Almost-Vegetarian Tamales with Rajas, Corn and Cheese

I admit, I ate pork belly again this week. This time, with mustard greens and cornbread. The pork belly was salted and sugared overnight, slow roasted at 300 degrees, cooled so it would slice neatly, and then pan fried again to crisp the skin. But what do you do with all the fat it renders? I mean, it’s a lot of fat! My solution: almost-vegetarian tamales. I love tamales, but I don’t care for the meat inside. But when you make it without the meat and use Crisco, it just doesn’t taste as good. So in this recipe, I make a tamale masa with pork belly fat and supplement with Crisco. I rendered about a cup of fat from my pork belly and used one stick of Crisco (1/2 cup). Whip the pork belly fat and Crisco in a stand mixer and then slowly add masa harina (I used about two pounds mixed with 1 tablespoon baking soda and a tablespoon of salt). Heat 32 ounces of chicken or other broth. Slowly pour the broth into the mixture. You want a masa slightly softer than play dough. You need corn husks which have been softened in water. Buy at any Mexican grocery or often they can be found in the international aisle of a mainstream grocery store. You make a tamale the way you might imagine: open the husk, spread a few tablespoons of masa, add a few slices of roasted pasilla chile peppers (seeds and veins removed if you don’t like the heat), a slice of mozzarella (or muenster or a Mexican cheese) and a sprinkle of corn (I used frozen because corn is not to be had this time of year). Wrap and fold up the bottom. Steam for an hour or so until the dough is springy. Enjoy with your favorite salsa or sauce.  If want a real recipe, try Diana Kennedy’s—one of my favorites. Eating the tamales made the guilt from eating pork belly twice in one week go away.


 – C.