We kicked off tamal season at The Dallas Morning News on the first of December with two recipes from chef Olivia Lopez of Molino Olōyō and food writer Leslie Brenner.
Recipes for the tamales — sweet potato and picadillo and duck in dark mole with tart cherry salsa — are a sample of what we can expect in a forthcoming cookbook by the two women.
Before the bulleted list of cooking tips and lengthy list of ingredients, they write: “Don’t be afraid. The recipes look long and involved — and there certainly are a lot of steps. But that’s partly because we explain everything in painstaking detail, our way of holding your hand.”
If you’re a home cook (like me) who’s beginning to fret about when the pile of Amazon boxes will become festively wrapped presents, and if the stack of Christmas cards will go out in time, all while singing “Joy to the World” and attending parties for the first year in a while, that forewarning is enough to have us balking. It’s no secret that preparing tamales is time-consuming; it’s part of what makes eating them such a treat.
For me, I’ll keep admiring the recipes with a goal to make them — one year. In the meantime, I’ll leave the task of cooking the travel-friendly treasures to the pros. After all, this mom wants to unwrap something too, and I want it to be a stack of steamy, velvety tamales.
So get your tamales! Get ‘em while they’re hot, and get your orders in now — like now, now — from these five restaurants and pop-ups with traditional, vegetarian, vegan and dessert options.
Tamalero John Hernandez learned the art of tamale-making from his grandmother, who would sell them in front of her home and at Casa Hernandez, their family’s Tex-Mex restaurant in El Campo. Making tamales will be more sentimental for Hernandez than ever this year, he says, since he is now the eldest keeper of his grandmother’s recipes after his father passed away last year. He’ll be thinking of them as he makes dozens upon dozens of his grandmother’s tamales that are all lard-free, with the exception of the “Pork Phat” filled with green chile pork carnitas.
He has vegan and vegetarian options, along with his “Abuela’s,” a ground beef and pork mix, on the Christmas menu. There’s also a dessert tamale, the “La Piñata,” made with strawberry-coconut masa and filled with plantains, pineapple, dried cranberry, golden raisins, and pecans.
Find the rest of Casa Masa’s creative Christmas menu on Facebook and Instagram, where you can follow for more information about regular pop-ups at Peticolas Brewing Company and Double Wide’s First Sunday flea market.
To place Christmas orders, send a direct message to Hernandez on social media by Dec. 16. Pick-up will be Dec. 19 at Rollertown Beerworks in Celina, and on Dec. 23 at Encina Restaurant in Oak Cliff.
OMG Vegan Tamales started as an unexpectedly successful church fundraiser that turned into a full-blown business for Mayra Gaytan, who went vegan six years ago. She’s adapted her mother’s recipe to make tamales filled with refried beans, vegan queso and well-seasoned Gardein plant-based proteins.
She says she feels pride every time a non-vegan says, “Oh my god, vegan?” after tasting her tamales. “I feel like I’m helping people eat something delicious and authentic, and there are no animals suffering as a result of it,” she says.
Her Christmas menu includes flavors in (very) spicy chick’n; picadillo with soy crumbles, guajillo chilies and potato; rajas con queso; refried bean and cheese; and a sweet brown sugar raisin.
Gaytan is sold out for home deliveries for Christmas, but she will meet buyers who place orders by Dec. 16 at to-be-named locations in Garland, Plano, Richardson, Dallas, Addison, Allen, Irving and Carrollton. Send a direct message through Instagram or Facebook to place an order for meet-up on Dec. 21 and 22.
In addition, OMG Vegan Tamales can regularly be found at the Farmer’s Market of Grapevine, Mashup Market in Denton, and Snow on the Rox in DeSoto.
The Venezuelan-born brother-sister owners of Strangeways grew up eating their country’s version of tamales, called hallacas, for Christmas. Years later, when they opened their multi-tap bar on Fitzhugh Avenue, Eric Sanchez thought their mother, Yolanda Sanchez, should make the Mexican version, too. They’ve been hot-sellers ever since, including the vegetarian with gouda cheese, black beans and jalapeños, as well as the vegan with potatoes and poblanos in tomatillo sauce.
The deadline to order Strangeways’ heat-and-serve tamales that also come in chicken with tomatillo sauce, as well as a chicken-pork mix, is Dec. 14.
Eric’s sister, Rocío “Rosie” Ildemaro, says the reason tamales are mostly eaten at Christmastime throughout Latin America is because “they’re a lot of [expletive] work.” So for the first year, Strangeways will offer tamale home kits. Ildemaro says, “Everyone likes our recipe, so we thought, ‘Why not take them home?’”
The deadline to order home kits that come with corn husks, prepared masa, filling, and instructions is Dec. 19.
Antonio and Doris Quintanilla, owners of Richardson’s Tamaleria Nuevo León, say they are expecting to sell somewhere around half a million tamales this holiday season. Their recipe, rewarded with the use of traditional pork lard and real masa (except in the case of their vegan), comes from the Quintanillas’ great-grandmother, who sold her tamales in the streets of Linares, Nuevo León, Mexico.
Orders for Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, closed on Nov. 30, but they are boosting production in order to have plenty of tamales available for anyone who walks in at any time before then, they say.
To place an order for New Year’s Day, which is also coming up soon, call 972-685-6556 by Dec. 12 with your credit card handy. The restaurant will also be open on New Year’s Eve for walk-in customers.
Tamaleria Nuevo León, “specializing in tamales,” as its storefront signage says, opened three years ago. The Quintanillas’ 25 different flavors have scratched a tamale-centric restaurant itch — they’ll open their second location, more conveniently located off Central Expressway in Richardson, by March of next year, making 2022 a feliz año nuevo, no doubt.
Ordering tamales from Yesenia Lopez’s Yes Yes Tamales is a doubly-beneficial act: Not only do you get the pleasure of eating tamales, you also get them delivered hot and fresh to your doorstep.
Lopez says her tamales have never been frozen — “not ever,” she emphasizes twice — and she’ll make deliveries to a wide swath of Dallas, including Highland Park, Deep Ellum, Bishop Arts, East Dallas and a bit of North Dallas. For orders of five dozen or more, she’ll also deliver to Plano and Frisco.
All of the recipes, including the frijoles negro (vegan) and the poblano con queso fresco (vegetarian), come from her mother, Elizabeth Robles, who is from Durango, Mexico. Lopez’s mother and her chef boyfriend, Drew Wallace, will help with orders as they spend hours spreading husks with masa and filling while sharing “el chisme,” the practice of gossip, or the art of storytelling, depending on how you look at it.
Yes Yes Tamales started last year as a pandemically motivated business when Lopez was laid off from her full-time job, and she has no plans to let it go now. “It’s helped a lot,” she says.
Christmas orders can be placed on orderyesyes.com by Dec. 17 for home deliveries on Dec. 23 and 24.