As visions of sugarplums dance in some heads, a City Different scene appears in my mind. I dream instead of the deliciously scented cloud that drifts up as I lift the lid off a pan of freshly-steamed tamales. No Santa Fe Christmas scene would be complete without a pile of pillowy treats on the table, and all over town families are setting the stage for their tamalero (tamale-making party).
The tamale is an ancient dish and the multi-step preparation works best when family and friends put many hands and much laughter to work. An assembly line forms to mix up soft masa harina (finely-milled ground cornmeal) dough for encasing familiar fillings or star actors cast by the abuela (grandmother) who shares her secrets judiciously (personally, I’m grateful to the auteur of the Tamale Dressing for Turkey in the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s cookbook). Mama spreads the masa on a pre-soaked cornhusk before passing it to a skillful tia (auntie) who fills and dexterously folds before tying it with a thin strip of cornhusk. The post-production staff packs up a portion of the treasure for the freezer then steams a batch for the hungry horde hovering nearby.
This year, my family crew is spread east and west for the holidays, so rather than a solo production, I’m letting the professionals fulfill my Tamalewood dreams. Care to come along for the ride?
Posa’s is a Featured Player at the Holidays
Peruse the prepared food section in Santa Fe grocery stores and you’re sure to spot a six-pack of Posa’s tamales. It’s a lifesaver for the time-challenged, as all it takes is a few minutes in boiling water to get these beauties on the table. But if time allows, a visit to Posa’s southside Café is a must-do. With options like red chile pork, green chile with cheese or chicken and a green chile vegan version featuring zucchini, black beans and corn, everyone is sure to be accommodated.
El Parasol is a Location Scout’s Dream
When it’s a grab-n-go day, there’s no better pick-me-up than the hefty take-out tamales that come from El Parasol’s cocinita (little kitchen). Larger than average, these tender treats are stuffed edge to edge with potent flavor. Order red pork and the generous portion of fiery shredded meat tints the tender masa with a scarlet glow. Spicy flavors linger on the tongue long after the tamale is gone. Green chile is no slouch either – whether you order the green chicken version or the green with cheese, you know you’re in New Mexico now, Dorothy!
Tamale-Time for a Close-up, Mr. de Mille
In the hands of an expert like Chef Patrick Gharrity, tamales dressed for an elegant appearance and a white-tablecloth dinner at La Casa Sena are cult classics. His mixed mushroom tamale is tucked into poblano-scented masa laced with fried sage butter, topped with shallot rings and served on a bed of avocado-tomatillo sauce. Perfection for fervent fungi fans! Pair it with an autumnal beverage like Crispin hard cider and a side of calabacitas (sautéed summer squash) and you’re in food heaven. My, oh my, is this tamale superstar ever ready for the red carpet!
Be the Star in Your Own Tamalewood Production
Once you take a tamale tour through Santa Fe, I guarantee you’ll want to know how to direct your crew to make these signature flavors at home. If you can’t borrow a friend’s abuela for training purposes, let the expert chefs at the Santa Fe School of Cooking do the honors. Its ever-popular (read: sell-out) tamale-making classes provide hands-on instruction through the assembly process and run the gamut from the red chile pork standard to a south-of-the-border chicken tamale wrapped in a banana leaf. All classes end with a feasting on the fruits of the labor and the school’s brand-new 25th anniversary cookbook has an invaluable storyboard for home tamaleros!
Make Tamales Your Classic Santa Fe Holiday Storyline
The holidays are a delicious time of year for Santa Fe locals and visitors. The town sparkles with excitement and our signature regional foods play their roles with gusto. Just be sure to make your holiday getaway Christmas-style – let red and green chile play starring roles and a standing ovation is guaranteed