For his easy version of tamales, chef Fernando López Velarde of La Biznaga restaurant omits the usual cornmeal and stuffs herbal-tasting hoja santa leaves with poblano chiles and queso oaxaca—a mild, melty cheese available at Latin markets—then grills them. Here, romaine lettuce leaves stand in for the hoja santa.
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8 large romaine lettuce leaves
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 poblano chiles, seeded and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon chopped oregano, plus 16 oregano leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound queso oaxaca or queso blanco (see Note), torn or cut into thick
Refried beans, sour cream, chopped tomatoes and parsley leaves, for serving
How to Make It
Cut off the top 6 inches of each romaine leaf; reserve the bottoms for another use. In a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch the romaine tops for 2 seconds. Using tongs, transfer the leaves to paper towels to drain.
In a medium skillet, heat the corn oil. Add the poblanos, garlic and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped oregano and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a grill pan. On a work surface, arrange the romaine leaves in pairs facing in the same direction and overlapping slightly. Place one-fourth of the queso oaxaca and the poblano mixture in the center of the leaves and sprinkle with the oregano leaves. Fold the leaves over to enclose the fillings and wrap the stuffed romaine bundles in foil.
Grill the tamales over moderately high heat until the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes per side. Unwrap the tamales and transfer to plates. Spoon refried beans alongside and dollop with the sour cream. Scatter chopped tomatoes and parsley over the beans and serve.
Queso oaxaca is a stretched curd cheese that's wound into balls and often used for melting in quesadillas. Queso blanco is a firm, mild cheese. Both are available at Latin markets.
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