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.
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.
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.
Sweet Tamales de Calabaza y Horchata
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.