Vegan Tamale Recipe Challenge

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Vegan Tamales

The catch? I can only use ingredients easily available in Swedish grocery stores

Shortly after learning about Sweden’s taco Fridays (hooray for Fredagsmys!) I promised a dear friend that I would develop a vegan tamale recipe for her using ingredients that are easily found at any grocery store in Sweden. Not only are tacos in Sweden a regular thing, but they have entire aisles dedicated to tacoproduktar. I used grocery store photos from my January 2018 trip to Stockholm to help me determine available ingredients.

A whole aisle dedicated to taco ingredients!

Masa, Masa, Masa

Masa dough is the trickiest part for two reasons. First, while masa harina is relatively easy to find in the US, I didn’t see any in Stockholm. Second, any masa dough needs strong fat and broth components. Using water and vegetable shortening will technically do the trick, but it will be dense and not very tasty. Given how much effort is needed to make tamales, it’s worth taking steps to make it super tasty.

I used corn meal run through my food processor to solve the first challenge. It did not turn out as fine as I would have liked, but it worked in the recipe.

For the second challenge, I ran masa experiments with three different combinations. Vegetable shortening is nasty stuff, so I went with other options.

Masa combinations I tried

  1. Veggie broth + roasted sweet potatoes + coconut oil + olive oil

  2. Veggie broth + roasted sweet potatoes + olive oil

  3. Veggie broth + coconut oil

During the taste testing, combination one was easily the runaway favorite. The masa was lightweight, flavorful, and easy to spread. The sweet potatoes added both flavor and dimension so we don’t have to rely on a lot of oil as a binder. That said, ingredients aren’t the only key to success. It also comes down to technique and order of operations. Air needs to be whipped into the coconut oil before adding all of the other masa ingredients.

Fillings

I’m a huge fan of roasting veggies because it is a great way to add depth of flavor without having to go overboard on spices. I used a taco spice packet as my seasoning because I know that is more readily available than individual spices like cumin and chile powder. The filling is the most forgiving part because it is super flexible and comes down to personal preference.

Filling combinations I tried:

  1. Taco seasoning + black bean

  2. Taco seasoning + roasted veggies

  3. Taco seasoning + roasted veggies + green chiles

Taste testing revealed that combining all of the filling combinations into one is the way to go.

Wrappers

I tried two types of wrappers. While corn husks are not readily available in Sweden, I had shipped my friend a stash of them so they were included in the testing. The other test used parchment paper.

The grand tamale assembly process with all of the different masa and filling variables

The grand tamale assembly process with all of the different masa and filling variables

Vegan Tamale Recipe Guidelines

After much trial and error, this is the recipe I came up with. Because I ran the tests on a small scale, ingredient amounts are super-approximate. Think of them as guidelines instead of rules. I’ll update the recipe when I get a chance to make them again.

Ingredients

For the masa:

Olive oil
4 cups corn meal run through a food processor
2 sweet potatoes: peeled, roasted, and mashed
1 cup solid coconut oil
3 cups veggie broth (pre-made from a container — or use your own!)
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the filling:

Can of roasted green chiles, chopped
1 1/2 cups of your favorite roasted veggies (onions, carrots, potatoes, etc)
1/2 can of black beans
Salt to taste

Masa dough directions:

Combine corn meal, broth, and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. Use a counter-top mixer to whip tons of air into the coconut oil. Lots of air. Like approaching meringue consistency. Use olive oil to get started if you need it. Once the coconut oil is good and magically airy, add the roasted sweet potatoes and repeat until as airy as possible. Start adding corn meal/broth mixture by thirds, combining well before adding the next third. Once all of this is together, add broth or olive oil as needed to ensure it is moist and spreadable.

Filling directions:

Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a bowl. Taste test and season as needed.

Tamale assembly:

I’m not going to go too in-depth on this piece because there are a million pages and videos about tamale assembly. Spread a few spoonfuls of tamale dough in the shape of a portrait-rectangle on a piece of parchment paper. Spread a generous spoonful of filling in a vertical line. Fold the dough together to seal in the filling, then fold the parchment paper into a lovely little package. Secure with kitchen string.

Cooking:

Again, not going too in-depth on this piece because of the preponderance of tamale cooking directions elsewhere. I put a couple of lightweight coins at the bottom of the tall pot before adding water and the steamer insert. If I can hear the coins rattling, it indicates that a) there is water at the bottom of the pot and b) it is boiling. Depending on the seal of the pot, I usually put a tea towel on top to ensure that the moisture stays in the pot instead of evaporating into the ether.

Cook on low boil for 60 minutes. Remove from heat and let them sit (pot still sealed!) for half an hour before opening the pot.

Serve and enjoy!

This was a super-fun adventure to try. I enjoy recipe challenges — thinking about trying this again with other types of recipes.