First things first: allow me to introduce my friend, Doña Sonia. She doesn’t know she’s my friend yet, but I think I‘ll email and tell her. Sonia Ortiz is the woman behind Cocina al Natural, and if you speak Spanish and enjoy delicious Mexican food, you’ll love her recipes and videos (if you don’t speak Spanish, check out the website anyway – use Google translator for the recipes and watch the videos to see the techniques). Sonia’s short videos always start with a friendly greeting, something along the lines of “Hola, amigos, I invite you to put on your aprons and let the inner chef we all have inside come out!” Isn’t that a nice thought? For a semi-regular food blogger I have to admit I don’t have much time to read food blogs, but I make a point to see what’s new on Cocina al Natural at least every couple of weeks, and every recipe I’ve tried has been delicious.
The recipe for pineapple tamales I’m sharing today is from Sonia, and they are a terrific introduction to sweet tamales if you’ve never had them before (or if your experience was like mine, with a tía who used to make a heavy version packed with raisins and nuts for the holidays….sort of like fruitcake in that they are probably good if you have acquired a taste but I never really did). I made the pineapple tamales almost exactly like Sonia, and I’ve added one more tropical flavor with an optional coconut cream sauce.
One more thing about the tamales before I get to the recipe: they are very low in fat! Traditional tamales rely on a good amount of lard in the masa (corn dough). Modern cooks often substitute shortening and/or butter, which still results in a high fat and high calorie food. Sonia’s trick is to combine masa harina with plain yogurt, which yields a light and flavorful masa with a texture that is very similar to the traditional high-fat version.
The basic procedure is pretty simple, but you’ll want to make these tamales when you have about three hours available (half of that time is for steaming, and you won’t need to give it constant attention). As for equipment, you need some kind of steamer with a tight-fitting lid. My Fagor 8-quart pressure cooker pot with the steamer basket and glass lid is perfect, but before I got it I used to rig up a steamer in a big pot by balancing a round cake rack on four small tomato sauce cans with both ends cut out, and that worked just fine.
- 30 dried corn husks for tamales (plus extras for the steamer if you are using a rack)
- 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups plain yogurt (I used 3.5 % fat)
- 3 cups masa harina
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Extra yogurt or milk if needed to give masa a spreadable consistency
Soak the corn husks in hot water for about twenty minutes while you are preparing the masa.
If the pineapple chunks are large, cut one cup of them into smaller pieces and set aside. Finely chop the other cup of the pineapple chunks and pour the chopped pineapple and juice into a medium bowl. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then mix in the yogurt.
In a large bowl, combine the masa harina, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. The resulting masa should be of a spreadable consistency but thick enough that it won’t drop off the spoon right away if you take a spoonful and hold it upside-down over the bowl. The consistency you end up with will depend on how juicy the pineapple is. If the masa is too thin, let it sit a while and it will thicken up; if it is too thick, mix in a little extra yogurt or milk (you also might need to add a little partway through spreading the masa, as it tends to thicken anyway).
Remove the corn husks from the water. Squeeze the excess water out and put the husks on a kitchen towel.
For each tamal, spread about two tablespoons of the masa into an approximately 5” square on the inside of a corn husk (on the end with the straight edge – you can go to within ½ inch of the straight top edge; see the photos and it will make more sense, or you can always watch Sonia Ortiz’ video). Different cooks have their favorite ways of spreading masa, and what works best for me is actually a butter knife. Place a row of 5-6 small pineapple chunks in the middle of the masa square, then bring the sides up to meet and fold over to one side. Fold the pointy end up, and if desired, tie loosely with a narrow strip of corn husk (not strictly necessary, but the tamales will look neater and stay together better).
That’s really it! Once you have assembled all of the tamales, stand them up pointy-folded-end down in a steamer basket, or if you are using a rack, first cover it with several layers of corn husks so the tamales won’t fall through the rack, extending the husks up the sides of the pot (put about three inches of water in first, or as much as you can add and still have the level be below that of the rack or basket). If the tamales don’t completely fill the basket, leave it open in the middle and tilt the tamales slightly so they rest against the sides of the basket or pot. If needed, you can wad up some foil to fill in spaces so the tamales will stand up better, or you can put a tempered glass measuring cup in the middle and fill it with water to generate more steam.
Once all the tamales are in the steamer, bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat until you have a steady simmer. You want a lot of steam but not a hard rolling boil. Steam for about 1.5 hours, checking after an hour and adding more water if needed. To test for doneness, pull out one tamal and if the husk peels away from the masa, it is done.
Cocina al Natural recommends serving these tamales as a dessert or snack, accompanied by coffee or hot chocolate, and I think that sounds like a fine option. But let’s think about the ingredients: corn flour, fresh fruit, yogurt, and relatively little sugar per tamal – sounds like a good breakfast food to me! Once the tamales are cool, place them on a tray in the freezer, and once they are frozen, pack into a large freezer bag. I made a batch of pineapple tamales a while back, and I’ve had them for breakfast several times a week since then (just under a minute each in the microwave on high power brings them back to a fresh-from-the-steamer state of deliciousness).
If you want to serve the tamales for a dessert or snack, may I suggest a topping of fast and easy coconut cream sauce? Oh go ahead, have coconut cream sauce for breakfast, too! Here’s the recipe:
Coconut Cream Sauce
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 14-oz. can coconut milk, well shaken
- 1/3 cup sugar
Pour the beaten eggs through a strainer into a medium-sized heavy saucepan and then whisk in the coconut milk and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly and starts to boil. Serve warm.