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Five ways to make tamales and have a party

5 Recipes
A cut-up acorn squash with a filling in the center
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

For both traditional tamales and tamales with a twist, check out these recipes

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Here in Southern California, tamales are a staple. As my colleagues Bill Addison and Daniel Hernandez note in their story on where to get top-notch tamales in L.A., “We’re lucky to live in the historic center of Tamale America.” From the sidewalk vendors hoping their newly minted, health department-approved Tamaleros (vending carts specifically for tamales) will be on the streets by the end of the year to full-on tamale restaurants and a host of tamale festivals throughout the region, there is no shortage of outlets offering their version of the perfect little bundle of masa.

Despite such abundance and variety of ready-to-eat tamales, the annual tamalada (tamale-making party) is a tradition not to be missed. While it can be labor-intensive, making tamales is not an obscure culinary art. If you can’t score an invitation to a tamalada, you can throw your own party. Invite a few friends so you can make an assembly line when ready. You will be surprised at how much fun you will have and how quickly the time will pass. For the uninitiated, Alice Tapp, the former owner and operator of the now-defunct Tamara’s Tamales of Venice shared some tamale-making wisdom and tips with Times reporter Corie Brown. And, of course, we have recipes.

Red Pork Chili is a traditional tamale combination, though as any dish with a long history of being made in the home, every family recipe has its own nuances. Along with the filling and the sauce, this recipe includes instructions for making the masa. But if you want to reduce the labor factor, purchase masa preparada. Tamales de Puerco y Queso add cheese to the filling along with the pork and a chili sauce. Tamales de Res y Mole use beef rather than pork. Don’t let the term mole scare you; the recipe here is for a simple, minimalist mole, primarily chilis and garlic.

Acorn Squash Tamales are a more modern take on the traditional tamale. They use a whole squash as the wrapper instead of the corn husk. Inside is creamy masa, a seared pork filling (rather than stewed or braised), a chili sauce and goat cheese. They are also less time-consuming than more traditional tamales.

For a more plant-forward version, try Wes Avila’s Early Christmas Tamales. They are filled with butternut squash and Monterey Jack cheese, and the sauce is made from a mix of chilis, tomatoes and tomatillos enhanced with sesame and pumpkin seeds and flavored with allspice and a hint of clove.

Whether you buy them or make them, it is tamale time.

Wes Avila's Early Christmas tamales

Time2 hours 30 minutes
YieldsMakes about 20 tamales

Red pork chili tamales

These moist packets of creamy masa are alive with flavor -- and plenty of saucy filling.
TimeTotal time: 4 1/2 to 5 hours, including simmering and steaming time
YieldsMakes 4 to 5 dozen

Tamales de res y mole (Beef and mole tamales)

The masa, or dough, is a very important element: Be sure to use fresh masa preparada (prepared masa). For beef tamales, use chuck roast, as this shreds easily.  
TimeActive work time: 1 1/2 hours Total preparation time: 4 1/2 hours
YieldsMakes 40 tamales

Acorn squash tamales

The essence of any tamale is to steam cornmeal masa inside a flavorful, fragrant wrapper. So why not use a steamed and hollowed-out whole acorn squash as the container?
Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsMakes 2 tamales, serves 6

Tamales de puerco y queso (Pork and cheese tamales)

The masa, or dough, is a very important element: Be sure to use fresh masa preparada (prepared masa).
TimeActive work time: 1 1/2 hours Total preparation time: 4 1/2 hours
YieldsMakes 40 tamales