Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy Uno de Mayo

Today is the first day of May, and it feels like the first (finally!!) day of Spring. After church I donned my gardening clothes and spent four glorious hours in upper 60's, crawling on my knees to snatch out offending weeds and bending at the waist to trim last year's sword ferns. A great workout and it didn't cost a penny at the local health club!

In four more days, regardless of ethnic background, many will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

I don't want to wait that long. I love Mexican food, and why wait until Thursday? One of my favorite Mexican main dishes is tamales. But, have you ever tried to make them? I have, several times. And the results (even though I am the Carb Diva) have been less than satisfying. I've prepared the filling, simmered the masa, soaked the corn husks, and assembled beautiful-looking tamales. And I've steamed them. I've steamed the LIFE out of them, but they are never as tender and comforting as those I've found in Mexican restaurants.

What to do? Well, I know how to cook polenta. And polenta and masa are both ground corn. Why not substitute polenta? And (while we're being creative) why steam the corn batter and filling in husks--which we immediately toss away? Why not just layer the corn batter and the filling in a casserole dish, top with cheese, and then dive into a creamy/meaty/cheesy heaven?

So here's what happened in our kitchen today.

Carb Diva Non-Tamales

For the filling:
2 tsp. olive oil
1 cup minced onion
1 pound ground beef or turkey*
2 tablespoons taco seasoning**
1/2 cup water

  1. Heat olive oil in large skillet; swirl to coat pan. Add onion and saute until onion softens and begins to turn golden.
  2. Add ground meat to pan and continue to cook until meat is no longer pink.
  3. Stir in taco seasoning and 1/2 cup water. Simmer about 5 minutes then remove from heat and set aside.
* I made a vegetarian version of this by substituting 2 cups meat crumbles (such as Morningstar).

** I make my own taco seasoning --

  •  2 tsp. instant minced onion
  •  1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. chili powder
  •  1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  •  1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  •  1/2 tsp. instant minced garlic
  •  1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  •  1/2 tsp. ground cumin

For the the corn batter:
3 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup polenta (not the instant kind)

non-stick cooking spray
  1. Bring water to a boil in large saucepan with lid.
  2. Slowly stir in polenta--don't dump all of it into the pan at once, you'll just an ugly lump. Be gentle and patient, using a whisk to make sure all of the dry corn meal is wet and suspended in the water.
  3. Turn heat to lowest setting. Continue to cook and stir until polenta is very thick, about 5 minutes. Place lid on saucepan and let cook 5 minutes more.
  4. Meanwhile, lightly spray an 11x7-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Assemble casserole:
1 cup shredded cheese (Cheddar, Jack, pepperjack, etc.)
Sour cream (optional)
guacamole (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Pour cooked polenta into prepared pan.
  3. Spoon cooked taco meat filling on top of polenta.
  4. Top taco meat with shredded cheese
  5. Bake in preheated oven about 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted
  6. Serve with sour cream and/or guacamole if desired.

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