I’m in Vegan Tamale Shock!

Let me start with this statement: I love tamales.

(Hopefully that will serve to explain the existence of this long, rambling post.)

As with mole and pan dulce, the first time I can remember having eaten a tamale is August of 2006, in Mérida, Mexico.  In the state of Yucatán, (where the city of Mérida is located) tamales are slightly different than those you find at most Mexican restaurants in the US.  In Yucatán, traditional restaurants and cocina económicas (small restaurants or individuals who cook a different type of food each day of the week) sell a special variety of tamales, called vaporcitos.  Vaporcitos are cooked in banana leaves instead of corn husks, which give them a slightly different flavor.  Throughout my time in Mexico, Saturday was tamale day.  My host mom would go to a nearby cocina económica and bring me home two delicious tamales.  They were so flavorful and moist that I didn’t even add sauce to them, except for a little bit of super-spicy salsa de chile habanero.  (I should add that, during my semester in Mexico, I temporarily took a break from eating vegetarian, which I was at the time, so that my host family wouldn’t need to make me my own special meat-free food.)

Since then, I’ve tried vegetarian tamales at Mexican restaurants.  I never liked them much because they were drowned in sauces and cheese.  I did quite enjoy Trader Joe’s Cheese and Green Chile tamales, before I decided to start eating vegan.  However, these very cheesy tamales tasted nothing like the tamales I remembered from Mérida, which had been filled mostly of some sort of meat and sauce.

So, when I saw recipes for vegan tamales in Terry Hope Romero’s Viva Vegan, I was excited.  Not just a little bit excited, but very excited.  Very, very excited.

It took me a while to work up the cooking-confidence to give it a try, but that time finally came.

Of the several varieties she has recipes for, I chose to make the Red Chile-Seitan Tamales.  These tamales, she said in the book, would fairly closely resemble traditional red chile tamales.  Cooking the tamales actually required four different recipes, all from Viva Vegan.  First I made the Steamed Red Seitan (to act as the meaty filling).  Then I made the Red Chile Sauce.  Next, I prepared the Savory Vegan Masa Dough.  Last, I was ready to follow the directions for the tamales themselves.  It was a multi-day, many-hour process.  But in the end, I can unequivocally say that it was worth it.  These tamales may be the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

This post is going to be image-heavy, because tamales are beautiful.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, I’m not sure), I dropped my camera and ended up loosing some pictures.  (And, by dropped I actually mean: walked into the cord attaching it to the wall while the battery was charging and ended up flinging the camera across the room and onto the floor).  The camera still works (it is a hearty little camera – approaching its eight birthday), it’s just that some of the files became corrupted during the camera’s failed attempt at flight.

Okay, onto the tamales.

First, I made the Steamed Red Seitan.  While I had previously made seitan sausages, I had never just steamed a loaf of seitan to use in cooking.  I had bought the water-packed kind at the store a few times.  It was expensive.  I was ready to make my own.

Steamed Red Seitan ingredients

Steamed Red Seitan ingredients.

The ingredients are fairly basic (if you already happen to have vital wheat gluten and garbanzo flour, as I did).

Cubed Steamed Red Seitan

Cubed Steamed Red Seitan.

After you mix it all together, knead it, wrap it in tinfoil, steam it, cool it, and cube it, it looks like any store-bought seitan!

Next, I made the Red Chile Sauce.

Dried ancho and guajillo chiles.

Dried ancho and guajillo chiles.

After removing the stems and deseeding the chiles, they were ready to be cooked together with onions, tomatoes, vegetable broth, and spices.

Red Chile Sauce, cooking.

Red Chile Sauce, cooking.

The next step was to puree the sauce.  Unfortunately, I did not heed the directions on my food processor, and filled the bowl much higher than the fill line.  There was sauce pouring out of every part of the food processor.  It was a pretty impressive mess, and I now know to not put liquids above the fill line on my food processor.

A few days later, I got ready to mix the masa and assemble the dough.  I was a little overwhelmed and basically just threw everything onto the table in a big mess of ingredients.

Tamale-making ingredients.

Tamale-making ingredients.

I have the broth, the vegetable shortening, the Earth Balance, the baking powder, the garlic powder, the salt, and the masa for the dough.  I have the sauce already made in the tupperware containers, and the seiten already made and cubed.  I have the onion and red peppers sliced and ready to saute for the filling.  I also have way too many corn husks.  (I wanted to be prepared!)  And, the most important part – the Viva Vegan cookbook!

Earth Balance and vegetable shortening.

Earth Balance and vegetable shortening.

First, I started by creaming together the Earth Balance and the shortening.  Even though I use non-hydrogenated organic shortening, it still sort of grosses me out.  It’s just so greasy (which makes sense, since it’s oil…)

Creamed Earth Balance and vegetable shortening

Creamed Earth Balance and vegetable shortening.

Then I added the dry ingredients to the creamed fat.

Dry Masa Dough

Dry masa dough.

After the dough reached a “sandy” consistency, I added the vegetable broth and mixed until smooth.

At this point, I had all the components ready.  All I had to do was assemble.  The assembly process was surprisingly easy, though it did take quite a while.  But it was enjoyable mindless work, and pleasant enough.  By the time I ran out of masa, I had 21 gorgeous tamales, wrapped in corn husks and tied shut with little strips of cornhusk.

Tamales, ready to be steamed.

Tamales, ready to be steamed.

After I finished wrapping the first tamale, I was flabbergasted that it actually looked like a tamale! Like, the kind you’d buy from somewhere.  And I had just made it.  From scratch! A real, live, (well, not live since no animals were harmed in the making of these tamales) tamale!

Tower of tamales.

Tower of tamales.

I started snapping photographs left and right.  These tamales have been more photographed than most celebrities.

Then, I lined the steamer basket with extra corn husks, and piled the tamales in.

Tamales: Moments before steaming.

Tamales: Moments before steaming.

My 21 tamales just fit in the steamer.  I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t make 24 like the recipe stated I should – I don’t know that they all would have fit!

The next thing I knew, 65 minutes were up, and the tamales were ready to be removed from the heat.  Then, after another excruciating 15 minutes, they were ready to be eaten.

I took one out of the steamer basket and laid it on a plate.

Tamale, still wrapped in corn husk.

Tamale, still wrapped in corn husk.

It still, surprisingly enough, looked like a tamale.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale.

This tamale had a jaunty side-tied knot.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, tunnel view.

Wrapped Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, tunnel view.

It’s like playing peek-a-boo with the tamale.  Or else, perhaps the tamale is going to jump out and attack.  I can hear the Jaws theme now… (Only, no shark would eat this tamale, because it’s meat-free!)

After all the dramatics of admiring the husk, I was ready to open it up and find out for certain if it had turned into a tamale.

So, I cautiously opened it, and found inside, a perfectly formed tamale!  I poured on some more red chile sauce.

Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle one.

Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle one.


Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle two.

Perfect Red-Chile Seitan Tamale, angle two.


So, at this point I knew that it looked like a tamale, and smelled like a tamale, but the biggest question was, did it taste like a tamale.

I will let this g-chat conversation, between me and my sister and occurring moments after I tasted my first tamale, answer that question:

Me: i just took a bite and it is SO GOOD. YUUUMMMMM
Sister: haha. nicee
Me: i want to eat all 21 RIGHT NOW.
Sister: you would not be happy
Me: no…i would not. but still. they taste like TAMALES!
Sister: good
Me: they taste like meaty tamales because of the seitan and spices. THEY ARE SO GOOD. i can’t believe it.
Sister: hah
Me: i’m in tamale shock. TAMALE SHOCK.
Sister: calm down. deep breaths
Me: i just finished the second one.
Sister: nicee
Me: i don’t ever want to eat anything else ever again. only these tamales.
20 minutes later…
Me: i just ate my third.


As you can see, I loved these tamales so much that apparently I forgot how to appropriately use capital letters. (And I’m a teacher. Teachers are always supposed to follow capital letter rules.)  While I was on a tamale high, my sister was substantially less impressed.  Of course, that’s only because she didn’t have any gloriously amazingly scrumptious vegan tamales to eat.

Overall, the tamales were quite a process.  They took a long time.  A long, long time.  They created a mess.  Quite a mess.  But they are delicious.  So, so, delicious.  They are sweet and meaty and saucy and masa-y and everything else that tamales should be.

I think the next tamales I make will be Chocolate Brownie Tamales.  I found the recipe on Terry’s (the author of Viva Vegan) website and they look great.  Chocolate and tamale?  They aren’t exactly traditional, and I never would have thought the two could be combined…but now that I know they can, I need to make them.  And I do have two extra bags of corn husks, along with most of a package of masa.  Look for pictures of these chocolate tamales within the next few weeks… I don’t think it will be long before these are made.

Thanksgiving Seitan Roast

I had been wandering around the Internet, looking for a good loaf-like thing to make for Thanksgiving.  I hadn’t found anything that looked good, and decided to just make tamales, instead.

Then, on Wednesday morning I woke up to find that Isa of The Post Punk Kitchen had cracked the magical code she’d been working on, apparently for 20 years, and had come up with a perfect seitan loaf to be filled with mushroom stuffing and baked in tinfoil.

In writing her recipe, she lamented that it was probably too late for most people to make for this year’s Thanksgiving.  But, I’m not most people, and I am a master of last-minute impulse cooking.  (It’s like impulse buying, but involves looking in the pantry instead of down the grocery store aisle.)

Seitan loaf

Seitan roast stuffed with shiitakes and leeks.

I started by prepping the ingredients:

Seitan Loaf Stuffing Ingredients

Stuffing ingredients.

I had never used shiitake mushrooms or leeks before, so both of those were chopping adventures for me.  I have to admit that mushrooms creep me out a bit.  They’re just…weird looking.  And a little dirty, maybe?  I don’t know.  Regardless, I rinsed the mushroom, removed the stems, and sliced them.  Then, I sliced the shallots into half-moons as the recipe said to.  (I think I did, at least.)  The poor lemon had suffered through a fairly unsuccessful zesting earlier in the day, so it was starting to look a little pathetic by this time.  But, it was still up for a juicing for the stuffing.  I also struggled a bit with the thyme.  I don’t know if there’s a better way to remove the leaves from the stems than the one I used, but the leaves just kept sticking to my hands and fingers and it was driving me nuts.  Eventually, I got the required amount of thyme off the stems.  For the bread crumbs, I used panko, because that’s what I had.

Seitan Loaf Ingredients

Seitan loaf ingredients.

The loaf ingredients required no chopping or cutting, which was nice.  (Of course, if I actually used real garlic instead of the lazy garlic-from-a-jar, there would have been more to do than measure.)

So, I started by making the stuffing.

Seitan loaf stuffing

Seitan loaf stuffing; mushrooms, leeks, and thyme.

Every time I sauté vegetables, I’m surprised by how much they reduce.  Every. Single. Time.

Completed seitan loaf stuffing

Seitan loaf stuffing: Completed.

I finished the stuffing and was pretty satisfied.  It smelled good, and I’d successfully cooked shiitakes and leeks for the first time.

I set the stuffing aside, and started with the seitan loaf.

First I put the beans and broth (and assorted other ingredients) into the food processor.

Beans and broth in food processor

Beans and broth in the food processor.

This is only exciting because I just bought this food processor.  Previously, I did all my blending and processing in the Magic Bullet, which, while magic in many ways, is quite small.  Unfortunately, even though I followed the “don’t fill with liquid above this line” rule, the food processor still leaked liquid.

Beans and broth in food processor, processed

Slightly leaky, but the job got done.

Even with the leakiness, it was probably less messy than having to do this blending in two or three Magic Bullet cups.

Next, I mixed the dry ingredients for the seitan.

Seitan loaf: dry ingredients

Seitan loaf: dry ingredients

I love looking at all the different spices together.  It makes me happy.  Spices (and herbs) make food delicious.  This is a fairly recent discovery for me.  (Also, while the Magic Bullet is too small for big food processing jobs, it is wonderful at chopping herbs, like fennel seed.)

Then I slowly poured the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Pouring, one

Pouring wet ingredients into dry ingredients (action shot one).

And I continued pouring.

Pouring, two

Pouring wet ingredients into dry ingredients (action shot two).

And I poured some more.

Pouring, three

Pouring wet ingredients into dry ingredients (action shot three).

The first time I used vital wheat gluten, I had no idea what would happen when it mixed with liquid.  I was in total shock when it got all thick and stretchy!  (Now though, I know what to expect.)

I kneaded the dough and stretched it out onto some tinfoil.

Seitan loaf: dough

Seitan loaf: dough.

Then, I scooped the stuffing out of its pan and dropped it onto the seitan loaf dough.

Seitan loaf: stuffing on dough

I wasn't expecting the stuffing to be as moldable as it was.

I rolled it all up.  This process was surprisingly easy!  I thought it would be messy and/or difficult, but I rolled it up without any problems.

Rolled and ready to bake.

Seitan loaf, rolled and ready to bake.

I baked it for 50 minutes like the recipe said, but when I peeked at it, it didn’t seem done yet, so I baked it for five more minutes.  I took it out of the oven again, let it cool for a while, and looked again.  It looked like the edges were starting to brown a bit like Isa’s pictures showed, but the middle still seemed pretty raw.  So, I put it in for about ten more minutes.  By this time, I think it was more done.  But, I’m not entirely sure.  Regardless, when I reheat the leftovers, I will be reheating it in the oven, so it will get a few more minutes of baking time then.

After making this (and the various other things I made that day), I was too tired to make any gravy.  But, I did eat the loaf together with an applesauce based fruity thing that I made.  The sweet fruit sauce made a good accompaniment to the seitan loaf.

Seitan Loaf: Final Product

Seitan loaf slices with mixed-fruit sauce.

All in all, it was pretty successful!  The people I shared Thanksgiving with were a little weary of this “weird” vegan food.  A couple people ventured to try a bite, but no one ate more than a few bites.  Whatever – that just means more leftovers for me!  It was pretty delicious and way more appetizing looking (not to mention healthier and with fewer preservatives or chemicals) than the creepy Tofurky loaves that you can buy at the store.  (Appologies to anyone who enjoys the Tofurky loaves.  I have never eaten one, but the picture on the box sort of grosses me out.  I don’t know why.)

I was really happy with how this turned out, and will definitely make it again for big food-centered events that require loaf-shaped food.

Vegan Mole Amazingfood

Twice so far, I have cooked Chili Sin Carne Al Mole from Vegan With a Vengeance.  This stuff is amazing.  AMAZING.  It is so incredibly delicious.  It has bits of chewy seitan, hearty beans (I used black instead of pinto as the recipe called for), sweet tomatoes, spicy jalapeño, and, of course, cocoa powder.

Vegan Mole Ingredients

It took me - no exaggeration - about an hour and a half to chop, measure, and divide this all up.

I first ate mole – real, delicious, sweet, spicy, mole in 2006 when I was living in southern Mexico.  I had a variety of Yucatecan mole, poured over chicken (I was eating meat temporarily at the time, to get the full culinary experience of Southern Mexico) and rice.  It was amazingly good.  I loved just eating spoonfuls of the mole sauce – the actual chicken I could take or leave.  My host mother at the time, explained to me how to make mole, and she made it seem really complicated.  (Though, maybe everything was a bit complicated for me in Mexico – I was learning a new culture and a new language all at once.)

This mole, though, isn’t bad.  I am, admittedly, the slowest cutter, chopper, or measurer around.  Sometimes, I just get distracted in the middle of chopping and leave the kitchen for a while.  But really, I am just very deliberate.  If the recipe calls for a “quarter inch dice” (or something along those lines – is a “quarter inch dice” even a thing?) you better believe that my dice is going to be pretty close to one quarter inch.  I read the recipe 3 times, measure twice, and add to the food mixture once.  (That was supposed to be a play on the “measure twice, cut once” saying that goes with wood work…)

So, despite the fact that it took me an eon and a half to prepare the ingredients, that’s all my fault, and not the fault of the ingredients or the recipe.  Up there in the picture, I have everything divided out so that I could just dump it in the pot when it was time.  First, I have the red peppers and jalapeño, next I have the onions.  After that I added the spices from the small blue dish.  Next came the seitan and garlic.  (I, as always, am lazy and use garlic-in-a-jar).  Finally came the  tomatoes and cocoa.  I ended with the vegetable broth and the beans.  After just simmering for a while (and letting it sit so that the flavors meld) I had an amazingly delicious vat of mole sauce filled with seitan, beans, and some vegetables.

Chili Sin Carne Al Mole

A delicious bowl of chili sin carne al mole.

I wish you could smell through the computer screen – this stuff smells amazing, tastes wonderful, and is pretty healthy, too.  (It calls for 1/3 cup of oil, I think, but I reduced it to 1/4.  I probably could have done with even less.)

Close-up of Chili Sin Carne al Mole

Close-up of hearty deliciousness.

I usually post small photos on here, but this deserved a full-sized viewing.  You can see chewy chunks of seitan, hearty black beans, onions, red peppers, jalapeño peppers, chunks of tomato, and a sweet brownish-red broth of veggie stock, tomato, spices, and cocoa.

I just ate a bowl of this stuff, and already my mouth is watering looking at this picture.