make your own adventure. If you want really authentic tamales you can use up to 1 cup of fat. If you want a lighter tamale use less fat, just know that it will be a little drier. If using butter, add the masa a bit at a time to the whipped butter, if using avocado oil do the opposite and add the oil a bit at a time to the masa. Add the baking powder. Taste again for seasoning. Go a bit heavier on the salt because they tend to lose flavor in the steaming process.
5. Assembly: This will take a bit of practice to get the prefect tamale, but luckily there is no bad tamale. The biggest mistake most of us make is adding too much filling so that we can't wrap the corn husk and tie it. So go light on the masa and filling!
6. Lay a corn husk in front of you with the thin end away from you so that it makes a little boat. With your spoon spread a spoonful of masa in the center of the corn husk. You want it to almost reach the edge but leave a couple inches at the top and bottom to fold over the corn husk. Spread it thick enough that the filling won't poke through but not so thick that that you won't be able to wrap it. Then put a bit of the filling in the middle (but not to the edges) of the masa. Roll up the edges of the corn husk until the masa meets to enrobe the filling. (this is the point where you'll understand how too much masa or filling is an issue.) Wrap the corn husk over the masa to completely cover it and then fold the top and bottom edges to the middle like an envelope and flip it over. Tear long thin strips of corn husk off of one of the husks you've prepared and use them to tie the ends so that they stay closed.
7. Steam the tamales in a steamer basket over a pot of water or use a steamer if you have one. Be careful not to let the water reach the tamales but also watch that the water doesn't run dry. A trick for this is to throw a penny in the bottom of the basket. The steam will make it rattle. If stop hearing the rattle it's time to add some water. Steam the tamales for 30 minutes. You will know they are done if the masa no longer sticks to the corn husk.
8. They can be kept warm at a low steam for over an hour, you can also cook them ahead and reheat them over steam before serving. Tamales freeze wonderfully and can be thawed and steamed or heated up in the microwave wrapped in a damp towel.
9. Serve them with hot sauce, additional mole sauce and sour cream and lime drizzle.
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