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Posted on Aug 2, 2007 in Bento, Corn Tortillas or Masa, Food Jar, For Kids, Gluten Free, Meat, Soup or Stew | 12 comments

Tamalon and chili lunches

Tamalon and chili lunches


Welcome to new readers finding their way here from recent Boing Boing and Neatorama writeups of Lunch in a Box! Feel free to comment with any questions you may have — I do my best to reply to everyone.

Chili lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Homemade chili with black beans, a slice of homemade tamalon (big tamal roll, details below) with Salvadorean chorizo and leftover purple kale, chipotle lime cream (recipe here) for the tamalon, plus cheese and a lime wedge for the chili.

Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using dinner leftovers. Morning prep was limited to microwaving the leftover chili and tamalon, and packing the leftover condiments.

Packing: I pre-warmed the thermal food jar with hot tap water while I prepped the lunch. Not pictured is the surprise animal cap that I used to cover and contain the little silicone cup full of grated cheese. In the past I’ve used these little animal caps (equipment photo here) to add a little fun or cover up something visually uninteresting, but today I found that they can be utilitarian as well — to keep loose food items from rolling around within the container without using plastic wrap. (OT, hooray for a waste-free lunch! It’s not something I always achieve, but it’s a good goal to aim for.) The lunch is loosely packed in a 560ml insulated bento set that kept the chili warm and the chipotle cream cool, thanks to a tiny ice pack cut from a flexible ice blanket (US$2.50 at Target). You can achieve the same effect with a commonly available food jar (think Thermos Funtainers in the kids’ lunch section) and a small regular container in an insulated lunch bag.

Contents of my lunch:
Same as Bug’s lunch, but with the addition of a frozen mini pudding cup (Kiku brand) next to the chipotle cream and cheese to keep them cool and safe. This was actually yesterday’s test lunch for my post on edible ice packs, to see if the pudding texture suffered with the freezing. (It didn’t, by the way.)

Packing: Packed in a 300ml thermal food jar and 350ml Asvel box with one sub-container removed.

Cooking: The most interesting dish is the sliced tamalon, or big tamal roll, that I made for company over the weekend (a recipe is here). A tamalon is essentially a huge multi-person tamale with the ‘filling’ mixed throughout, wrapped in a damp kitchen towel and steamed in a huge tamale steamer (or Thai steamer) for over an hour. Unwrap it and eat with salsa or a juicy main dish. I first saw this on Rick Bayless’ Mexican cooking show, and then made a few from his informative Mexican Kitchen cookbook last year when I catered a party for 30 people. Much easier than filling and wrapping individual tamales for 30!!! I got my 14-inch stacked aluminum steamer very cheaply at a local Asian market a few years back, but I think the store must have marked the price wrong because they now sell the same one at about the same price as Amazon. The chili with black beans was an adaptation of a recipe in The New Best Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (recipe here for people with paid online subscriptions to Cook’s).


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  1. I like the idea of one giant tamal that we could snack from for several days, regulating the size of the slice. One regular tamal is usually a little too big for me (but I stuff myself because they’re so good!). I haven’t tried making my own yet.

  2. Biggie, thanks for the nice reply to my comment :)

    I have some new questions on this one:

    1) I’ve read several posts, where you put “tamale” in your bentos and I don’t have a clue, what that is.. It looks yummy, but I just can’t figure out what’s in it. Maybe it’s because it’s Mexican and we don’t have many Mexican restaurants etc. here.

    2) About your chipotle lime cream: I’ve also read “sour cream” as an ingredient in many American recipes and I’m wondering if it’s just like whipped cream, only that it’s sour? Because the only thing I know by the name “sour cream” I know is some kind of dip that you get with potatoe wedges in American diners or Burger King etc. in Germany. If it’s that thing then I don’t know how to make sour cream, as you can’t buy that stuff in grocery stores over here.
    But we have something called “Saure Sahne” or “Sauerrahm” which literally translated means “sour cream”. It doesn’t have quite a distinct flavour, though. It’s just like normal whipped cream, but with a thicker consistency.. maybe a little bit sour, but not much.
    Wow, I hope that’s not too confusing oO.

  3. @3 from zyna:
    Tamales are a traditional Mexican food item made with hominy (called masa in Spanish). The hominy is made into a dough, the dough is then filled, and then the whole thing is wrapped in a corn husk or plantain leaf and steamed. The filling is usually pork or chicken with some kind of sauce like salsa verde or mole. However, you can put whatever you want in it. You can even sweeten the masa and put a sweet filling in it.

    Sour cream is like crème fraîche only slightly thicker and a little more sour. Basically, it’s cream that’s had a bacterial culture added to it. This thickens it and makes it slightly sour.

  4. I’ve looked at lots of bento websites and yours are just routinely some of the nicest, best put together, and loveliest I’ve seen. Your son is so lucky to grow up with so many wonderful foods! I’ve just started making my own bento and it’s such a relief to see that even leftovers and freezer foods can be part of a nutritious, charming lunch.

  5. @2 from Stephanie:
    The huge tamalon was actually very easy to make — much faster and less complicated than making individual tamales. For me, it puts homemade tamal in the realm of weekend dinner food instead of super-special occasion food.

  6. @3 from zyna:
    I think Jeff gave you an excellent response to your question in the comment below yours (thanks, Jeff!). You might also find the “tamalon” link to (right under the first big photo above) to be interesting — much info and photos on tamales.

  7. @4 from Jeff:
    Thanks for jumping in and answering zyna’s tamale question, Jeff — excellent response. :-)

  8. @5 from Minnie:
    Thank you for the kind comment, Minnie! Like I wrote in my Mommy’s Lunch Manifesto, I’m just not going to spend an hour+ on a weekday lunch (but neither am I going to reach for a Lunchable processed lunch). Balance is key, otherwise we’ll burn out!

  9. @4 from Jeff and 7 from Biggie:
    Thanks for the answers. Sounds really interesting. Definitly have to look for homini, when I have more time to try a new dish :)
    And thanks for the really good explanation of sour cream. We have that here then ;) I was wondering for years what exactly that is.. Sometimes it’s really just the literal translation - and I thought it couldn’t be that easy :D

  10. I’m going a little insane, I can’t find the recipe for the tamalon on the link you posted. The Math teacher blog is blank, and then as I scroll down I see entries, but cannot find the recipe. Help! It seems like something that would be right up my alley. I’ve always wanted to try tamales, but am intimidated by the process. This seems like it would be much easier.
    Thanks very much

  11. @11 from Marjorie:
    Hmm, that’s odd. When I click on the Math Teacher blog link, it takes me right there and the recipe’s at the top. Anyone else have the same problem?

  12. When I clicked on it from your email, it worked. Hooray! I have it printed and will give it a try sometime soon. Thanks!


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