Mexicans have been wrapping and cooking food in leaves for a long time, and this episode will look at the reasons why. It will also share three scrumptious dishes you can make in your own kitchen with the wrapping method and with three different kids of wrappers! We’ll also look at some shortcuts and tips for cooking wrapped foods in your own kitchen, as opposed to the traditional method of digging a pit or steaming them in an enormous pot.
PORK TENDERLOIN IN A SWEET CITRUS SAUCE
Lomo de Cerdo con Salsa Dulce de Cítricos
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup shredded piloncillo, or brown sugar
5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
5 bay leaves
3 whole banana leaves
5 lbs pork tenderloin
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp safflower or corn oil
To make the marinade: mix together the orange and lime juice, vinegar, piloncillo, garlic, salt, pepper and bay leaves in a bowl.
Begin to layer the banana leaves in a large baking dish, one by one. Place the first one vertically so it covers the whole dish, leaving the sides hanging over the dish on both ends. Layer the second leaf horizontally so it covers half or so of the dish, with the sides hanging over the dish on both ends. Layer the third one horizontally the the bottom of the baking dish is fully covered with leaves, with extra hanging over the sides to wrap up the meat.
If you can’t find banana leaves, you can use tin foil.
Place the meat in the middle of the leaf bundle. Pour the marinade on the top and cover the meat with each of the banana leaf layers on all sides. Let it marinate anywhere from 2 to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and unwrap the pork from the banana leaves.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat, until it is hot but not smoking. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper, place it in the pan, and sear for about 1 to 2 minutes on all sides.
Place it back in the banana leaves and bundle it back up. Place the wrapped pork into the oven and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven, carefully open up and unfold the banana leaves, tucking them on the sides until you expose most of the meat. Remove the meat from the dish to rest on a cutting board. Pour all the marinade into a sauce pan and set over medium high heat, for about 10 to 15 minutes, to reduce up to 1/3 of its volume.
Meanwhile, slice the meat at about 1/2″ thickness or to your liking. Place the slices on a platter, drizzle some of the sauce on top and serve.
Plátanos Macho al Horno
Serves 2 to 4
2 ripe plantains
Salt or sugar to taste
Preheat the grill to medium heat or the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut a few small slits into the sides of the unpeeled, ripe plantains with a knife, since the plantains will expand as they cook. Individually wrap each plantain in aluminum foil and place them on the grill or in the oven. Let them cook for about 45 to 50 minutes, until they are soft and cooked through.
You know they are ready when they feel extremely soft to the touch and the sugar of the plantain has begun to caramelize. Open the aluminum foil, make a slit in the plantains, sprinkle with salt and sugar and eat them up!
BLACKBERRY AND PECAN TAMALES
Tamales de Zarzamora y Nuez
Makes about 20 tamales
25 dried corn husks
1 cup vegetable shortening or good quality lard
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp cold water
1 tsp baking powder
1 lb instant corn masa mixfor tamales, or about 3 1/4 cups, such as Maseca
3 cups warm water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
12 oz blackberries, rinsed
To make masa for tamales:
Place the vegetable shortening or lard with 1 tablespoon of cold water in a mixer and beat, until very light and spongy, about 1 minute. Add the baking powder and salt, and then take turns adding the instant corn masa mix and the water. Continue beating until the dough is homogeneous and fluffy.
Mix in the sugar and cinnamon and continue beating until everything is well mixed. You may also do it by hand.
You know the tamal masa is ready if:
1. When you lift a big spoon with masa, drop it into the dough it falls “de golpe” or heavy.
2. It has the consistency of a medium thick cake batter.
3. If you place 1/2 teaspoon of masa in a cup of cold water and it floats.
To prepare the steamer:
Place water in the pan of a steamer and bring it to a simmer. Line the steamer with one or two layers of corn husks. Use the dough to form about 20 corn husk wrapped tamales.
To make tamales:
Soak the dried corn husks in hot water for a couple of minutes, until they are pliable and drain. Lay out a corn husk with the tapered ends facing towards you. Spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the masa into a 2 to 3 inch square, the layer should be about 1/4 inch, leaving a boarder of at least 1/2 inch on the sides. Place 1 to 2 blackberries in the middle of the masa filling and sprinkle about a teaspoon of the pecans on top.
Pick up the two long sides of the corn husk and bring them together, causing the masa to surround the berries and pecans and fold them to one side, rolling them in the same direction around the tamal. Fold up the empty section of the husk with the tapering end, from the bottom up. This will form a closed bottom and the top will be left open.
Prepare the tamales and then place them vertically in a container. When you have them all ready, place them as vertically as you can in the prepared steamer, with the open end on top. If there is space left in the steamer, tuck in more corn husks so the tamales will not dance around. Cover with more corn husks and steam, covered for 50 minutes to an hour over medium heat. You know the tamales are ready when the tamales come easily free from the husks.
Finished tamales will stay warm for about 1 to 2 hours in the steamer. They can be made ahead several days before and stored in the refrigerator, well wrapped. They can also be frozen for months. In either case, reheat in the steamer. For refrigerated tamales it will take about 15 minutes, and for frozen tamales about 45 minutes.