For Thanksgiving, I didn’t grow up eating green bean casseroles, canned cranberry sauce, or soggy bread that was shoved in a turkey cavity and left to cook there. Nope! Thanksgiving meant using ingredients that are native to this country and having the matriarchy of my family come together in preparation for what we jokingly call “tamale season.”
Cooking for the holidays was spearheaded by the best cook in my entire family, my Tia Irma. I remember my aunt traveling to my mom’s house in the dead of winter, blessing all the ingredients with a prayer before she started cooking, whipping up her tamales with such ease, and always making sure everyone was laughing and singing while she made them. I never had a chance to ask my Tia Irma for her tamale recipe because, sadly, my Tia passed away this February, leaving behind a legacy of love along with memories of her amazing food. Whenever someone would ask for a recipe of hers, she would laugh and say “I just made it with love.” Even if I did have the opportunity to ask her for the recipe, she would have told me the same thing with a smile that read, “It’s top secret!”
If you were to cut me open, I would probably bleed tamales: little envelopes made of masa (Spanish for dough; traditionally made from maize) with varying fillings, wrapped in a cornhusk, and steamed. The two most popular variations in my family are the chicken, slow cooked in a red chilé sauce, and the cheese and jalapeño tamales. Of course, those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fillings. You can fill your tamales with just about any combination of flavors you want. Most tamales are pork based with some type of sauce, but other traditional variations include: chicharrones (pork rinds) in a tomatillo sauce, chicken seasoned with a Mexican herb called hoja santa, bean paste with sweet corn, and even sweet fillings like pineapples!
Of course, I can no longer ask my aunt to whip up some tamales whenever I have a craving for them, so as a quick pick me up, I head over to Tamale Spaceship located in Wicker Park. Tamale Spaceship is a Latin-owned restaurant and food truck dishing out authentic Mexican cuisine. One of the things I like about Tamale Spaceship is that their menu is completely authentic to Latin flavors. In my experience, most “Latin” focused restaurants seem to like colonizing traditional recipies - goat cheese and mushroom chillaquilles? Buffalo chicken tacos? Fiesta rice? Really? What does that even mean?
Tamale Spaceship’s menu is true to what I grew up with as a native Mexican, and with options like the a Barbicoa-style roasted chicken tamal with a Michoacan green peanut sauce, or their flank steak tamal with a traditional Oaxacan black molé. you definitely won’t be disappointed.
Photo credit @tamalespaceship via Instagram
Here at The Chopping Block, we are taking one of my favorite family traditions - making tamales - and giving you a chance to make them yourself. Our Tamale Workshop on December 17th at our Merchandise Mart location only has four seats left! If you haven’t tried a tamale yet, or would like to make them yourself, I suggest you hurry and reserve a spot in this class. Let us share one of my family’s traditions with you!
Whatever your family traditions are, we want to say happy Thanksgiving from everyone here at The Chopping Block!