Savory Tamales de Calabaza y Pollo (o Pavo!)

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I asked all of you if you wanted me to make sweet pumpkin tamales or savory pumpkin tamales. The results were pretty evenly split, so after I made the sweet tamales, I began to figure out what I wanted in my savory tamales.

I began to brainstorm – Pumpkin reminds me of autumn and autumn reminds me of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving reminds me of turkey and turkey reminds me of Salvadoran panes con pavo – and that is when I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

I didn’t have any turkey on hand, but I had chicken, (and honestly that’s what we often use because it’s more affordable.) So I prepared the chicken for filling the tamales the way I do Salvadoran Pavo, complete with the savory Salvadoran salsa spiced with relajo (see the notes about relajo in the recipe below.)

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What this means is that these tamales are perfect for your Salvadoran pavo leftovers this holiday season! Even if you have only regular roast turkey leftover from Thanksgiving you could just add a little mustard, Worcestershire sauce, the salsa with relajo, and you’ll be ready to start assembling these tamales.

As for the pumpkin, I incorporated that into the masa and the flavor ends up not being very noticeable as the delicious chicken and salsa steal the show. I do think that the pumpkin lends a very pretty color and moisture to the masa though, plus it’s full of vitamins – so I will absolutely include it again next time I make these tamales.

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Warning: These are pretty amazing and the recipe below only makes about 10 regular-sized tamales. You may want to double or even triple the ingredients!

Savory Pumpkin Tamales de Calabaza y Pollo (o Pavo!)

For masa:

1 cup Maseca
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup pumpkin puree

1. In a medium-sized bowl combine the Maseca, salt and oregano, then add the pumpkin and butter. Mix to combine. Add the chicken stock and mix until completely combined. Set aside.

For filling:

3 large chicken thighs (or the equivalent dark meat turkey)
1/2 tsp. yellow mustard
a few shakes Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
1/2 small onion
1 tbs. minced garlic
1 – 2 cups water

1. In a medium pot, coat the chicken or turkey pieces in mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Add water, garlic and onion. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, cover and lower to a simmer. Cook until the meat is cooked through and juices run clear. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, remove meat from bones and shred. Discard skin, bone, onion and any liquid left in the pot – you just want the meat which you will be mixing into the salsa later.

For salsa:

1 cup diced tomato
½ tsp. fresh minced garlic
1/4 small onion, diced
1/4 small green pepper, diced
1/3 cup chicken stock
1-2 large tablespoons Salvadoran relajo spice mixture (see note below)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon achiote
salt and pepper to taste

Note – If you can’t find Salvadoran relajo spice mixture, the following can be substituted: 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, a few shakes dry oregano, 4 dry roasted peanuts, 6 dry roasted pumpkin seeds, 2 large bay leaves – crushed, 6 whole cloves and/or allspice.

1. In a blender combine all ingredients except salt and pepper. Blend until mostly smooth, about one minute. (The sesame seeds and other spices will give this salsa texture – that’s how it’s supposed to be.)

2. Pour the salsa into a small pot and simmer over medium-high heat for a few minutes, stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You can remove the allspice and/or whole cloves if you like at this point.) Mix the shredded chicken into the salsa. Set aside to cool.

Assemble the tamales:

Take 10 to 12 dried corn husks and soak them in a large bowl of hot water to soften. Once softened, remove one by one and gently shake dry before using.

In the middle of each corn husk, spoon a few tablespoons of the masa and spread out with the back of a spoon, but stay towards the middle of the husk – don’t go to the edges.

In the middle of the masa, put a large spoonful of the chicken and salsa mixture.

Fold corn husk closed as described in this post. Optional: Wrap the tamales inside aluminum foil.

Stack tamales in a tamalera and steam about 2 to 3 hours. Makes about 10 regular-sized tamales.

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(Carlos eating his fourth tamal for breakfast this morning!)

Sweet Tamales de Calabaza y Horchata

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Ever since I heard that pumpkin tamales actually exist, I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind. I read over twenty recipes but none of them were quite right so I decided I wanted to develop my own. As much as I like to get creative and experiment in the kitchen, (something I’ve done since I was little, now that I think back), I usually do a lot of research and calculations before attempting anything because wasting food when things don’t come out well makes me unhappy.

That being said, when I set out to make my pumpkin tamales, I went to the cabinet to pull down the piloncillo and dark brown sugar so that I could decide which I wanted to use – except that when I opened the cabinet I got a whiff of the Salvadoran horchata mix I keep in there and a new possibility entered my mind.

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Salvadoran horchata is made of wonderful things like morro seed, cocoa, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and vanilla – all which compliment pumpkin very nicely, so I decided to take a big chance and try something really different.

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Sometimes these things work out and sometimes they don’t, but thankfully this time the result far exceeded my expectations. The tamales are perfectly balanced and mildly sweet. You can taste the horchata but it doesn’t overpower the pumpkin, and you can taste the pumpkin but it doesn’t overpower the horchata – they compliment each other even better than I imagined. Even Carlos who isn’t usually a big fan of pumpkin and was very skeptical, ate one, and then asked for another! Here’s the recipe if you want to give them a try.

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Sweet Tamales de Calabaza y Horchata

You need:

1 cup Maseca
1/4 cup horchata drink mix (see note below)
6 tbs. white sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

1 cup pumpkin puree
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cups warm 1% milk

10 to 12 dry corn husks

1. Soak corn husks in a large bowl of hot water to soften.

2. Mix dry ingredients (Maseca, horchata, sugar and salt) in a medium bowl. Note: I used Mama Noya brand horchata but all horchata drink mixes vary slightly. If you use a different brand, I can’t guarantee that your tamales will come out like mine. Also note that this is Salvadoran horchata drink mix, which is different from Mexican horchata.)

3. Mix pumpkin puree and butter in a separate medium bowl.

4. Add the dry ingredients, little by little, to the pumpkin mixture, stirring to combine.

5. Add milk and stir to combine completely.

6. Spread on corn husks that have been gently shaken dry, a few tablespoons in the middle of each husk. Fold closed. There are different ways to fold a tamal – I typically bring the long sides together around the masa, fold the tapered end up, fold the length sides around the tamal over the tapered end and then fold down the top. I don’t leave the top open like a lot of people and I also wrap each tamal in aluminum foil to help keep it closed.

7. Stack tamales in a tamalera/tamal steamer, with water in the bottom. If you don’t have a tamalera you can use a large stock pot with a metal pie pan inverted on the bottom. The important thing is to keep the tamales out of the water and to have a lid for the pot to keep steam in. Steam for about 90 minutes. To see if they’re done, remove one, allow to cool for a few minutes and then attempt to peel the husk off the tamal – if it comes off cleanly, they’re finished. Makes about 10 small tamales.