When people ask me what I miss about the United States or New York, my standard answer is Mexican food. Specifically, good Mexican food.
Now, I knew this would be the case. Before I left New York in September–and when I returned for two weeks in February–I spent my mealtimes eating All of the Tacos. People laughed and said, “Come on, don’t you think there will be Mexican food in Australia?” My response was, “Have you ever looked at a map?” I know that cuisines travel around the world, but if you’ve ever tried Mexican food in Europe, you know it’s a poor representation, and I guessed that would be no different here.
I was right.
After several failed attempts at procuring and consuming good Mexican food in Sydney–most of them winding up with me eating Chipotle-esque tacos, which are fine, but not good Mexican–I decided to take matters into my own hands. My friend Meredith and I fairly successfully made our own corn tortillas and delicious fajitas one night, so when I started craving tamales–and found masa harina at a grocery store near my flat–I thought, “Why not?”
I bought a giant seven dollar bag of masa and brought it home, and then I started googling.
First, I needed to find the perfect recipe for tamales. Then, as dried corn husks are difficult (impossible?) to find here, I had to figure out what to use as an alternative. And then, there were filling options…so many decisions!
Finally, the day of the Great Tamales Experiment was about to arrive. The day before while I was at work, my boyfriend cooked about 2.5 pounds of pork according to the above recipe, with the intention of saving some of that for pulled pork sandwiches. As I decided that I wanted saucier pork than in the original recipe, I whipped up a pseudo salsa verde as well–pseudo because I also couldn’t find tomatillos here, so I used about a pound of Roma tomatoes instead. In addition to the pork, I finally settled on cheese with pickled jalapeños for the second filling.
I used four cups of masa harina for the dough, and ended up with just enough for 16 tamales (eight meat, eight cheese). Tragically, I didn’t take a photograph of my parchment packets! I cut rectangles about eight inches wide by 12 inches long, and I followed the recipe in terms of how thick to press out the dough. My tamales were six or seven inches long, and the dough was about four inches wide before I filled and rolled it. To close the packets, I folded the two long sides together. Then I folded up the ends the same way you would the corn husks, and tied them with parchment so that they stayed shut. I placed all of the tamales into my makeshift steamer: a colander inside a large pot, sealed around the top with aluminum foil to keep the steam in as much as possible.
I served them up with The Pioneer Woman’s Good Ol’ Basic Mexican Rice – made with some of the leftover pork broth – as a side and Martha Stewart’s Tres Leches Cake for dessert. I’d say my friends’ ravings and empty plates were a sign that the meal was a success.
Not too bad for a makeshift Mexican dinner on the other side of the world!
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What foods from home do you miss while you’re traveling or living abroad? Have you recreated any of them in your international kitchen?