Jewish Christmas Tamales


The Christmas season is a funny time of year for us Jews. Hannukah was a couple of weeks ago, so now while everyone who is Christian is running around buying last minute gifts and then settling in for family visits, we’re mostly chilling at home and trying to figure out how we can survive without an espresso bar for two days. Visit a Chinese restaurant on Christmas night and you’ll find it full of Jewish folks polishing off big plates of mu shu.

Anyhow, I look at all this time off as an opportunity to take on cooking projects that are bit more labor intensive than usual. So when we were figuring out what to have for our weekly family dinner with my brother and his girlfriend and her brother (visiting from DC), tamales seemed like just the thing. And then while flipping through recipes on the web, I found out they are traditional Christmas fare! So I think we might have to make it our new Jewish Christmas tradition.

This is only my second time making them, and I stuck with Rockin Robin’s excellent pictorial directions that I used last year. Of course I made my own vegetarian fillings, but she shows you just how to mix the masa, make the tamales, roll them, and steam them. The only thing I would add is that you should aim to spread the masa fairly thin on the corn husk so it doesn’t overwhelm the fillings and the filling itself should be slightly saucy, not too dry. The MaSeCa brand of masa harina she recommends definitely has a better corn flavor than the health food brand I tried this time, I’m switching back next year.

I made two fillings this time. I can’t really give you recipes for them since I didn’t write anything down, but the first was roasted portabella mushrooms in a red mole sauce, and the second was roasted and peeled poblano peppers with corn (frozen), onions and cheddar cheese. We had them with refried beans, guacamole, and a delicious salad that girlfriend’s brother made with honeycrisp apples and a stellar blue cheese.

If you go to make them, figure about 3-4 tamales per person, but you may as well make extra. They reheat easily in the microwave and freeze well. In fact I think I need a leftover poblano one right about now.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, December 24th, 2007 in Main Courses, Recipes.

10 Responses to “Jewish Christmas Tamales”

  1. Reply
    December 26, 2007 at 11:42 am #

    Yum! Your tamal fillings are great. I love roasted poblanos, and the portabellas in red mole sound delish. I’ve had trouble finding vegetarian mole. It usually has some schmaltz (to use the Jewish term) in it. Tamales are a big undertaking since they are labor intensive, but if you can make a bunch and have leftovers, they are such a treat. Great idea!

  2. Reply
    December 26, 2007 at 10:25 pm #

    I usually make a mole from scratch, though I think that there is a brand named something like Dona Maria(?) that doesn’t have animal fat. You can always do a “quick and dirty” version with Ibarra or other unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon, oregano, garlic, onions, canned chipotle and/or roasted and seeded dry chilis, broth, and roasted and ground pumpkin seeds – it doesn’t have to be the full 23 ingredient affair.

  3. Reply
    December 31, 2007 at 1:20 pm #

    Thanks! It seems so involved, but maybe I just need to step up to it and make it. I made a dry Ethiopian seasoning mix once and we used it regularly for like 6 months. So, I think mole is just something I need to add to my to-do list. 🙂

  4. Reply
    December 31, 2007 at 3:48 pm #

    Hmm, you cook like me–but try and give estimations next time so we can post a recipe! Thanks for stopping by the Fawnskin Flyer. So, instead of menudo, what are you doing for New Years?

  5. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 2, 2008 at 11:21 am #

    Funny you should ask :).

  6. Reply
    February 18, 2008 at 1:17 pm #

    Mexicans dont bastardize jewish hannukah or passover dishes, we would appreciate you not bastardizing our traditions. Keep your matzo balls, we’ll keep our tamales, you make a flavorless inauthentic mess anyway.

    • Reply
      January 2, 2019 at 1:39 pm #

      Wow. Just wow. I am Jewish/Spanish and we don’t limit our palette. I would gladly put my kosher Jewish Texmex tamales up against an “authentic Mexican Tamale” any day.

  7. Reply
    June 14, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    Are you kidding LaAmericanaMexicana. Most so called Mexican Restaurants across the US serve a “bastardized” version of traditional dishes or do you and your family usually sit down to the “Speedy Gonzalez Combo #1” for lunch. Lighten up. American cuisine is based upon borrowing from the ethnic cuisines of its residents’ native countries. Celebrate it. (btw a little avacado in matzo ball soup is great)

  8. Reply
    November 6, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    Wow. Really?
    No offense, but you are stupid.
    I’m Jewish and Italian-Mexican, and to hear you say this really offends me. I love my matzo balls, but I also love my pipian.
    How dare you say ‘keep your matzo balls’? That is ethnocentric and obviously ignorant of you. Food is for everyone and for someone who is not Mexican but wants to try something out of my culture (forgive me if I do not say ‘us’, but by your words you do not sound like the warm and friendly people that inhabit my beautiful Mexico), it is a joy to see them enjoy something I grew up loving.

    Anyways, this sounds delish, my mom and grandma usually make sweet tamales: filling them up with pineapple or raisins is amazing!

  9. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    November 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    Thanks for posting that Ava – I’ve been blogging 2.5 years now and LaAmericanaMexicana’s comment is probably the single most irritating one I’ve received. The funny part is how ignorant she is of her own country’s cuisine. As you say, tamales for example can be filled with hundreds of different things. Anyhow, I appreciate your commenting. And your family’s sweet tamales sound great!

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