Tamal Y Consuela, New Version of a Classic.
Tamal En Cazuela is delicious, no matter what you call it. But I do love the “Consuela” part, because it’s great comfort food; it heartily lives up to its potential reputation as a dish that consoles.
A Cuban tamal is typically wrapped in a cornhusk and boiled. This kind of tamal is ubiquitous in the Caribbean, Central and South America, each with its own regional variations, sometimes wrapped in a plantain leaf. Basically, if it’s wrapped in a leaf of some kind, it’s a tamal. The Cuban cazuela version is served in a bowl.
But similar dishes exist in the old world, too. Like it’s Italian counterpart polenta, tamal can be labor intensive. My first attempt at making tamal was a disaster; the clumpy cornmeal was saved only by constant stirring, the addition of broth and a good dose of hot sauce. Authentic Cuban food, however, is never picante. While soulful and tasty, Cuban food doesn’t have a lick of the heat that you find in cuisines from other Caribbean islands.
For years now, I’ve wanted to make a tamal for my lovely friend. She never had a chance to try my first stab at tamal (that’s a good thing) so the other night, we met impromptu at her home and I brought the ingredients for a late supper. Here’s what I whipped up — the cheater’s version of Tamal Y Consuela using premade frozen tamal, available in the Cuban section of Miami’s local grocery stores. Serve this as a meal or as a rich side dish instead of mashed potatoes. My palette tells me this would go well with roast pork. It’s also a great alternative to the usual rice and black beans.
I tend to eyeball my ingredients so the measurements below are approximate. Also, I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen; I used whatever spices my friend had available. Feel free to play with this recipe!
TAMAL Y CONSUELA
4 frozen tamales*
1-2 cups cream
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 big squirt premixed cilantro**
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
pinch of garlic powder
mint leaf sprigs
MISE EN PLACE
Thaw the tamales in their plastic wrapper in warm water in the sink.
Finely dice the pepper and onion.
Sliver the garlic.
Mix the cumin powder, garlic powder and cilantro.
Set aside the thawed tamales in a bowl, ready to use. Ditto with the cream.
Start with a sofrito process; this is simply a sautée of vegetables, spices and sometimes a little animal protein that will provide a flavor foundation for a dish.
Coat a soup pan with olive oil. Use medium heat. Sautee the green pepper first, until soft. Follow with the onion. Sautee until soft. Do not overcook the veggies. Add the slivered garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring so as to not burn the garlic. The garlic must not be burned! If so, start over. After it starts to smell really good, add the rest of the spices. Stir a little more and then add the tamales. Stir a bit more, then add the cream to desired consistency. The tamal will be somewhat clumpy, like a mashed potato texture. Some hot chicken or vegetable broth would probably help make it soupier if you like that consitency.
Serve the tamal in a bowl, garnished with mint leaf and voila you have just fooled your dinner guests into thinking you slaved over a hot stove for their gastronomical pleasure. Cilantro would make a great garnish too but again, I was improvising with what was available. The mint really compliments the corn flavor.
Had they been available, I would’ve used cumin seeds, putting them in the pot at the same time as the red pepper flakes. If you make this very clumpy instead of soupy, I bet you could form the tamal into balls and serve as tapas, maybe coated with some finely ground pork rind or on top of a chicharón. A little serrano ham in the sofrito would have been ridiculously sinful and of course, completely inauthentic. Use your imagination!
*Goya brand is what I used. Make sure it’s the traditional Cuban tamal, not the Mexican style.
**This can usually be found in the produce section. It’s in a tube and requires refrigeration.
You can check out Marta’s version of Tamal en Casuela over at Babalu Blog.
Maria de los Angeles is a Miami-based freelance wordsmith. She writes for Miami New Times, Miami Beach 411, her own blog Sex and the Beach and a variety of other outlets. Her favorite topics are travel, social media, tech, humor, sex and of course food and culture — not necessarily in that order. Learn more at Wily Wordsmith.