Inside-Out Tamales

(Masa muffins with beef and beans)

I was experimenting in the kitchen today with a big bag of masa harina (which sounds like an 90s dance sensation but is really just finely ground corn flour treated with slaked lime to make the niacin easier to absorb) – making pinole energy bars and whatnot for long runs – when I realized it was well past lunchtime and I needed some protein.  After rummaging for a few basic staples, I concocted this quick, filling and versatile gluten-free recipe that tastes just like a tamale but requires less assembly and (to me, anyway) looks much fancier.

I started with a corn muffin base.  Here’s my basic recipe – next time I plan to add diced chiles or jalapenos to the batter.

Masa muffins:

1 ½ cups masa harina (I like Maseca brand)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 ¾ cups milk

2 tablespoons melted coconut oil + enough to grease muffin tins

1 egg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a muffin pan. (I use coconut oil because I use it for, oh, EVERYTHING.)

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients and add to dry, whisking until just combined – the batter will be a bit lumpy.

Fill each muffin tin about halfway (I had enough mix for 8 big muffins – I’ll use a mini pan next time for smaller servings) and bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.

While my muffins were baking, I dug through the freezer and pantry for a protein-based topping.  I used lean ground beef and cannellini beans this time, but I plan to experiment with lentils next time for a vegetarian version.  Chicken, pork or black beans would also work – those muffins are an incredibly versatile base.

Topping:

1lb lean ground beef

1 can of cannellini  beans

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

½ cup water

A few dashes of hot sauce (I like chipotle Tabasco)

Chili powder, cayenne and/or black pepper to taste (look, I’m not gonna micromanage your spice rack.  You know what you like and how much you like, so spice that mess in whatever manner you choose)

Dump all topping ingredients into a large skillet, stirring occasionally, ‘til your meat is browned and the mixture is bubbling.  Drain if necessary (I use 91% lean beef so there wasn’t much draining involved with mine).

Time to throw it all together.

Assembly:

Place a couple of muffins on a plate and spoon a bit of topping over each.  If you’re feeling fancy and don’t mind the extra calories, a dollop of sour cream, a slice of avocado, and/or a sprinkling of shredded cheddar will dress these up nicely.  I have a ton of cherry tomatoes, so mine ended up looking vaguely dessert-like.

Image

Et voila!  The whole thing took about 25-30 minutes and was soooo worth it – the muffins were soft and moist and the chili-like mixture on top tasted just like a tamale without the hassle of rolling, wrapping and steaming. The muffins are versatile enough to serve with chili or soup and they’re pretty spectacular by themselves with a smidgen of honey butter spread across their warm, golden tops. I am so happy with the way these turned out – I can’t wait to try more masa-based recipes.

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