It's hard getting authentic ingredients for Mexican cooking in London. However, if you're in East London, I can highly recommend Casa Mexico which has a good range of groceries as well as other assorted Mexican goods. It's like a mini Mexican emporium tucked away in the back streets of Bethnal Green.
Having bought a bag of masa harina, I decided to make tamales for the first time earlier this week. While the burrito has taken London by storm, tamales remain rather elusive in London because they are time consuming, both in their preparation and cooking. In Latin culture, the tamale is a Christmas tradition and families come together during the holiday season for tamale marathons.
However, I tracked down a simple recipe that requires only 15 minutes of steaming as opposed to the usual 1-1/2 hours. Not only did I find the whole precess immensely gratifying but the outcome was pretty good too (and not just in my opinion). Don't be put off if you don't have a tortilla press - I used the palm of my hand to flatten the dough - and if you cannot get hold of any corn husks/banana leaves, clingfilm seemed to work well. You could also try baking paper.
I decided upon a simple black bean mixture but any kind of savoury filling can be used or even sweet. It would be a great dish if you have any leftover mole.
Simple tamales (makes 6)
150g masa harina
225ml hot water
Corn husks/banana leaves or clingfilm
300g black beans
Combine the masa harina and the hot water and bring together until you have a firm dough. If it is a little sticky, add a little more flour; if it is too dry, a little more water. Knead 1tsp salt into the dough and divide into 6, rolling the pieces into balls.
If using tinned black beans, drain of almost all the water and with a fork, mash them a little. Season with salt and chilli powder or chipotle.
Tear off a piece of clingfilm (20cm x 20cm is about right) and flatten one of the ball's in the centre until it is only a few mm thick. Place a good tbsp of beans in the middle and fold the dough over, making sure all the sides aresealed. Wrap the remaining clingfilm tightly around the tamale. Repeat with the remaining five dough balls.
Place the tamales into a steamer, no more than two high, making sure the air can circulate. Place the steamer over a pan of boiling water and steam for 15 mins.
Serve with some home-made salsa and any remaining beans you have left over.