Traditions swerve, mutate and morph in our family. But either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, we always eat tamales.
We began the floating tradition when living in Fort Worth, Texas. We’d go down to the tamale stand and order chicken, pork, black bean, green chile or vegetarian tamales, dozens of them. The place, which looked like a converted Dairy Queen, had a tamale machine that mixed the masa and then filled the tamales. Sometimes we’d buy them from Felippe’s wife, who made them as a fundraiser for their church. Either way, we’d celebrate Texas style with delicious tamales.
Here in Florida, tamales aren’t so plentiful, despite the fact that the Spanish landed here in 1559, settled here in 1698, and didn’t leave for good until 1821. We’ve tried a home cook and a take-out stand. We even ordered from one man who delivered to our home well after dark, right before Christmas. Kids were bouncing in the back seat of the car, excited after seeing Christmas lights. The car smelled like tamales.
This year, Son #3, who lives in central Alabama, has been searching for good tamales for three months to bring home for Christmas. He found La Coronilla, a small Montgomery Mexican diner (menu in Spanish) with fresh, handmade tamales. So we have three dozen chicken, pork and beef tamales for a Christmas Eve feast. But I face the problem I’ve always faced: What do you serve with tamales?
It appears restaurant chain Qdoba (I’ve never been to one) serves Mexican Gumbo. From reading the ingredients it looks like a jazzed-up tortilla soup, but the name intrigues me. I’ve found two copy cat recipes for the Qdoba gumbo — one requires an immersion blender and the other uses ranch dressing mix.
Seems to me if I make Mexican Gumbo I can merge all our family traditions into one meal – well, except for Aunt Kathy’s Sweet Potatoes. Maybe I’ll serve that for dessert.
AUNT KATHY’S SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
3 CUPS CANNED SWEET POTATOES, MASHED & DRAINED
1 CUP SUGAR
½ CUP MARGARINE
1 TBSP VANILLA
½ TSP CINNAMON
TOPPING: 1 CUP BROWN SUGAR, 1 CUP CHOPPED NUTS, 1/3 CUP FLOUR, 1/3 CUP MELTED MARGARINE.
Mix first 6 ingredients, pour into oblong dish. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or longer until top is crispy.