May 21, 2011

Asparagus Tamales ~ Fresh, Local, & In Season

It's asparagus time of year again and I've been enjoying it.  I think I've eaten steamed asparagus spears at least twice a week for the last month.  My favorited grilling it just until it turns bright green.

I made tacos with grilled asparagus with black rice, roasted red peppers, avocado, and Daiya Cheese, in hand made corn/flour tortillas.

We're planning a trip to southern Oregon pretty soon and as I planned our drive around some of my favorite farmer's markets and produce stops, I remembered the asparagus tamales a Mexican woman sells at the Salem farmer's market.  She sells frozen tamales by the dozen, but I've never bought that many as it's a two hour drive and no matter how I kept them on the way home, they'd have to be cooked an eaten as soon as we got home.  I thought I'd try it myself.  It's been a long time since I made tamales.  They're a bit labor intensive, so I don't make them very often.  This is a simple recipe, but including all the prep, it took me four hours from start to finish.  I washed a lot of asparagus so I could put mostly the nice tips in the tamales.  I steamed the rest of the asparagus and mixed it with some of the chiles I roasted and some spelt berries and some pineapple.  That made a great salad, cold or warm for my lunches this week.

I don't usually use a recipe for tamales, but I thought I'd look around for some vegan ideas and I'd like to share, so I need some measurements..  I found a recipe I liked pretty well, changing just a few things as I went along. I made the filling with a little more chilies than in the recipe.  I had some dried Pasillo peppers I soaked in filtered water until they were soft and easy to use.  I strained the seeds and bits out of the chili water and used that as a liquid while sautéing the peppers and onions.  I also used fresh jalapeño peppers and one large sweet red pepper I roasted, peeled, seeded. The cheese sauce called for vegetable broth powder and that's something I just don't have in my kitchen so I thought a little light miso might be nice.  I've used that in a number of vegan cheese sauces.  It worked out just fine.

Traditional tamales are prepared with lard, which is technically dairy-free, though certainly not vegan and not exactly healthy. These dairy-free cheese and jalepeno tamales are lard-free, vegan tamales that can be filled with many different kinds of fillings, from beans to veggies to sweet potatoes, and they are so much fun to serve!

I used dairy-free cream cheese in this recipe, but if this is not available, dairy-free soy margarine or even all-vegetable dairy-free shortening will work as well.

I doubled this recipe and ended up with about thirty tamales, half went into the freezer for a quick meal later.

Vegan Tamales
by Ashley Skabar

Makes 12 tamales


  • For the Tamales:
  • 14 large dried corn husks
  • 1 8-ounce tub dairy free cream cheese
  • 3 cups masa harina
  • 1 3/4 cups warm vegetable stock

    For the Filling:
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 jalepenos, finely chopped and seeded (I also added a a couple Pasillo peppers I had around)
  • 3 T. finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • I added about three large fresh Asparagus Tips, 1 inch sliced, to each one - I put the asparagus in raw as it will steam plenty with the tamales.

    For the Dairy-free Cheese Sauce:
  • 2 cups plain dairy-free soymilk or almond milk
  • 1/4 cup Tahini
  • 2/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 t. turmeric
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth powder (I used about 1-2 TB light miso paste)
  • 1 T. prepared mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste


1. Place the corn husks in a large bowl. Fill with water to cover, then place a plate or pan on top of the husks to submerge them for 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, make the masa dough. In a medium-large mixing bowl using an electric hand mixer, beat the dairy-free cream cheese on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until aerated and fluffy. Add the masa harina and stock gradually, beating until well combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, adding the onion and garlic once hot. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft. Add the jalepenos, cilantro and salt, and cook for about 2 minutes more, or until the onions are translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Make the dairy-free cheese sauce. In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, heat the soy milk and tahini. When just warm, add the nutritional yeast and turmeric, stirring until well combined, followed by the vegetable broth powder, stirring well until dissolved. Add the prepared mustard and cook until desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.

5. Assemble the tamales. Tear 2 of the corn husks lengthwise (with the grain) into 12 strips and set aside. Drain the remaining corn husks and pat them dry. Place one of the corn husks on a dry work surface. Place about 1/4 cup of the masa harina mixture in the center of the corn husk, pressing the mixture into a rectangle and leaving about a 1- 1 1/2 inch border on the sides. Place 2 T. of the vegetable mixture onto the center of the masa rectangle, followed by about 2-3 T. of the dairy-free cheese sauce. Bring the "long sides" of the corn husk together without folding them over. Tuck in the ends of the cornhusk, then continue to fold the long sides of the husk around the tamale. Using one of the corn husk strips, tie the tamale to secure. Repeat with the remaining corn husks and batter.

 6. Cook the tamales. Fill a stockpot with a steamer insert with water so that it is just about 1/2 inch below the basket. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Place the tamales upright in the steamer basket, cover, and steam for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the batter is firm and easily comes away from the corn husk. Remove from heat and let the tamales stand for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with salsa, dairy-free cheese sauce or just as they are!

 I added a little tomatillo sauce, some of the dairy free cheese sauce, grilled asparagus, and a pineapple and mango salad.

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