Remember those pumpkins I bought in Oaxaca? One was huge. (YUGE, as one of my former bosses used to say. I think she was from Houston.)
I didn’t even know what to do with so much pumpkin, it pains me to say. I made calabaza batida and a batch of pumpkin tamales with sage and thyme. Both were fine, but the recipes needed more tweaking. I baked some sliced pumpkin with tomatoes and parmesan, but it turned out… equis. Afterward I was kind of in a pumpkin-inspired funk. Can I really not come up with anything good to do with pumpkin?
Then I found a batch of leftover chorizo crumbles in the fridge.
Chorizo and pumpkin is not an unusual combination, but it was new to me. I sprinkled the meat on top of the squash and had a PB&J-type of epiphany. The sweetness! The saltiness! This was a combination you don’t just stumble on every day.
I already had corn flour and lard lying around, so I decided to give the pumpkin tamales another go. Used a mish-mash of leftover pumpkin in the fridge, and fresh chorizo that I bought at Mercado Medellín. I also added vinegar to my crumbles, because they’d been prepared that way in the leftovers, which were from a salad. I liked the tang.
When the tamales were done steaming, they were even better than the baked pumpkin I’d sprinkled with chorizo. In the steamer, the chorizo had turned soft and almost buttery in parts, like the little creamy bits of fat you get in a chicharrón prensado taco.
“This is good,” I said, after a few bites. Then, after a few more: “This is really good.” Mary Claire, who’d come over to graciously film me folding tamales, agreed. I think we both ate three.
Savory pumpkin and chorizo tamales
Makes about 1 dozen
Note: There’s no strict way to prepare your pumpkin here. I sliced and boiled mine, skin-on, because that was easiest. Then I scraped off the flesh and sauteed it a little olive oil, butter, onions, garlic and serrano chile. (Also had a wee bit of baked pumpkin that I’d drizzled with olive oil and thyme.)
You can do whatever sounds good to you. The main thing is to make sure your pumpkin is salted, because if it isn’t I think the chorizo might overpower it completely. Also, if you’re using canned pumpkin, make sure it doesn’t include any extra sugar.
Having fresh chorizo makes a difference. (I’m serious when I say this was the best chorizo I’ve had in a long time.) If you’re not comfortable with the items at the Mexican supermarkets, you can substitute another freshly made sausage. Linguiça might work well.
For the masa:
250 grams coarse-ground, nixtamalized corn flour, such as that sold by Maseca
100 grams lard
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 to 2 cups chicken broth or water
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree* (see note)
250 grams Mexican chorizo, casing removed (this equals about 3/4 to 1 cup when cooked and crumbled)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
About an hour before you want to start your tamales, soak your husks in a bucket or large pot of hot water. You can also try simmering them on the stove for 15 minutes, as commenter Gloria has suggested.
Heat a skillet over medium-low heat and cook your chorizo, using a splatter screen if necessary. When they’re just about cooked, add vinegar and stir well. When the chorizo has finished cooking, drain it on kitchen paper. It’ll be pretty greasy.
To prepare the masa, whip the lard with a standing mixer or wooden spoon until light and airy. Add baking powder and corn flour, a little at a time, until well-mixed. (It should look like coarse crumbles.) Pour in your chicken broth perhaps a quarter-cup at a time, until you have a tacky, thick dough.
To fill tamales, remove one corn husk from the soaking water and spread with approximately 1/4 cup masa. Make sure to leave a 3 to 4-inch space on the bottom portion of the husk so you can fold the tamales, and about a 2-inch space on the upper edge of the husk so the tamale filling won’t ooze out as it cooks. Add about 2 tablespoons of pumpkin and a sprinkle of chorizo. Fold and seal. (For tips on filling and folding tamales, check out my video and my last post, Tamales Tips for Beginners.)
Place the tamales fold-side down in a steamer pot and steam for about an hour, or until the cornhusk peels off easily from a tamal. Don’t forget to be nice to the pot.