I grew up in Arizona, several miles from the Mexican border. I passionately love Mexican food, and I cook it often. But I have a rule.
I will make tortillas. I will make enchiladas. I will make tacos and burritos and quesadillas.
But let's be honest--I am just too white to make tamales.
They are a mystery to me. I know they are made with masa, and I think that's some sort of corn meal but I'm not sure. I don't know what seasonings make them taste just right, and I don't even need to know. I just know they are oh-so-good.
There is something very Latin and romantic about knowing that generations of women stood in a kitchen for hours, using a recipe probably decades older than the oldest person there, hand-forming each delicious, corn husk-wrapped tamale. Sometimes I buy them from the store, but it's not the same. The work and culture and history that go into tamales made the way they're supposed to be made--by a matriarch and the younger women in her family who are learning from her--all somehow blend in with the meat and masa and spices to make something very special.
The girl I mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters (blog nickname: Little Sis) told me on Saturday night that they were making tamales at her grandma's house, and I could buy some if I wanted to. I've had her grandma's tamales before and knew there was only one way to answer that offer. When I saw Little Sis yesterday, I bought two dozen--one for the fridge, one for the freezer. We started on the first dozen yesterday...and I'm already excited to eat the leftovers tonight.
Eight dollars a dozen...a bargain price for the opportunity to experience a beautiful culture in such a delicious way.