This was the first time I've tried this quinoa tamale recipe from Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook. I found that, as directed, the "tamale" would have been very, very thick, so I split it into two loaf pans (alternatively, the recipe could have been halved). It seemed like the perfect size after dividing it. This was a really interesting recipe and ended up being very good. There's lots of potential for variations--I kept thinking of different fillings such as black beans, shredded chicken, or pork with green chiles. I know the quinoa is meant to be neutral-tasting like the masa in a real tamale, but I think it would also be nice to season it with chili powder and cumin. I'll definitely make this recipe again using some of these variations. I used the tomatillo salsa that I made a couple weeks ago (I stored several jars in the freezer), but Bittman's salsa included with his tamale recipe is fairly similar. You could also buy salsa verde if you're pressed for time, but having salsa isn't optional--there wasn't a ton of flavor in the tamale itself, and the salsa really helped jazz it up. This isn't a complicated recipe at all, but it does take about 30 minutes for the quinoa to cook and an additional hour for it to bake--you can make the quinoa ahead of time, if that helps. I think you could even freeze the loaf to bake later--I wish I had tried that with the extra pan I ended up with.
I also made spicy black beans with soy "chorizo" (or soyrizo), which is my husband's favorite dish. I've posted the recipe here before and have also discussed my thoughts on soy-based "meats." Typically, I'm not a fan of fake meats, but since Courtney doesn't eat any ground meat (beef, pork, poultry, etc.), I do occasionally use soyrizo to make this dish since he loves it so much. I'm comforted that it doesn't have a million ingredients and that all of the ingredients are recognizable and pronounceable: textured soy protein, water, oil, vinegar, salt, spices, red pepper, and garlic. Not too scary at all (and truthfully, less scary than what's potentially found in some ground meats).
I added sautéed beet greens to the meal plan rather than the salad I had originally planned. I decided to add onions and garlic to the greens, loosely based on this recipe from Rick Bayless at marthastewart.com.
While the tamales were a bit time-consuming, most of that time was hands-off, so all-in-all this was a fairly simple, very flavorful meal.
Quinoa Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa
2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or grated Monterey Jack, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 cup tomatillo salsa, freshly made or store-bought
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Put the quinoa in a large pot along with a big pinch of salt. Add water to cover by about 1 1/2 inches. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains are very tender and begin to burst, 25 to 30 minutes. If the grains get too dry, add just enough water to keep them submerged. When the grains are starchy and thick, remove from the heat. (You can cook the quinoa up to a day ahead and refrigerate; return to room temperature before proceeding.)
Generously coat two 9 × 5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray. Mix the baking powder and a pinch of salt into the quinoa with a fork. The consistency should be thick but spreadable; if it’s too stiff, add a few drops of water. Spread a quarter of the quinoa mixture in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with half of the queso fresco and half of the chili powder. Add an additional quarter of the quinoa, smooth it out evenly, and press down a bit to seal the loaf. Repeat with the other loaf pan. Cover the pans tightly with foil. (At this point the quinoa loaves can be covered and refrigerated for up to several hours.)
Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until the tops are golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Remove the pans from the oven and let the tamales sit for 10 minutes before turning out onto a platter. Garnish with the cilantro and a little more cheese, cut the tamales into slices, and serve, passing the salsa at the table.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Garlicky Beet Greens
1 bunch beet greens or spinach, stems removed and discarded, leaves coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Salt, to taste
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add greens. Stir for about 2 minutes, just long enough to wilt the greens. Season with salt.
Makes 2 servings.