Tamale Tips and Guacamole Recipe for Cinco de Mayo
If my son were a dog, he’d be a mutt. Irish, Italian, and Mexican on my side, and German, English, and a few other Waspy ethnicities on Tony’s side. We know mine with some certainty – but what he knows of Tony’s side was only a stab from my memories of vague conversations that might have happened some 30 years ago. So, understandably (and like many adopted people), Eric had his DNA analyzed by Ancestry.com. Most of it was not surprising, but there is one bit we’re uncertain about – most likely on my mom’s side.
I might be able to help figure out that mystery bit for Eric if I were to have my own DNA analyzed – but that’s probably not going to happen. Even as I understand anyone’s need to know who they are and where they come from, I find the idea of voluntarily giving my DNA to any sort of corporate entity distasteful, at best – and exceedingly unwise, at worst. Comedian Bill Burr (whom I seem to reference with some regularity) has a funny rant that pretty much nails why I won’t buy in. There’s more to it, but the gist is: “Why would you send your saliva into the internet? Why would you do that? Why don’t you just go to the Illuminati and help them build your robot replacement?”
Perhaps it’s easy for me to shrug it off because I have always known my full history. And even if there’s a bit of mystery to my mom’s ethnicity, it’s nothing that keeps me up at night. One thing I’ve always found kind of interesting is how similar all of the flags of my ethnicities are.
Another odd thing is my strong affinity for all things Irish, given that it was only my paternal grandmother with the Irish ancestry. My dad’s father was Italian, and what we know of my mom is that she was Mexican on both sides. So I grew up in a house where the Mexican culture dominated. Both my mom and dad spoke Spanish fluently – it was my mother’s first language and my dad studied it in college and then became fluent as he continued to use it. And neither of them thought maybe they should raise bilingual children? Huh. We marked all of the Mexican holidays; the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated annually on December 12, seemed to have special meaning for my mom. And our house had a distinctive Mexican flair to it. I always thought it was just my mom’s weird decorating taste, until I heard comedian John Leguizamo describe the inside of his mom’s “typical Mexican house” as “looking like a papaya exploded.”
We ate what Americans know as Mexican food with regularity: Spanish rice, homemade tortillas, refried beans, huevos rancheros, guacamole, and tamales. Though we had them week in and week out for years, I never mastered the art of rolling tortillas into round discs, deciding at one point I might have stumbled onto a new product line with animal-shaped tortillas. (Mine in no way resembled the ones in the adjacent picture, which were cut out with cookie cutters.) While tamales are a Christmas tradition for many Mexican families, we tended to have them two or three times a year, whenever it struck my mom’s fancy. The reason so many people do it only one a year is that they are a LOT of work.
I was going to give you a recipe for tamales and instructions here – but it would make this post crazy long, and there are lots of good resources on the ol’ interwebs. Here’s an excellent step-by-step guide. There are also all kinds of videos on YouTube, if you’re a more visual learner.
A few things to keep in mind if you plan to make homemade tamales:
(1) STEER CLEAR of corn oil. It is the worst possible oil you can consume. Regardless of what the recipes, say, don’t use it!
(2) Most recipes call for you to make the masa (corn dough) from scratch. We almost always bought prepared masa from a Mexican restaurant. It will save you sooo much time and hassle. Be sure to get the flavored masa, though – or plan to flavor it yourself. Otherwise, your tamales will taste terrible.
(3) Tamale-making requires a team effort. Figure out how to form an assembly line for greatest efficiency.
(4) It takes a while to get good at rolling the tamales. Don’t worry – just keep practicing. By your final dozen (yep, you’re gonna make a LOT of them if it’s to be worth your time), you’ll be a pro.
(5) WASH YOUR HANDS before touching any part of your body if you’ve come in contact with any kind of chili pepper – fresh, dried, or powdered. I was helping my mom and aunt make tamales when I was about 10, and I rubbed my eyes with my chili pepper hands. Don’t make that mistake unless you’re a masochist!
Instead of a tamale recipe, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I will give you my very simple guacamole recipe. My in-laws have loved it since the first time I made it for them. There’s really nothing to it. I think the only reason they think it’s so good is that it’s fresh every time I serve it.
- 4 or 5 medium avocados – be sure they’re ripe
- A cup of grape tomatoes
- Small to medium onion (red, yellow, or white)
- 2 fresh garlic cloves or ½ teaspoon of garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A splash of vinegar (to keep the avocados from browning)
Peel and pit the avocados. My sister taught me that the easiest way to remove them from the skin is by using a table spoon or small serving spoon. Cut the avocados into small pieces, an inch or so. No need to measure – your next step is to mash them in a medium size mixing bowl. Cut your grape tomatoes as small as you can – or to whatever size you prefer. I usually cut one tomato into three pieces. Dice your onion – again, make the pieces as small or big as you like. Add the tomatoes and onion to the mashed up avocado. Mince the garlic if you’re using fresh. Add it, or powdered garlic. Add your splash of vinegar, and stir the whole mixture with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve as a side dish with organic blue corn chips, or with your favorite Mexican dish.
So here’s to a happy Cinco de Mayo!
Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.