All holidays have special food associations. For many families, tamales—a bundle of corn-based dough cradling a savory or sweet filling wrapped in a corn husk and steamed—are central to their December feasts. The opportunity to gather with friends and family to mix the masa; slow cook meats and vegetables in mixtures of aromatic oregano and cilantro, garlic, and smoked red chile; and wrap and tie the tamales, is as important as the food itself. Many hands make light work, and a lot more food!
Book reviews by Kristina Sepetys
Alice Guadalupe Tapp is the author of Tamales 101 and has owned a tamale restaurant in Southern California for nearly 20 years. A nearly lifelong tamale maker, she began at age seven assisting her grandmother in making tamales to sell after Sunday Mass. So she knows her tamales! Her latest cookbook, a small guide, is chock full of information about all things tamales (and close relations tondos and corundas). It provides comprehensive instruction for turning out delightful meals using time-saving tips and tricks that simplify the prep-intensive traditional process. Fillings include meat as well as vegetarian, vegan, and sweet combinations, and all are gluten free. Also included is Chicken Sinaloa Tamales with a Super Easy Red Pasilla Chile Sauce, a traditional Christmas favorite in the northwest Mexican state of Sinaloa.
Salsas are part of what makes tamales—and most Mexican and Latin American food—so piquant, colorful, and tasty. James Beard Award–nominated author, chef, and restaurateur Deborah Schneider adapts traditional recipes for U.S. kitchens and explains the skills necessary to create delicious Mexican sauces. Schneider’s handbook includes a wide variety of favorites, from classic table salsas to mole and enchilada sauces, plus chunky salsas and snacks. Recipes showcase the unique flavors of Mexico and beyond, including recipes for classics and variations, like Salsa Quemada (Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa), Red Cactus Pear Salsa, Charred Chile de Arbol Salsa, and Mango-Habanero Salsa.
A beautiful, large-format gift book with a half dozen satisfying tamale recipes and nearly 100 other robust, flavorful dishes, Mi Comida Latina is an enchanting hand-lettered and colorfully illustrated cookbook showcasing authentic recipes collected from home kitchens across Latin America. Artist and author Marcella Kriebel began creating it as a self-published Kickstarter project with the idea of capturing the warmth and depth of culinary traditions in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. Vivid, charming watercolors illustrate recipes like arepas, tamales, ceviches, fish tacos, salsas, flan, spicy micheladas, and icy watermelon paletas, all easily managed by home cooks. Best of all, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Burgess Lea Press produces fine books about food from excellent chefs, exemplary restaurants, world travelers, and family farms. The Press donates 100% of after-tax publishing profits on every book to organizations that address hunger relief, farmland preservation, and culinary education.
Although Tacolicious contains just one tamale recipe, you’ll find plenty of other healthy, vibrant snack dishes. From the co-owners of the popular San Francisco restaurants and acclaimed Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market food stand, Tacolicious, the book includes many of their best recipes: a juicy, spicy Chile Verde Taco; a decadently deep-fried Baja-style Fish Taco; Guajillo-Braised Beef Short Rib Taco; and salsas, snacks, and other accompaniments for quick and easy weeknight meals or inspiration for a fabulous fiesta.
Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán
by Eric Werner and Mya Henry
If tamales, habaneros, and tomatillos have you dreaming of a trip south to Mexico, you’ll be fascinated by the story of Eric Werner and Mya Henry, an intrepid young couple who gave up their restaurant jobs in New York City for a slower, simpler, more meaningful life off the grid in Tulum, Mexico, where they built Hartwood restaurant. Mya Henry took on the role of general manager, seeing to the overall operations and tending to the guests, while Eric Werner went to work in the kitchen, doing much of his cooking over a wood fire. Werner’s passion for vibrant flavors and natural ingredients, light on wheat and dairy, is expertly translated into recipes anyone can cook at home, like a Lentil and Papaya Salad with Lime and Honey Vinaigrette, Roast Chicken with Poblanos and Tomatillos, and Veal Chops with Red Pepper-Pomegranate Salsa. The flavoring elements in these recipes are simple: honeys, salts, fresh and dried herbs, 18 different fresh and dried chiles, onions, and garlic, together with tropical produce like prickly pear, nopales, chayote, and yucca. Recipes are beautifully photographed and interspersed with illustrated essays describing the couple’s experience running their restaurant. The book has won awards and accolades from Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, Departures, Fine Cooking, Food52, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and a variety of other publications.