No, this isn’t an episode of Iron chef, so there isn’t a Chef Real or a Chef Soy – the battle here is between ‘real’ meat and ‘meat imposter’. I also considered ‘Meat Blasphemy Tamales’ for a title, since using soy ‘meat’ in my kitchen probably angered the Meat Gods, but I tossed in regular chorizo for a comparison test to avoid being struck by lightning as I cooked…
Under normal circumstances there is simply no way I would ever have even considered buying, let alone consuming, a soy-based chorizo for anything other than torturing an unsuspecting carnivore with. The idea of a fake meat just bugs me -my stance on the subject is pretty much “if you want to eat meat, eat meat and if you want to avoid meat, don’t try to make fake meat taste like real meat – just eat the meat or have a carrot”. I’m sure the meat probably sees the whole process as flattery along the lines of ‘the soy is so nasty that it wants to be me’, but its just wrong! Wrong I tells ya!
So how did this stuff end up in my kitchen you may ask? A challenge, of course…
While tormenting my merry band of taste testers at Animal House with a big batch of my vegetarian enchiladas a while back, the subject of tamales came up and the phrase ‘I’ll bet you can’t make those vegetarian’ was uttered. Taking it as a challenge (as opposed to a sly request for a batch of vegetarian tamales to be brought in), I set out to create a vegetarian filling for tamales that could handle being paired with the rather bland masa of a tamale. I experimented with squash and other veggies, but nothing held quite enough flavor to really stand out in a tamale application so I decided to make some vegetarian chorizo.
How hard could it be to make something vaguely sausage-like without meat? Surely tofu or some other ‘faux meat’ could be combined with enough spices to make it semi-chorizo like, right? Well, for me the answer to that was ‘wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong!’, but just as I was about to throw in the towel, I found a post on a message board about something called Soyrizo from Frieda’s that was available at WalMart of all places. A quick trip to WalMart later, two packages of sausage-shaped soy ‘fauxsage’ were sitting on the counter, ready to be cooked up and tested.
Keeping my receipt intact and ready for a quick return trip, I sliced off a small end of one of the links and tossed it in the skillet to ‘brown’. The first thing I noticed was a distinct lack of red greasy goo flooding out of the sausage as it cooked, probably because the Soyrizo had about 80% less fat in it than a typical pork or beef chorizo would. The other very important observation was that no matter how hot and hard I cooked the stuff, it refused to crumble like a sausage normally would when pan cooked. Taste-wise it was a little bland and had a bit of a vinegar tang to it, but it other than that it was actually pretty close to a regular hunk of chorizo. I added some smoked paprika, chipotle powder, and a little sugar to the batch for the tamales and it really came close to tasting like the pork and beef chorizo I bought for the comparison.
How close, you ask? None of the taste testers I gave the things to could tell the difference without checking the color of the tamale wrapper (I added red food coloring to the water soak for corn husks that would wrap the Soyrizo tamales so I could tell the batches apart – handy little trick if you are making multiple kinds of tamales on the same day), so that qualifies as pretty close in my book.
One other little change from my usual tamale recipe was used in this run, and it made a very noticeable difference in the final results. Tamale masa made without lard has a tendency to get a little on the chewy side when it is steamed, and I had no intentions of using lard for anything in the kitchen, so on a whim I decided to replace 1/4 of the masa flour in the dough recipe with regular old refried beans from a can. My thinking was that the beans would add moisture to the dough and would work like the fat from the lard does, keeping the masa dough moist after steaming. And boy was I right – I will never make another batch of tamales without the beans in the dough.
The only other ingredient of note in these tamales was some crumbled Queso Fresco that I added to the filling of the tamales. They would have been fine without it, but I had a big hunk of the queso in the fridge that was nearing its ‘use by’ date, so why not make cheesy Soyrizo and realrizo tamales, right?
While it will probably not find its way back into my kitchen again, the Soyrizo was a pleasant surprise. As I mentioned, none of the taste testers (and there were 6 total) were able to tell the difference between the real and fake sausage filled tamales, and once I had doctored it up a bit, even I would have been hard pressed to tell unless I saw the texture. Definitely a useful ingredient for those avoiding meat, but I’m not going to push my luck with the Meat Gods again – I could swear I heard rumbles of thunder as I was making the tamales, and it was a bright, sunny day…
Cheesy Fauxrizo Tamales
- 1 12 ounce package of Frieda’s Soyrizo
- 6 ounces of Queso Fresco (or a very mild feta)
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup refried beans
- 1 1/2 cups masa flour
- 1 teaspoon ancho powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 15-20 large corn husks
Step 1 : In a skillet on medium-high heat, combine the Soyrizo, chipotle powder, sugar, and smoke paprika. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, treating it like you would ground beef, chopping and mixing the mixture with your spatula frequently. Remove from the burner and allow to cool.
Step 2 : Begin soaking the corn husks in a large pan or bowl filled with warm water. If making more than one type of tamale, soak the husks in different containers and add food coloring to the water to color the husks for the different batches.
Step 3 : Combine the masa flour, refried beans, ancho powder, salt, and water in a bowl and mix until combined.
Step 4 : Take a corn husk out of the soak and shake to remove the excess water. Lay it flat on a towel and place a large spoonful of the masa in the center of the husk. Spread the dough out into a medium-thin later across the center of the husk, leaving about 2 inches at the top and bottom of the husk uncovered to allow for folding.
Step 5 : Spread a tablespoon of the Soyrizo in the middle of the masa and top with crumbled queso fresco.
Step 6 : Roll the tamale by folding one edge of the husk over the middle to connect the edges of the dough, and then roll it tightly like a cigar. Fold the ends over the body of the roll, and tie with a strip torn from a long, soaked husk. Repeat until all the masa is used up.
Step 7 : Place the rolled and tied tamales in a steamer or steamer pan and steam for 20 minutes. Remove, allow to cool a little, unroll and consume with the salsa of your choice.
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