My cravings for Mexican food come from Mom’s Southern California background. The flavors and spices of the dishes bring comfort to my heart. Some people might say my love for Mexican food isn’t authentic, because it’s actually “Tex-Mex.” It could be true. After all, I didn’t grow up in predominantly Mexican community, nor is the culture and language part of my ancestral background.
Some time ago, Nicole Taylor of Hot Grease, organized a private dinner honoring Dr. Jessica B. Harris and cookbook author, Bryant Terry. Among the invitees were Adriana Valez, a writer for The Stir and CreoleMag.com. Naturally, the conversation centered around food. Somehow Adriana and I talked about Mexican cuisine and how her family held tamale parties. I eagerly asked her to organize one in Brooklyn, New York. She happily agreed to my request.
Hearing my excitement over tamales, Dr. Harris asked about the origin of my people. Knowing my family tree doesn’t have any Mexican branches, my simple answer was Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. She shared with us a fun fact about some places in the South, African-Americans were known to stuff meat and vegetables in corn husks, too. It’s a recipe enjoyed in various forms–such as using banana leaves in place of corn husks–throughout the Caribbean, Spanish, and South American cultures. Tamales aren’t only Mexican. It’s also an African dish.
One Sunday, we arrived at Adriana’s house to learn how to prep and cook tamales. I contributed a simple Watermelon, Queso Fresco Cheese and Cilantro salad. Another guest brought sweet thyme crackers. We wrapped vegan tamales made with coconut oil masa, swiss chard and mushrooms flavored with coriander seeds and traditional lard tamales of pulled pork mixed with Adriana’s homemade fiery adobe sauce. As we waited the 45 minutes for the tamales to steam themselves ready to eat, we sipped on Hibiscus tea and Prosecco drinks. After the tamales were done cooking, we unwrapped our corn husk gifts and topped them with sour cream, radish slices and crumbled Queso Panela.
Each bite of Adriana’s tamales warmed my heart. Perhaps, Mom’s influence explains my adoration of tamales. I learned tamales are a spiritual reminder of the universality food. Below is the recipe for my Watermelon, Queso Fresco and Cilantro Salad. The recipe for the tamales are found at Adriana’s CreoleMag.com.