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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Creamy, Rich, and Comforting Cuban Tamal Soup/Tamal en Cazuela

Tamal en Cazuela, which literally translates to tamal in a in a pot, is a wonderfully rich, hearty soup made with a base of fresh ground corn and cornmeal.  Many Cuban soups (such as crema de malanga (cream of malanga/yautia/coco yam) and sopa de ajo (garlic soup--see previous post) are very thick and hearty.  They are more commonly a creamy, even paste-like consistency as opposed to a thinner, runny texture.  It's amazing that these dishes were created on an island where there's no real winter because, for most of us, these dishes would seem like winter meals.  Oddly enough, I found the same to be the case in the Dominican Republic, where they regularly drink thick maizena (a thick, creamy, cornstarch-based hot drink) and eat hearty sancocho.  I assume that these very hearty dishes are primarily a product of the African influence in both countries.  Ahh, what a marvelously delicious influence it is.

For those of you who have never had or even seen tamal in cazuela, much like me for before I moved to Miami, it is very similar to a polenta or even grits in thickness, but is much creamier and smoother.  For those of you who just can't get into grits because, well, they're gritty...or because they just never seem to have enough flavor, tamal en cazuela is the answer to all of your problems--it's immensely flavorful, smooth and creamy, warm, rich, and comforting.  The flavor is intensely garlicky, like most Cuban food, and it also has the slightest touch of tanginess and sweetness from white wine added into the sofrito, or vegetable seasoning sauce.

Even though it's hot here, mid 80s or so, I still love this dish.  It's great for me because it lasts throughout my hot, busy days and because I can heat it up to lukewarm at home and it holds up until I eat at lunch time.  For those of you still enduring the bitter cold, you've got even more reason to make this dish.  Though it may be intimidating on the sole basis of being unfamiliar, don't be scared, you can definitely finish this dish in 40 minutes easily.  It doesn't need babying either.  Once you've got the soup together, just stir about every 7-10 minutes while it simmers.  Otherwise, leave it covered and let it do its thing.

Just as a note, to get an idea of the actual color, which is a beautiful, rich golden yellow, see the final video at 3:09.  The color on the soup in the rest of the video is way off and doesn't look appetizing, I know.

Tamal en Cazuela

Tools: blender or food processor

1 lb of boneless pork, marinated 10 minutes in the mojo or cooked with lots of garlic and lime
**I cut them bite-sized in the vid, but I prefer the traditional small bits
**I used rib meat, which I would likely pre-simmer for 20 minutes to get it tender next time.  Use pork of your

1 lime
3-4 cloves of garlic
mojo (in lieu of the lime and garlic - the traditional recipe simply seasons the meat with salt and lime)
2TB  olive oil

1 small white onion, diced finely
1 green pepper, diced finely
3 cloves of garlic, smashed with salt or minced
1/2 cup tomato sauce (unflavored)
2 TB of dry white wine*
1.5 cups of yellow corn meal* (I did 3/4 cup but I'll do 1 cup the next go 'round)
salt to taste (about 1-1/2 tsp should do for the assembled soup)
1 TB olive oil

2 cups frozen sweet kernel corn, thawed
3 cups of water

* these are amounts that I have changed since making the video

In a large pot over medium heat with 2TB of olive oil, cook the marinated meat (or the meat with garlic and lime), stirring frequently, until it is about 85% cooked. 

Meanwhile, make the sofrito by sauteeing the green pepper and onion over medium low heat in a pan with 1 TB olive oil.  Once softened, add in the garlic, tomato sauce, and oil, and bring the pan up to medium heat.  Sautee for a few minutes to cook off the wine, stirring occasionally.

Once the sofrito is ready, add it to the meat and continue the cooking process, stirring the seasoning into the meat and its juices.

Meanwhile, grind the corn in a blender or food processor.  It will get stuck, so just use your spoon to move the mixture around and process the mixture again until homogeneous.  Once you have a homogeneous mixture, add in 3 cups of water and process the mixture again until homogeneous.

Once the meat has cooked for a few minutes, strain the corn mixture into the soup and blend.
Once blended, add in the corn meal and blend.  Cover and simmer over low heat for an hour, stirring every 7-10 minutes to avoid sticking.  Thirty minutes is sufficient, but one hour will simply intensify the flavors.

Makes 4 sizable servings.

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