Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Banana Leaf Chicken Tamales

I don't like corn-husk wrapped tamales. Call me crazy, but I was spoiled by the tamal vendor in Atlanta. I don't know who they are, but my mom and sister came back from Atlanta one day with about 30 tamales. They were wrapped in banana-leaves and I have been spoiled ever since. And I might have an affinity for bananas in general, thanks to the tropical childhood we lived. The leaves add a distinct flavor to the masa, and it's delicious!!

Anyway, I had been wanting to make my own, and I had banana leaves in the freezer and tomatillos on the counter. What could I do but make tamales??

Banana leaves (you can find these at the Asian or Mexican market)

2 cups masa harina
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water, lukewarm
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

3 chicken breasts
6 tomatillos
¼ cup vinegar
2 tbsp jarred jalapenos, chopped
2 tbsp cumin
1 tsp chile paste
1 tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine the masa ingredients together.
Using your hands, mix well to incorporate the shortening throughout the mixture.
The masa should be a bit runny at first, but as it sits, the masa harina will soak up the liquid and dry a little.
Cover and set aside while you prepare the filling.

Take the husks off the tomatillos, if there are any, and wash to remove the sticky stuff. Cut into quarters.
In a small food processor, add vinegar and tomatillos and blend until the big chunks are gone.
Pour the mixture into a pot, add jalapenos, cumin, chile paste, salt, and chicken.
Simmer for about 15 minutes, or till the chicken is cooked through.
Remove from heat, remove the chicken from the pot and allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, cut the chicken into small cubes and, in a large bowl, combine with the tomatillo mixture.

Take your banana leaves and cut them into large pieces, about 8” x 8”.
With the veins of the leaves running from top to bottom, place about 1/3 cup of masa in the center but all the way to the right side so that your masa is all the way to the end of the leaf on the right.
Put about 3 tbsp of the filling in the middle.
Then fold the right side of the leaf over to the middle of the masa, then fold the left side all the way around, making one long pouch.
Fold up the top and bottom of the leaf and wrap with kitchen twine.
This should make 10-12 tamales.

Now to steam them:
Using a steamer in a large pot, you can only cook about 4 tamales at one time.
When I’ve made corn husk tamales, I have rigged up the fryer to steam about 30 at one time. I put a Pyrex casserole dish on the bottom of the large fryer pot, filled the pot with enough water to cover the casserole dish, then placed the fryer basket (the one with holes) on top of the casserole dish. Bring the water to a boil, cover the basket with foil, and steam for about 1 hour. Keep an eye on the water level, and refill as needed.

I also found another method that seems a little less complicated than either doing 3 batches at one hour each batch or rigging up the fryer. You can place a steamer rack on the bottom of a large pot, add enough water to come up just below the steam rack, and line the top of the steam rack with banana leaves. Place all your tamales on top of the banana leaves, and top them with a few more leaves. Cover the pot and steam cook for an hour.
If you end up with 10, each tamal will have 237 cal. 12, and they'll have 197 cal.

So I realize that shortening or lard is the traditional way to make the masa, but there has to be a healthier option to keep the masa moist. I’ve done some research and some people use olive oil while others use margarine or even low-fat ricotta cheese that has been beaten and processed to create a smooth cream. I will try one of these next time I make tamales and let you know if they turn out well.


fo said...

Interesting. I'm not a big fan of corn husk anything, but I think I would like these. I've read chard leaves are also sometimes used.

Karen said...

Hmmm...You mean like chard, like swiss chard? That would be an interesting flavor. I'll have to try it!