Tamales and atole are a classic combination. Atole is a thick silky drink, usually chocolate but sometimes vanilla. Some people refer to it as “Mexican hot chocolate.”
Tamales and atole are served at weddings, and at first communions, or just on lazy weekends. On any given Saturday morning in Mexico City, you’ll find tamale vendors peddling their treats. Folks will slip out of bed early to bring home a bag full of tamales and huge Styrofoam cups brimming with atole. Then they’ll languish at the breakfast table, stuffing themselves with warm carbs. Or at least that’s what I liked to do, especially after an intense week of swim workouts.
There are the savory tamales, with their buried pockets of red and green salsa. And then there are the sweet pink ones, flecked with plump raisins and the occasional pineapple chunk.
Sometimes I would eat so many that I couldn’t even touch my atole. So it would go into the fridge. Atole is best warm, but it’s much thicker when cool, which is also lovely.
I lightened up these tamales by reducing the sugar and substituting most of the fat with carrots. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between these and the traditional lard-based ones.
Sometimes atole can be found at grocery stores, sold in a Swiss Miss-like powder. The instant kind isn’t anywhere near as good and is thickened with cornstarch. The best atole is thickened with the main ingredient in tamales – masa harina. Maybe that’s why they taste so good together.
for the tamales:
- 1 cup of masa harina (MASECA in the international aisle of the supermarket)
- 1/4 cup tubrinado sugar
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves (optional)
- pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup of packed shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup softened coconut oil
- 1 banana
- 1/4 cup beet juice*
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- corn husks for wrapping (also available in the international aisle, or at any Mexican grocery)
for the atole
- 1 cup unsweet, unflavored almond milk
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tbsp masa harina
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- pinch of ginger
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
for the tamales
- Put about 20-25 cornhusks so soak in a pot of water. Heat on medium-low for about 30 min. You won't need all the cornhusks, but some are sure to tear or be unusable, so I like to prep more than I need.
- While the husks are soaking, combine the carrots, coconut oil, and banana. Mix very well.
- Add the beet juice to the carrot mixture and set aside.
- Combine the masa harina, the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in a large bowl. Stir so that everything is well combined.
- Add the carrot mixture to the masa harina mixture. Beat until well combined. It might still be a little crumby, so mix it the rest of the way with your hands. It should resemble slick play-doh.
- Add in the raisins. If you don't like raisins, you can leave them out.
- Remove the corn husks from the water and pat them dry.
- Divide your dough into 8 equal parts. Shape the parts so that they resemble little bricks that are about 3 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and 1/2 an inch thick.
- Place a dough piece at the center of two husks, as shown above. Fold the husks lengthwise and then crosswise to cover the dough. Repeat with the rest of the pieces.
- Set up your steam pot. If you have a lobster or crab steamer, you should definitely use that. I don't have one, so I placed an oven-safe bowl at the bottom of a large pot (bowl was right-side-up) and set a vegetable steamer on top of that. You want to be able to cover the pot.
- Fill the pot with several inches of water. The water should reach until about 2 inches below the bottom of the vegetable steamer.
- Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium. Layer about 6 cornhusks in the bottom of the vegetable steamer, and then place your tamales on top of that. The tamales should sit vertically in the steamer. Cover the pot again.
- Steam the tamales for about one hour and ten minutes. Check the water levels occasionally and refill as needed. I did not need to refill at all.
- Uncover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let the tamales sit for about 15 more minutes. You can serve them immediately, but they will keep for a few days. You can reheat them in the microwave.
for the atole
- Combine the almond milk, masa harina, cocoa powder, ginger, cinnamon, and sugar in a pot over low heat. Whisk briskly to combine. I cheated and used my immersion blender.
- Once everything integrated into the almond milk, add in the coconut milk and heat again.
- Bring the heat up and stir (don't use the immersion blender this time) until thickened.
- Remove from heat and serve. Atole tastes best when it's just warm, but not piping hot.
* I used beet juice because sweet tamales are traditionally pink. If you don't have beet juice, or can't find it, apple juice or cranberry juice will do. The tamales just won't turn out pink.
Tamales adapted from Que Rica Vida and Taste of Home. Atole from The View from Great Island
Everybody has a few weird eating habits. For example, BGE really, really, really REALLY likes crackers in his soup. He’ll crumble an entire sleeve of saltines into soup and mix it up until it resembles savory oatmeal. He got the habit from his dad. BGE’s dad will always tell BGE’s mom, “Welp, you knew who I was before you married me!”
BGE likes to use that line every time I tease him about the crackers. “Welp, you know who you’re marrying!” And then he’ll rip open another sleeve of saltines. I rarely bother to make soup if there’s no saltines in the house.
This is one of those exceptions. This soup is topped with tiny quesadillas, which one-ups saltines any day. It’s just spicy enough without being overpowering. And it’s full of tomatillos, which are full of potassium, which, as we’ve all heard a million times, prevent cramping. (off topic — if you do get a lot of leg cramps when you run, bring a salt packet or two with you. BGE used to get the worst cramps when he ran long distances. He figured out that he was hydrating well enough, but not replacing the sodium he was sweating out. He always has some salt tabs with him when he bikes or runs, and it’s helped him immensely.)
What are your food quirks?
Black and Green Soup with Mini Quesadilla Croutons
- for the soup
- 5 medium tomatillos, husks removed.
- 1/4 of a medium onion
- 1 big garlic clove
- 2 dried chiles de arbol
- 1 small handful of kale
- 1 1/2 cans of black beans, drained
- 3 cups of veggie broth, divided
- for the croutons
- 4 corn tortillas
- 1 1/4 cups of shredded sharp cheddar
- additional toppings
for the soup:
- Cut the tomatillos into quarters.
- Put the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chiles in a saucepan with one cup of the broth. Cook over medium heat for about ten minutes.
- Remove from heat, add kale, and puree with a hand blender.
- Return to medium heat and add remaining broth, along with black beans. Cook an additional 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with quesadilla croutons, cilantro, and avocado.
for the croutons:
- Lay two of the tortillas side by side on a baking sheet. Cover with cheese and another tortilla
- Broil for 3-4 min, then flip and broil an additional 2 mins. As always with the broiler, watch to make sure they don't burn.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool. You want the cheese completely congealed before you make the croutons.
- Once the cheese has congealed, use a clean pair of scissors to cut little circles out of the big quesadillas.
You can find dried arbol chiles as some supermarkets or at every single bodega. If you can't find these chiles, you can probably substitute with one adobo chile out of a can.
adapted from Annie’s Mom’s green salsa