Tamales, by restaurant owner Alice Tapp, features a huge array of tamale recipes – from meat to odd ingredients to vegetarian and desert varieties. The book subtitle of ‘fast’ is achieved through using a variety of canned and pre-prepared consumer bought products such as canned sauces, canned tomatoes, packaged tamale sauces, and more. So while not a traditional, cook from scratch book (I just don’t think I can make a tamale sauce using V-8 as a base, as the recipe suggests) there still is quite a lot to try and sample. And the recipes are from several cultures, not just Mexican.
The book starts with a discussion of Masa varieties, how to buy, store, freeze, use, and choose. Then we have recipes and tips for sauces/salsas, inside-out tamales, meat tamales, nose to tail (odd ingredient) tamales, vegetarian/vegan, and then dessert tamales. Especially useful are the illustrations at the front on the different wrapping styles, using corn husks to banana leaves.
Recipes have a brief description at the top with serving size, then they break down by ingredients on the left in blue and right side has the instructions in paragraph form. I’m not a fan of the paragraph format – it’s nearly impossible to read on a kindle that small and with all the steps in a blocky chunk, it’s also harder to follow the recipe. As an example, a recipe for chicken and chorizo tamales will have all instructions for cooking in one paragraph. Then a second paragraph on assembling. On several recipes, I found it a bit hard to follow as I did each step and then searched through the paragraph to figure out the next step. Ideally, I prefer recipe books with numbered steps rather than block paragraphs. I think publishers put the instructions in blocks to look nicer – at the expense of ease of use. This was the second cookbook this week in which I had to deal with that blocky instructions and they are frustrating enough that I want to go find a better formatted recipe book instead.
The book has pictures throughout, about every 5th or 6th recipe has a picture. Since the book is all tamales, that ratio isn’t problematic since I have a good idea of what a tamale should look like and it is just a matter of sticking different ingredients in the masa. For a broader, more generalized cook book, the lack of pictures would be daunting – who wants to make a dish when you don’t even know what it is supposed to look like when finished? But there is a minimum number here to make it workable.
The introductions to the recipes are long enough to give a good amount of info about the recipe but not so big that it would be laborious to troll through each time you cook the recipe. The book has an index at the back and a metric conversion chart. I would have loved to see a chart or images of the canned products used so liberally in all the recipes. Or, in the very least, had the author researched some online places to order some of the harder to find items liked the canned salsas. Too often (and in this case), the authors are restaurant owners in California where Mexican staples are quite plentiful. In Maine, perhaps not so much.
In all, I was surprised at the sheer amount of canned products to be used, and I’ll need to track down some trickier ingredients such as cactus and epazote. But after trying several recipes, the book does live up to the fast and delicious subtitle.
Reviewed from an ARC.