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THE GENERATIONS ISSUE / Things Handed Down: Sometimes
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Recipe

When life gives you lemons, you make tamales, Ann Herold reports

April 30, 2006|Ann Herold | Ann Herold is West's managing editor.

Lupe Ybarra is 89, but she can remember people and places like it was yesterday: Her mother Amelia packing lemons at Montecito's Crocker-Sperry ranch (later to become the ultra-exclusive Birnam Wood Country Club) in 1925, wrapping the Sunkist beauties one at a time in paper before putting them into the box. The hot-dog stand on Santa Barbara's Milpas Street that Amelia's husband, Manuel Ruiz, bought from the little old German. How in 1944 a local businessman persuaded Amelia to turn it into a Mexican restaurant because he knew she had the cooking gift. How the wealthy of Montecito made the restaurant, Tiny's, their second home, bringing their bottles of whiskey and wine to drink under the palm-frond roof. Lolita Armour of the Midwest meat dynasty would come, and actor Fess Parker.

For years Lupe tried to duplicate Amelia's tamales, "but they never came out like my mother's," she says. However, her sister, Elsa Welles, had children who were fast becoming masters. "My mother liked that when we were making the tamales all the kids were together," says Lia of the sometimes late-night sessions that she, her brother George and sister Leslie had each Christmas. Finally, the tradition has reached Sam O'Dell, Leslie's son. A vegetarian since age 15, he's devised his own meatless version.

Now the 21-year-old San Diego construction worker/pedicab driver/REI salesman is the cheerleader as the family girds for the two days it takes to prepare the tamales. There's the fun of eating them, says Sam. But that's not all. Because they make so many, there are always plenty to give away to the neighbors in Ocean Beach.

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Veggie Tamales

Yields about 24 small tamales

4 cups masa

2 1/2 cups Earth Balance shortening,

melted, cooled

3 1/4 cups organic vegetable broth

4 tablespoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 8-ounce packages corn husks,

rinsed, soaked at least 30 minutes

and drained (2 per tamale)

1 7-ounce can whole green chiles,

sliced

8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, sliced

Place the masa in a large bowl. Add the melted shortening and knead it into the masa. Add the broth, and continue kneading until the dough is an even consistency. Add the salt, cumin and baking powder and knead again; your arms should be tired before you're done. Add 2 inches of water to the bottom of a large steamer or pot with a lid. Place a cup in the center to help keep the tamales upright (remember to check the water level while steaming). To make the tamales, take a corn husk and place a small dab of masa on one of its long edges. Take another corn husk and place so that the long edges overlap by an inch or more, sandwiching the masa (this will serve as a kind of glue). Spread the corn husks with a heaping tablespoon of masa, stopping an inch from each edge. Place a slice of cheese and a slice of chili lengthwise in the middle of the masa. Then roll into a cylinder, making sure the edges overlap. Fold the ends in toward the middle and secure with twine. Stand the tamales upright in the pot, cover and steam for 30 to 45 minutes. The tamales are done when the dough is firm to the touch and separates easily from the husk. Let stand 10 minutes.

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