Which Mexican cookbook.
Tamales are labor intensvie, time consuming and finding the corn husks with the belly button nearly impossible in the U.S., but they are gloriously good. Getting the masa to the right consistency is critical, Diana Kennedy has good descriptions and details about how to get it right in both her 1st two books. I've got tons of tamale recipes, Unfortunately I don't make them as often as I'd.
to me tamales are for experimenting and personalizing. you will find many versions and recipes--which may seem daunting and confusing--but you'll unlikely run into any disaster, once you start wrapping a few of them.
use any fillings you like. works great for leftovers. anything that would work in ravioli will work here. for vegetarian i sautee mushroom. for meaters i go for left over roast pork or chicken. ground meat will work well. i like to reheat the meats in a red chile, tomato sauce to taste. the key here is not to have the filling drowning in sauce, just enough to coat it.
it's easy to remember. you won't catch me using lard or vegetable shortening, so i adjust the recipe for 1 stick of butter.
1.5 cups masa harina
1.5 cups of warm water
1 stick of unsalted butter (8 oz or 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (1.5 teaspoon kosher salt)
(optional) 1 cup or so of roasted corn kernels
get the butter soft enough to whip easily. you can also nuke it at ten second intervals, depending on microwave. whip it! (by hand. don't over do it.)
mix the dry ingredients thouroughly in a big bowl. add warm water. mix well w/ spatula. incoporate the butter( and corn). the dough shouldn't be dry. more like mushy, but not drippy. now you are ready to assemble.
hints on assembly.
1. don't put too much dough in your corn husk. (depends on size of leave.) spread it out. it should be about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
2. don't put too much filling. 1 teaspoon worth for a small tamale. 1 tablespoon for a big one.
3. don't worry about not perfectly enclosing the filling.
4. don't "jelly-roll" the tamale.
5. you can tie off both ends (like a bowtie), or fold one end and tie off the other. i fold the small end and don't even bother to tie off the other end. i keep the folded end secure with a strip in the middle.
the sauce should compliment the filling. i don't make the filling hot (spicy), but i do the sauce. if i already used a sauce for the filling, i'll add a chipotle or 2 to spice things up.
for veggie, i like to use a tomatillo sauce. roast 10 tomatillos, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and salt. 1 chipotle. a handful of cilantro. into the food processor.
steam folded side down for about 40 minutes, covered w/ a towel and lid. check water. make sure it doesn't dry out. don't overcook. it shouldn't be rock hard. wait 5 minutes before serving.