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My sister and I have always had a thing for tamales.  Well, actually, my sister has the biggest thing for tamales and I follow in her footsteps.  Our grandmother, who lives in Tucson, would have them ready for us every time we visited when little.  She would get them at her local market which were always handmade nearby and delicious.  She can be credited for our love for the warm, masa filled corn husks that we see as a delicacy today.  She actually introduced us to the frozen variety (since we didn’t visit often enough to get our fix!) at a store called Trader Joe’s before Trader Joe’s was known in other parts of the country.

So, when we saw that La Cocina was hosting a tamales class at Macy’s in Union Square, SF, we had to go.  For those who don’t know, La Cocina’s mission is “to cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities.”

Alicia Villanueva joined La Cocina about a year ago and now has her own tamale cart at the Plaza across from the Ferry Building, Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm.  It was Alicia’s dream for years to have her own tamale business, using her family recipe, and her dream has come true thanks to the help of La Cocina.  We were lucky to have Alicia teaching our tamale class.

With about 15 people in the class, we all jumped in to make vegetable tamales and pineapple tamales (sweet).  She already had prepared the masa (the most labor intensive part), but suggested that we can find it pre-made in most Latin markets in the Mission.  One of her favorites is on the corner of 24th and Florida.  Make sure to ask for masa for tamales.

In about two hours we prepared and ate the delicious tamales.  The veggie tamales were filled with a mix of green, yellow and red peppers, olives, tomatoes, onions and green beans.  They were extremely moist and the best that we’ve had (and we’ve had a lot!).  I’ve never actually tried a sweet tamale before, the savory always win over, and these were delicious too with a just sweet enough mix of pineapple and coconut.  Yum!

Thank you to Alicia, La Cocina and Macy’s for hosting a wonderful class and sending us home with recipes and helpful hints.  La Cocina hosts classes about once a month so check out the schedule!