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Black Bean Tamale Recipe with Spicy Tomatillo Salsa

With a spicy tomatillo salsa, this Black Bean Tamale recipe brings a healthy fire to your dinner table.
By Myra Goodman and Marea Goodman
March 2014
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This Black Bean Tamale recipe includes a Spicy Tomatillo Salsa and fresh greens.
Photo courtesy Chronicle Books
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The desire to be an environmentally healthful and thoughtful eater has increased as more people pile on the fruits and vegetables and forego animal proteins. Myra Goodman and Marea Goodman have answered the call with Straight from the Earth (Chronicle Books, 2014), a resource full of creative, delightful vegan recipes that will change your mind on what a plant-based diet can be. From the chapter “Entrées,” this Black Bean Tamale recipe is full of fresh kale and butternut squash, and is served with a spicy tomatillo salsa.

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Straight from the Earth.

I first tried tamales, a traditional dish in certain parts of Latin America, when I traveled to Mexico as a teenager. But it wasn’t until I was living in a vegan cooperative house in college that I learned to make them. One Sunday, my friends and I spent the entire day creating tamales to serve sixty people for a communal meal, and since then they are one of my favorite dishes to cook.

Tamales are made from steamed or boiled masa (a starchy corn dough) wrapped around a filling of meats, cheese, or vegetables. This recipe is not as heavy as meat-based tamales, but tempeh and beans provide ample protein. Anyone can help assemble tamales, and the long prep time makes them even more satisfying and special when you finally sit down to eat. If you don’t have a whole day to devote to tamale making, you can prepare the masa and the filling up to 3 days ahead. They cook faster and more evenly in two separate steamer pots; borrow an extra pot if you have only one. They also freeze extremely well—so don’t worry about making too many. Serve the tamales with my easy Spicy Tomatillo Salsa or your favorite store-bought fresh tomatillo salsa. —Marea

Black Bean Tamale Recipe with Spicy Tomatillo Salsa

Masa Dough
• 4 1/2 cups instant corn masa flour (Maseca is a popular brand)
• 2 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• 1 tsp garlic powder
• 1 tsp sweet paprika
• 2 3/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
• 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Filling
• 1/4 cup canola or sunflower oil
• 1/2 medium yellow onion, small dice
• 1 1/2 cups peeled small-dice butternut squash
• 1 1/2 cups diced or crumbled tempeh
• 3 cups packed stemmed and sliced dino (Tuscan) kale
• 1 2/3 cups cooked black beans (rinsed and drained if canned)
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
• 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
• 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 package (about 30) dried cornhusks
• Spicy Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)

To make the masa dough:

1. Whisk together the masa flour, salt, baking powder, cumin, garlic powder, and paprika in a medium bowl. Add the stock, olive oil, and lime juice.

2. Mix with clean hands until thoroughly combined. The masa should be about the texture of cookie dough. Set aside if you plan to assemble the tamales within 2 hours, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

To make the filling:

1. Warm the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until it becomes translucent, about 4 minutes.

2. Add the squash and tempeh, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until the squash softens, about 6 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the kale, beans, cumin, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, paprika, and cayenne.

3. Sauté until the kale has wilted and is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside, or let cool and keep it in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.

4. When you are ready to assemble the tamales, soak the cornhusks in a very large bowl of warm water, making sure they are completely submerged for at least 5 minutes, or until they are softened. Place a large clean dishtowel on the countertop for soaking up the extra liquid from the cornhusks.

5. Take one large husk (see Note, below), shaking off the excess liquid, and place it on the dishtowel with the wide end at the top. Scoop out a scant 1/4 cup of masa, and spread it down the middle of the husk with your fingertips. The masa should be spread as thinly as possible, about 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 inch, in the shape of a circle or square. Make sure to leave at least 1 inch of husk uncovered on the top end and at least 2 inch uncovered on the bottom, narrow end.

6. Place 3 tbsp of filling in the middle of the masa, closer to the top edge.

7. Fold one side of the cornhusk over the other, forming a tube around the filling and sealing both sides of the masa together. Fold the bottom edge over the seam where the two sides of the cornhusk overlap.

8. Set aside, folded-side down, and repeat.

To cook the tamales:

1. Set a steamer insert into a large pot. Use two steamer pots if possible (the farther apart the tamales are in the pot, the quicker they will cook). Pour hot water into the pot so that it comes up to the bottom of the steamer, but not above.

2. Line the bottom and sides of the steamer with several of the softened cornhusks. This will prevent water from bubbling up and soaking the tamales as they cook.

3. Arrange the tamales by standing them up at a slight angle, so that they lean against the side of the pot, with the open ends of the tamales facing up. Cover the pot with a lid (or invert a stainless steel bowl over the pot).

4. Steam the tamales over medium-low heat for 90 minutes if using two pots, or 2 hours if using one pot, adding more water as needed every 20 or 30 minutes. Be sure to add the water in a manner that does not wet the tamales.

5. Using a knife or cake spatula, push aside the tamales to create a small opening into which you can pour the water. Be careful of the hot steam when you remove the lid. The tamales are cooked when the masa is firm to the touch and does not stick to the cornhusk when opened. Serve them hot with tomatillo salsa. Serves 8 to 12; makes about 24 tamales

Note: If the cornhusks are too small to spread the masa 2 1/2 inch, you can create a larger one by using two cornhusks. Simply place two husks side by side, overlapping by 1 inch.

2 tamales (no salsa)

Calories: 480
Fat: 28g
Carbs: 53g
Protein: 12g
Sodium: 970mg
Dietary Fiber: 44%
Potassium: 15%
Vitamin A: 45%
Vitamin C: 20%
Thiamin: 50%
Riboflavin: 25%
Niacin: 30%
Vitamin B6: 15%
Folate: 40%
Calcium: 15%
Iron: 30%
Copper: 15%
Phosphorus: 25%
Magnesium: 25%
Zinc: 10%

Spicy Tomatillo Salsa

This spicy salsa is a perfect pairing for the tamales. The combination of heat from the jalapeño, freshness of the cilantro, tanginess of the lime, and sweetness of the tomatillos adds another dimension of flavor to the tamales. It’s spicy, so if you want a slightly milder version, you can use half of the jalapeño. Store-bought tomatillo salsa will work fine, but you’ll be surprised how easy and delicious it is to make your own! —Marea

• 1 medium jalapeño
• 1 lb fresh tomatillos, papery husks discarded, stemmed and quartered
• 1 1/2 cups packed chopped fresh cilantro
• 1/2 medium white onion, cut into chunks
• 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
• 4 garlic cloves
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 tsp sweet paprika

1. Using metal tongs, place the jalapeño over an open flame on the stovetop. Turn it frequently, until the skin is charred all the way around, 2 to 4 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and let cool. Using a clean dishcloth, rub off the charred skin. Cut the jalapeño in half and discard the stem and seeds.

3. Combine the jalapeño, tomatillos, cilantro, onion, lime juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika in a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Transfer the salsa to a container, seal, and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Makes about 3 cups

1/3 cup salsa

Calories: 25
Fat: 1g
Carbs: 5g
Protein: 1g
Sodium: 320mg

More Recipes from Straight from the Earth

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes Recipe
Thai Spring Rolls Recipe with Peanut Dipping Sauce


Reprinted with permission from Straight From The Earth: Irresistible Vegan Recipes for Everyone by Myra Goodman and Marea Goodman and published by Chronicle Books, 2014. Buy this book from our store: Straight from the Earth.


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