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Roast-Beef Tamales

(recipe, Melissa Hart)


  1. 1 lb. roast beef
  2. 1 lb. fresh, fluffy masa (see Note)
  3. 24 wide cornhusks, plus extras for tying (see Note)
  4. 1 can (36 ounces) red enchilada sauce
  5. 1 Tbsp. chile powder
  6. 1 Tbsp. cumin
  7. 1 Tbsp. oregano
  8. 2 tsp. salt
  9. 1 bay leaf
  10. 24 pitted black olives
  11. 24 small cubes mild Cheddar cheese


  1. Crank up Santana on your sound system and tie an apron over your snowflake-patterned sweater. Boil the roast beef in water until you can shred it with a fork.
  2. Pour the can of enchilada sauce into a soup pot. Radiate confidence as you add the chile powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and bay leaf. Heat to a simmer and shred the beef into this mixture. Keep the heat on low.
  3. Pour a shot of Kahlúa into your coffee. Place the cornhusks in a sink of warm water to soak. When they are pliable, choose the widest and lay it out on a plate. Spread about two tablespoons of masa on the husk, leaving an inch-wide space all around and two inches of space at the bottom. (Surreptitiously ask someone which end is the bottom.)
  4. Drop a generous tablespoon of the roast-beef mixture from a slotted spoon onto the center of the spread masa. Top with a black olive and add a few cubes of cheese.
  5. Now it’s time to wrap the tamales. Knowing that your entire reputation hinges on how well you can perform this task, begin by folding the two long edges toward one another. Fold the bottom edge up. Your goal is to create a neat three- to four-inch-wide package. Secure it with a quarter-inch-wide strip of corn husk, tying it around the tamale with a festive little bow.
  6. When you have finished assembling the tamales, stack them vertically in a steamer basket, in a large pot of boiling water. Savvy cooks know that to keep the masa moist, you must place a tea towel on top of the tamales and the lid on top of that.
  7. Steam them for the time it takes to learn the words to “De Colores” — at least an hour — then check to see if the masa has thoroughly cooked. Lift one tamale from the pot, and cut off a small piece of masa. It should be fluffy and cooked through. Depending on the masa, you may need to put on another Santana CD and pour another cup of Kahlúa-laced coffee.
  8. Serve with rice, beans, and salsa.


Call around to your local panaderías (Latin American bakeries) to see who makes and sells fresh masa for tamales; it's easier to buy it than to make it yourself. Ask the bakers, too, where to get the best, widest cornhusks.