I remember from early childhood that my momma would often make her version of hot tamales for supper and I really liked them. At that young age I thought they were real hot tamales. It was many years later, when I was in my early twenties, that I ate my first real tamale in Mexico. I was surprised and the first chance I got later I asked momma about her tamales. She told me that she couldn't find masa or corn husk in Florida where we lived, so she made up her own recipe and here it is.
1Place tamales wrappers in a container and cover with very warm water. You will need to weight them down with an inverted plate and a heavy can so they are completely covered with water.
2Place vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. When hot add garlic, and chopped onion and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Add ground beef and continue cooking until the meat is thoroughly cooked. Drain any excess fluid from the meat and set aside.
3Toast chilies in the cast iron skillet, making sure not to burn them. Allow to cool and then remove stems and seeds. Crumble and grind in a clean coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle
4Heat oil in the cast iron skillet. Mix in flour and allow to brown slightly. Pour in beef broth and stir until smooth. Mix in minced garlic, ground toasted chilies, cumin seeds, ground cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Let mixture simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it thickens slightly. Add ground beef into skillet, stir well to cover all the meat and cover. Turn heat to low and let simmer 45 minutes. Add more beef broth if necessary to keep mixture from drying out but you do not want the meat sauce runny.
5Add the six cups of water, salt, and pepper to a pot and bring to a boil. Slowly pour in the grits stirring constantly. When all the grits have been introduced, cover the pot, turn the heat down to low and let them simmer for about fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring often. (You can add cheese to the grits if you like cheese grits) When the grits are thick (about the consistency of mashed potatoes) turn the heat off. As long as the heat is on the grits should be stirred frequently.
6Drain water from wrappers. One at a time, wring out the water and flatten out a wrapper (work on a flat surface). Put 1/4 cup of grits into the center of the wrapper and spread into a four inch square. Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of meat mixture down the middle of the grits leaving one half inch border of grits on all four sides. (You can add some chopped fresh peppers of your choice if you want your tamales spicier) Gently lift up opposing sides of the wrapper (grits should meet at the top) and fold about 1/4 inch of the wrapper down onto itself. Continue to fold 1/4 inch of the wrapper down until there is no more to fold (do not mash the contents down). Then fold up both ends and fold the ends of the wrapper on top of the seam. You may tie both ends with a piece of butcher's twine if necessary to keep them folded. Your tamale should resemble a large sausage wrapped in cloth.
7(See Tip 1) Place tamales in a steamer basket, seam side down. Cover and steam over boiling water for one to two hours, until the grits are firm and holds their shape. Make sure the steamer does not run out of water (Add boiling water if needed). Serve immediately, allowing each person to unwrap their own tamales. Allow any leftovers (still in wrappers) to cool, then store in the refrigerator. They can also be placed in a zip lock bag and frozen. They will be just as good when later reheated in the steamer.
8NOTE 1. Cut six by six inch squares out of old white cotton sheets or table cloths. Be sure and wash them good and rinse all the soap and detergent out of them. Momma Used them just as if they were corn husk. After supper momma would wash the used ones twice, discarding any discolored ones, and save the rest for the next time she wanted to make tamales again.
9TIP 1. Instead of steaming the tamales by laying them down in a basket, try inverting a bowl in a large pot and standing the tamales on end around the bowl to create a funnel effect. This will produce a more even distribution of heat. Momma used a small bundt cake pan for her bowl. If she had to add water to the steamer she would just pour boiling water down the opening in the center of the bundt pan.