Sandra Gutierrez's Collard Green Tamales & Chile-Cheese Biscuits

We recently spoke with Sandra Gutierrez about her concept of Latin American meets Southern down home fare, which she translates into 150 recipes (at just short of 300 pages, it's almost a novel) in her new cookbook,The New Southern-Latino Table (University of North Carolina Press, $30). Appearing at the Miami Book Fair this weekend, you can catch her today at a cooking demonstration at the Miami Culinary Institute at 2 p.m., and at a culinary panel discussion at the Fair at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

After perusing the many combinations that Gutierrez has cooked up, we decided these recipes best represent the perfect mesh of two worlds. Collard green-stuffed tamales are served with a spicy pimiento sauce, and cheesy biscuits, a Southern staple, are jacked up with queso seco and and poblano chiles. Smear a bit of avocado butter on top of those biscuits, and be happy that the world keeps getting smaller and smaller. When cultures blend, tasty happens.

Chile-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter

For the biscuits:

2 cups self-rising flour

1 cup grated queso seco (dry aged Mexican cheese)

1 teaspoon ancho or pasilla chile powder

¼ cup chilled lard, bacon fat, or shortening

1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, de-veined, and finely chopped

1-1 ¼ cups buttermilk

3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

For the avocado butter:

2 Hass avocados

2 teaspoons lime juice

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Pinch dried Mexican oregano

Preheat the oven to 475°F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cheese, and chile powder. Using a pastry blender (or two knives), cut the lard into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse sand. Stir in the chiles. Gradually add the buttermilk, mixing the dough with a wooden spoon or your hands just until it holds together (you may not need all of the buttermilk).

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it gently a couple of times. Pat it into an 8-inch circle (about ½ inch thick). Using a well-floured 2 ⅛-inch biscuit cutter, cut out 12 biscuits (you'll need to gather up the dough and pat it down again lightly after the first biscuits are cut to get all 12). Place the biscuits, with sides touching, in a 10-inch springform or cake pan. With your knuckle, make a small indentation in the center of each biscuit; brush the tops of the biscuits with the cream. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

To make the avocado butter: Halve and pit the avocados; scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a medium bowl and mash into a smooth paste. Add the lime juice, salt, pepper, and oregano and stir until combined. Serve the hot biscuits with avocado butter.

Collard Green Tamales with Pimiento Sauce

(Makes 14 small tamales)

For the tamales:

1 small bag dried corn husks (see note below)

1 cup lard (or vegetable shortening), divided

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

5 cups thinly sliced and roughly chopped collard greens, packed

1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

3 cups masa harina

2 ¾ cups warm water (115°F)

pimiento sauce (recipe to follow)

½ cup grated cotija cheese (extra for garnish)

Submerge the husks in a large bowl of hot water for at least 1 hour, to soften. Keep them in the water until you assemble the tamales (for up to 24 hours). In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the lard over medium-high heat.

Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 20 seconds. Add the collards and cook, stirring often, until they're wilted and soft, about 5 minutes. Season with ½ teaspoon of the salt and the pepper; remove from the heat and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the masa harina and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Gradually add the warm water, mixing the dough thoroughly with your hands after each addition, until the dough comes together into a smooth ball and is no longer sticky.

Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining lard until fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the motor running, gradually add the prepared masa, one small piece at a time, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl every so often, until the lard is incorporated and the masa is the consistency of mashed potatoes. Add the collards and cheese and stir with a spatula until combined. Cover the masa and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Tear 3 corn husks into long, thin strips (following the natural ridges of the husks) to make ties. Working with 1 corn husk at a time, spread ⅓ cup of masa onto the center with an offset spatula, leaving the bottom 3 inches and the top 2 inches of the husk exposed. Fold the long edges of the husk over the masa and then fold the two short ends over. Tie a husk strip around the tamale to secure it (but not too tight; it shouldn't have a "waist" or it will explode when steamed).

Fill a large stockpot or Dutch oven with 3 inches of water and fit it with a steamer basket. Line the basket with the remaining corn husks. Arrange the tamales in the basket (they can be laid flat in layers or placed side by side standing on end). Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat; cover the pan and steam the tamales for 1 hour (replenishing the water periodically as needed); turn off the heat and steam for another 20 minutes. Place the cooked tamales in a casserole dish with a cover to keep warm before serving. Unwrap the tamales and serve each with a generous amount of warm pimiento sauce; sprinkle with cheese.

Note: A small bag of corn husks contain about 50 husks. Sealed in a plastic bag, they'll keep for up to 2 years.

For the pimento sauce:
(Makes 2 cups)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups roughly chopped yellow onion

1 cup peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped plum tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 (7-ounce) jars diced pimientos, drained (juices reserved)

1 teaspoon ají panca paste or hot sauce (such as Tabasco)

½ cup water

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until they begin to soften; add the tomatoes and garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the pimientos, aji panca paste, water, reserved juices from the pimientos, salt, and pepper; bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return it to the saucepan and keep warm until ready to serve.

Recipes from The New Southern-Latino Table
(Copyright © 2011 by Sandra A. Gutierrez. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.)

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