I can't find banana leaves near me. What can I wrap tamales in to steam?
Try corn husk. I've seen people using that.
That is a great idea! Thanks.
Corn husks are at least as common a wrapper for tamales I have seen in Mexico.
Yes, banana leaves are specifically regional. On the other hand dried corn husks are pretty easy to find in the "Hispanic" aisle of your supermarket. No need to go all exotic.
Try bamboo leaves (for cooking) or maybe lotus leaves. It will impart a different flavor, but it should function the same way. If you can't even get those two types of leaves, try parchment paper.
Parchment is probably the best, lowest common denominator solution.
These are all great suggestions. I think I will try both parchment and corn husks. I'm making Rick Bayless' red chili pork tamales and the recipe calls for banana leaves. And I can easily find the corn husks
Did you look in the frozen foods section for banana leaves? I've only ever seen banana leaves frozen, not dried. Just a thought.
Banana leaves are used for tamales in the Yucatan/southern Mexico, but also Guatemala and neighboring Central American countries. Different taste than dried corn husks (hojas) but if the latter is more accessible, it would probably be fine - unless your goal is strict authenticity, I wouldn't sweat it.
Gustavo Arellano who edits the OC Weekly and has a syndicated column called Ask a Mexican, has a new book called "Taco USA" which is his history of Mexican cooking in the US. He heaps scorn on what he refers to as the "Baylessistas" which I find really amusing but he is a home boy and most of what he is writing about is Cal-Mex. He is a very funny guy by the way. And he knows his stuff.
ChefOno of course I respect your opinion as well, and probably I shouldn't have thrown Gustavo into the banana leaf. But anyway, it's worth keeping in mind that in Mexico there is no real restaurant culture that would be comparable to the US (outside of the resorts). It's street food and familily food and familily food that's made at home and sold on the street. In LA you get a bit of that over in the Pico Union area where it might be Salvadoran or Nicaraguan as well.
You, as a chef, know that the backbone of American kitchens are the Mexican guys. They show up on time, they never call in sick, and they do everything the way you showed them. And they clean out the grease traps too. But often they bring a knowledge of a certain food from their own city/pueblo in Mexico that someone taught them and these things have a way of getting worked into menus here and there. I'm still amazed that there are no really good Mexican restaurants in New York.
Personally I like Rick Bayless's Chicago restaurants very much, and the same goes for the Too Hot Tamales, who I adore. But because I spent most of my life in So Cal Gustavo always cracks me up with his provocateur attitude. His more serious point is the way in which Mexican food was co-opted by corporate America in the shape of Taco Bell and Doritos.
If you have access to an Indian grocery store, they have banana leaves in the freezer section.