Recipe Box: Timbers Tamales!

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From top: finished tamales, assembly, Timbers pup sweater (in progress), Kurt's game day shirt.

To celebrate the Portland Timbers home opener last week, we made two huge piles of tamales and invited some friends over to watch the game. These little hand-held parcels are the perfect game day snack because they are fun to eat and substantial enough for a crowd of hungry soccer enthusiasts. I like to hold one in each hand and do a round of alternating fist pumps, while singing my favorite soccer chants. WE ARE GREEN, WE ARE WHITE! WHOAHH-OH, WHOAH-OH!

This is my favorite tamale recipe. The masa is blended with mashed butternut squash and adobo peppers. Sweet, savory, smokey, spicy! These happen to be vegetarian (vegan, even!), but I also made an extra batch of masa dough for an alternate version filled with spicy Yucatan pork pibil (you can find my pibil recipe here).

Butternut Squash and Corn Tamales
Adapted from the Food Network Kitchens
Makes 12 tamales

2 cups diced butternut squash
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1 tbsp adobo sauce, from a can of chipotle chilis
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
3 cups masa harina
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots
1 small bunch green onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
1/4 cup capers
1 cup corn kernals
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 cup cilantro
Remaining 1 cup of squash from dough recipe

You'll also need: 14 corn husks, soaked in warm water for about an hour.

For dough:
Put butternut squash in pot with broth, green onions, adobo sauce, garlic, salt, and cumin. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes until squash is tender. 

Remove squash with slotted spoon, set broth aside to cool. Set half of the squash aside. In a large bowl, mash the rest with the back of a spoon or potato masher. Add masa and mix with a fork. Slowly pour over broth and add oils. Mixed together with your hands. Masa dough should be soft and moist. Cover with saran wrap and leave at room temperature until you're ready to assemble tamales. 

For the filling:
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook shallots, red pepper and garlic until soft and slightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add chilies and cumin and cook for another minute. Stir in corn kernels and saute until corn is cooked through and slightly browned. Add remaining squash. Using the back of a spatula, break squash into small pieces. Season with salt and remove from heat. Add green onions, zest, capers and cilantro. 

To assemble*:
Remove corn husks from water and pat dry with a paper towel. Tear two of the husks into skinny strips, lengthwise (these will be used to tie up your tamales). Unroll a corn husk so that it lays flat on your work surface. Spoon two or three tablespoons of masa onto the center of the husk and flatten into a rough oval shape. Top masa with a heaping tablespoon of filling. Tightly roll the right side over the filling, then the left side so that the husk overlaps (kind of like rolling a burrito). Fold the bottom toward the center, then fold the top flap over. Tie a strip of corn husk around the center of the tamale to secure top flap. Repeat until you've assembled all of the tamales. 

*Sometimes assembling tamales can be a little tricky, so I like to have a helper. Kurt is really excellent at assembling and wrapping, and I use my nimble spider fingers to carefully tie up the corn husk packages. If you have a buddy, I suggest getting an assembly line going, because this part can be a bit time consuming. There are a few different ways to fold a tamale. Here is a good instructional video that shows an alternate version. 

Cook the tamales: 
Lay tamales in a steamer basket, cover, and cook until the husks are semi-translucent, about 50-60 minutes. If you do not have a steamer, roll a long piece of foil into a snake-like coil and placed it snugly at the bottom of a large pot. Fill the pot with water so it reaches 3/4" of the way up the foil coil. Place tamales on top of coil (none should touch the water), cover, and steam the same way you would using the steamer basket. 

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