The comfort food issue

Exploring the comforting meals that hold such nostalgia and reconnect us to our past

Growing up, this time of year meant getting together with family and making dozens of tamales. As a child, I was only allowed to help a little as the grown-ups wanted to get done quickly so I mostly treated the masa like Play-Doh. But the memories of hojas (corn husks) soaking in water, shredded meat bubbling on the stove in deep red spices and the condensation dripping down my grandmother’s windows brings me much comfort. Inspired by those moments, SN&R’s Comfort Food issue explores how nostalgic dishes from our past connect us all, no matter what culture. This special food issue is also filled with original recipes from local chefs, plus features on what makes soul food sing. There’s even room for pie.

Grandma Ofilia’s tamales

For the masa:

8 cups Maseca instant corn masa flour

2 2/3 cups lard

Steph Rodriguez shows her son Elliot how to roll masa.

Photo courtesy of Mike Rodriguez

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

5 cups chicken drippings

Chicken spices:

1 tablespoon cumin powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

4 tablespoons pasilla powder

2 teaspoons red chile powder

2 teaspoons paprika

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

Ingredients and tools:

25 dried hojas (corn husks)

5 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, leave skin for more flavor

8-quart steamer pot

1 rolling pin

1-gallon plastic bag cut in half, or a plastic grocery bag cut in half

1 stove-top safe ramkin


Place dried hojas in warm water to soak, remove silk. Once clean and pliable, set aside. Simmer the chicken thighs on medium heat in a large stock pot with water and spices for about 20 minutes until tender. Remove chicken from broth and place on cookie sheet to cool. Once cool, remove meat from skin and bone. Shred chicken with forks (or by hand) and place into a large bowl. Add about 1 cup of drippings to shredded chicken and more spices to taste if desired. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add masa flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until well incorporated. Next, add lard in small chunks, similar to making pie crust. Then, slowly add in 1 cup at a time of warm chicken drippings to melt lard into the masa. Mix by hand until a dough-like consistency is formed. Let masa rest. Create an assembly line on the kitchen table: Hojas, masa, meat. Spoon a small ball of masa onto the hoja. Cover with plastic bag. Using a rolling pin, spread masa evenly over hoja to desired thickness leaving 2 inches bare toward the bottom. Peel off plastic bag, fill the middle of the tamale with desired amount of chicken. Roll the tamale like a cigar and fold the bare flap at the bottom up to seal. Repeat process until ingredients are gone. In an 8-quart steam pot, fill water until it just kisses the steam basket. Place ramkin face down inside. Arrange about a dozen tamales in a teepee-shape. Cover and steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour until masa sets. Enjoy with fresh salsa, rice and beans. To freeze: seal tamales in Ziplock bags raw to steam fresh year round.