El Día de la Candelaria
by Silvia Malo
Forty days after Jesus was born, he was presented to the temple on what is today known as Día de la Candelaria (in English, Candlemas). And to celebrate such an event, we Mexicans eat tamales. What else is there to do on the second day of February?
But we don’t wait for Candelaria to start thinking about tamales. As it happens, on January 6, Three Kings Day, we serve a special cake called Rosca de Reyes. In the Rosca there are three hidden tiny plastic babies. Each person cuts a piece of the cake, and if a tiny plastic baby is in that piece, the person needs to invite all others present for tamales on February 2.
As a child I linked baby Jesus to the tiny plastic babies inside the Rosca de Reyes: in my head, there was a horrendous possibility that someone might bite baby Jesus’s head off, breaking a tooth doing so. But, the idea of eating warm, tender, delicious tamales made all these scary, almost sacrilegious, images disappear from my head. . .
Tamales are wholesome food that gently hugs your soul, and they don’t need an excuse or a festival to be served. Tamales are one of those things you can always eat. It is food that makes you feel good. And ready for a nap right after you’ve eaten it.
I am not kidding.
This is how I’ve always felt when I eat tamales. I can just retire to my favorite corner in the living room and slowly drift away, remembering those Rosca de Reyes days and dreaming of the next time I get to eat tamales.
And if you’d like to give them a try, follow the recipe below. Since it’s hard to find all the ingredients you’ll need to make tamales in Berlin (they are usually wrapped in a corn husk and steamed), I suggest you make a Tamal en Cazuela, which is very similar to polenta and baked instead of steamed!
Tamal en Cazuela (Tamal Casserole)
For the salsa
- 8 medium tomatillos (canned)
- 2 Jalapeño peppers, halved and deseeded
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
- ½ cup chopped cilantro (Korianderblätter)
- 2½ cups of cooked shredded chicken
- ¼ cup chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- Olive oil
- Salt to taste
For the dough
- 1 cup lard
- 3½ cups corn flour (Mazeca)
- 2¼ cups warm chicken broth
- Salt to taste
For the casserole
- 2 tablespoons lard to grease the baking dish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sour cream and shredded cheese for serving (optional)
- A standard cake form or a square 9-inch baking dish
- Aluminum foil for lining the cake form or baking dish
- A blender or food processor
- A hand mixer
Preheat the oven to 180° C.
Prepare the salsa (Makes 2 cups)
- Mix the tomatillos in a blender with the chopped cilantro, chopped onion, peeled garlic cloves, and the halved, deseeded Jalapeño peppers. Add about ¼ cup of water and a pinch of salt.
- Add olive oil to a pan and quickly sauté the teaspoon of minced garlic in the oil to infuse it.
- Pour the sauce into the pan and let simmer for about 5 minutes on low heat.
- Incorporate the cooked shredded chicken and season with salt and pepper.
Prepare the dough
- Place the lard in a large bowl and beat with the help of a hand mixer until the lard changes color from light golden to white. You will also see some small bubbles forming on the lard.
- Add the corn flour (Mazeca) little by little and keep beating.
- Add the warm chicken broth a little at a time while beating the dough. You may not need to use all of the broth. The consistency you are looking for is firm like a sugar cookie dough, but not sticky.
- Taste to check if the dough needs salt and add some if needed. The amount of salt needed will depend on how salty the chicken broth was.
- Keep beating until the dough’s texture is creamy, then set aside.
- This process should take about 15–20 minutes.
Assemble and bake the casserole
- Grease the baking dish or cake form with lard. Line it with aluminum foil, leaving enough foil to be able to cover the tamal casserole once it is assembled and ready to go in the oven.
- Divide the dough into two equal parts; it is very important to have the same amount of dough for the top and the bottom layers of the casserole.
- Spread one half of the dough on the bottom of dish. Pour the green salsa with chicken over the dough.
- Evenly spread the rest of the dough on top.
- Fold the aluminum foil flaps over to cover the dough.
- Bake in the oven for 60 minutes at 180° C.
- Check if it is ready by inserting a toothpick to see if it comes out clean. If you want a crispy crust, bake uncovered for another 8 to 10 minutes.
- Let the tamal casserole rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting to be able to get a good slice.
Serve alone or garnish with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with shredded cheese. . .
and don’t make any plans for afterward.