The best holidays are also celebrations of wonderful food.
These are often religious holidays, such as Epiphany, when a special cake is celebrated. Called the king’s cake in New Orleans, or galette in France, or rosca de reyes in Latin America, each cake hides a small token – perhaps a plastic or ceramic baby – and some are also decorated with a crown (tying to the Three Magi, and to what you’ll need if you bite into the ceramic baby). Whoever gets the piece with the token, is “king” and royalty comes with privileges and obligations.
If you are in Mexico, that means that you host a tamale party for your family and friends on February 2, Dia de la Candelaria, also known as Candlemas, another great day for eating. The beverage of choice is atole, a thick, sweet drink made of masa (a special kind of ground corn) and various flavorings.
This year, myMEGusta was fortunate to be in Tijuana, Mexico on this delicious holiday, and treated to breakfast at the beautiful Culinary Art School (http://www.culinaryartschool.com.mx ).
It was a tamale feast (“Festa Tamal” in Spanish)! And my eyes opened wide to the possibilities of tamales.
First came three savory flavors: Mole, Greens and Mushrooms with Epazote (a zesty herb), and Canarios.
Most fascinating was the Canarios – so named for their golden yellow hue which comes from liberal use of egg yolks, not from food coloring or little yellow birds.
The most exotic, to my naïve taste buds, was the Chocolate Raspberry tamale for dessert. This delicacy had a flavor reminiscent of a brownie, but with the unmistakable texture of a fluffy tamale. A raspberry added just the right sweet/tart flavor counterpoint.
For the uninitiated, tamales are a high calorie, labor intensive treat, and well worth it on both counts, easy to make, but hard to make well. Described simply, lard is beaten into corn masa, which is then smeared onto dried corn husks, usually garnished with other ingredients like those mentioned above, or perhaps just chili or cheese, then rolled, tied and steamed.
Getting the right texture, light and not greasy, is the trick.
There are as many variations on tamales as there are ingredients and creative Mexican cooks. In some regions, such as the Yucatan, they use banana leaves rather than corn husks.
You can even buy a tamale machine.
I cannot wait for my next trip to Playa del Carmen to try some from the opposite end of the country!