Roasted Peppers and Cheese Tamales

This chile pepper is often mislabeled ‘Pasilla’, which is a different pepper entirely.It is one of the most popular chiles in Mexico and has won the appreciation of many a chef worldwide because of the superior flavor it has over regular bell peppers.

They have a tough outer skin that usually requires roasting and peeling before use. These very large chile peppers are most popular in chiles rellenos recipes, but cooking with these as a substitute for bell peppers in any recipe will enhance the flavor.

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For the batter:
3 1/2 cups dried masa harina for tamales
2 1/4 cups hot water
10 oz (1 1/3 cups) pork lard (or vegetable shortening, if you wish), slightly softened
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 (1-lb each) packages of banana leaves, defrosted if frozen

For the Filling:
4 Poblano peppers
4 Anaheim peppers
24 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded


Roast the peppers under a broiler, turning occasionally until all sides are charred.

Place the charred peppers into a sealable plastic bag or into a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes.

Peel the skins off the peppers, remove all seeds, rinse under cool water then roughly chop.

Combine the masa harina and hot water.

Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard or shortening with the salt and baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute.

Continue beating as you add the masa mixture in three additions.

Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the broth.

Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light).

Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft, but not runny cake batter. It should hold its shape in a spoon.

Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think necessary.

Refrigerate the batter for an hour, then use an electric mixer to beat enough additional broth to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.

Banana Leaves:
Unfold the banana leaves and cut off the long, hard sides of the leaves (where they were attached to the central vein).

Look for holes or rips then cut the leaves into about 20 unbroken 12-inch segments.

If necessary, steam the segments for 20 minutes to make them soft, pliable and glossy.

Cut twenty 12-inch pieces or string or thin strips of banana leaf for securing the tamales when filled. Steamer:

Work in batches Use a large steamer or collapsible vegetable steamer set into a large, deep saucepan

Line the steamer with leftover scraps of banana leaves to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor, but make sure to leave small spaces between leaves so condensing steam can drain off.

Preparing the Tamales
Lay out a square of banana leaf, shiny-side up. Spread 1/3 cup of the batter into an 8×4-inch rectangle over it. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the cheese and sprinkle some roasted peppers over the left side of the rectangle of batter. Fold in the right third of the leaf so that the batter encloses the filling. Fold in the uncovered third of the leaf. Fold in the top and bottom. Loosely tie the tamales with string and set them in the steamer.

Steaming the Tamales
Once in the steamer, cover the tamales with a layer of banana leaf scraps or leftovers.

Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 hours. (Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away, add more water if necessary).

The tamales are done when the leaf peels away from the masa easily.

Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up.

Make Ahead
Both the batter and the finished tamales can be made ahead of time. Refrigerate, well covered then re-steam or use a microwave to heat before serving. The batter and tamales can also be frozen, just thaw overnight in the refrigerator before re-steaming.

Makes about 20 tamales.