Garden to table

Tamales, it’s been too long!

Cooking and gardening involve so many disciplines: math, chemistry, reading, history.

David Chang

As promised, I’m going to show you my homemade tamales made with garden fresh green salsa. I can’t take credit for this recipe; my source is “Simply Mexican” by Lourdes Castro. Let’s get started.

You will need:

A package of corn husks

1 pound of chicken

1 teaspoon of oregano

1 onion

Salt to taste

Salsa verde (Green Tomatillo Salsa) 1 ½ – 2 cups

2 ½ cups masa harina

2 cups of chicken broth, maybe a little bit more as needed

¾ cup solid vegetable shortening

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons of salt

A big pot

A mixer


Aluminum Foil

I froze a portion of the salsa I made last time and I made sure the portion was the amount I wanted to use for this recipe (so none would be wasted). I pulled the salsa out to thaw and then began poaching the chicken and hydrating the corn husks.

I poach the chicken the same way I start a chicken soup. You place the chicken in the pot and just barely cover it with cold water which will make the broth more flavorful. The same principle is followed when adding vegetables. I also placed quartered onions, oregano, and garlic cloves in the water and made sure all the ingredients were just covered with enough water (1/2-1 inch of water above ingredients). If you are using the stove top, you’ll bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 35-45 minutes. If you have plenty of time, you could simmer it for several hours but never bring it to boiling for a more flavorful broth. I personally used a pressure cooker which allows me to skip those technicalities (pressure cooking does wonders) so alternatively I set the pressure on for 20 minutes then let it slow release. After the chicken is cooked through, let it cool in its broth to retain moisture. Then you can shred it with two forks, a kitchen aid stand mixer, or your hands. Reserve the leftover broth for your tamale dough.

Stir the shredded chicken and salsa together making sure you have just enough to coat the chicken (set aside extra chicken if you need to). Set this mixture aside and make your tamale dough by first mixing together the masa and chicken broth; then beat the vegetable shortening separately until it is fluffy. Add a little bit of the masa mixture to the shortening a little at a time until all is incorporated then just add a couple more table spoons of broth and beat for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle baking powder and salt over the dough and mix in.


Now here comes the fun part (tedious part, the part that reminds me why I only do this at Christmas). You’re going to assemble the tamales. Are you ready?

Set up an assembly line as such:

  1. A bowl of hydrated corn husks
  2. A bowl of tamale dough
  3. A bowl of chicken mixture
  4. Several torn corn husk threads for tying
  5. A bowl or plate for assembled tamales

First take a corn husk and hold it with the narrower pointy end up. Spread tamale dough all over the bottom half of the husk leaving a one inch border on the left and right sides. Put some chicken filling lengthwise down the center of the dough. Pick up the sides of the corn husk and carefully press the edges of dough together. Fold the remaining flaps over to one side, fold the empty top section of the cornhusk on top of that, and tie a thin strip of extra corn husk around the tamale. Once you have assembled all of the tamales, you can create a steamer with the foil, water, and pot. Just make a big ball with the foil, place it in the center of the pot, and add ½ inch of water to the pot. Stand the tamales around the foil ball with the pointy ends up. Cover the pot with a lid and let simmer for 40 minutes.


Your finished tamales should then be ready to enjoy with rice, beans, and perhaps some extra salsa and another favorite Mexican side dish. Mmmmmm, Muy Bueno!


Garden to table

Long Awaited Tomatillo Salsa!

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,”

        says a lot of people.

Yum! I was so excited the day I learned how to make fresh salsa. I especially love the flavor of roasted vegetables. My first salsa was a traditional tomato-based variety in which the ingredients were cooked under the broiler in the oven. I also enjoyed making enchiladas with chicken and the canned green salsas but one day I asked myself, “What would happen if I substituted tomatoes in my salsa recipe for tomatillos?” I’ll tell you what happened! I quit buying canned green salsa!

When we lived stateside, tomatillos were a staple at the local grocery store. We never hesitated to buy bundles of them and whip up fresh salsa every week. We used it in our enchiladas, tacos, as a snack with chips, and eventually I learned how to make tamales with it.

This changed when we moved to Japan.

We have still been able to make red salsa, but the green we have had to live without for nearly two years. Why? Tomatillos are not shipped to the commissary. I tried to grow them; I failed. I tried again this year; I succeeded! Our long wait for fresh tomatillo salsa is about to come to an end; hurray!

Tomatillos and peppers

Today I will show you how I make my salsa. It can be used immediately or frozen for a later date (which is my plan). I was very happy to be able to use my freshly grown tomatillos, serrano peppers, and purple cayenne peppers today!

Purple Cayenne and Serrano Peppers–Aren’t they festive?

You will need:

8-10 tomatillos (consider the size)

1 small purple onion

1 green bell pepper

1-4 spicy peppers (to your taste) such as jalapeño, serrano, cayenne, or poblano

2 garlic cloves

¼ cup of chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon cumin (we call it comino)

Optional: salt and pepper or lime juice to taste

Oven broiler or grill

Broiler safe cookware

Instructions: First place tomatillos without their husks into a bowl of water for ½ hour. This will reduce the sticky texture on the outside. You can heat the broiler during this time.

The removed tomatillo husks would make a great addition to the compost!
The tomatillos are taking a water bath for approximately 30 minutes.

Next, dice all vegetables into large chunks and discard the cores and stems of the tomatillos and peppers. Place all veggies into the oven safe dish.

Cut off the stems and make the veggies ready to go straight to the blender after cooking.

Cook under the broiler for approximately 10 minutes until you see some charring on the veggies. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Slightly charred and very flavorful, the vegetables are ready to be made into a delicious salsa.

Place all of the cooked veggies and remaining ingredients into a food processor and chop to desired consistency.

I leave a lot of seeds because we like the heat and the texture, but you can always remove them before adding to the blender if that suits your taste.

Now you can add your salsa to your desired recipe, place in a freezer safe bag for later use, or enjoy it fresh with chips immediately.

Ready to be used on a later date, the salsa is packed in freezer safe bags with the air squeezed out.


Next time, I will write about how I intend to use this salsa—in homemade Christmas Tamales! Joy to this household, a taste of home has come! That makes my heart sing.

How do you use your tomatillos? I would welcome any growing or cooking ideas you have!