Healthy Living on June 26, 2017 by

Fresh Pickings: Episode 4: Masa Harina

Ever wonder how your two pound burrito could possibly fit all of that carne asada, beans and rice without exploding? Well, that’s all thanks to Masa, the star of Fresh Picking’s fourth episode. Masa is the corn flour used to make tortillas, sopas, and pupusas. While solid Masa dough is traditionally sold in Mexican grocery stores in the refrigerator aisle, Bob’s Red Mill makes things easier by offering a non-perishable version of the same stuff.

How is Masa Harina made? What is it used for? We’ll speak to Dave Arnold, co-host of Cooking Issues to learn more about the magic of Masa Harina and understand the process of nixtamalization. To get some tips about cooking sweet treats with masa harina, our host Kat Johnson visits Fany Gerson at the Flatiron location of Dough, her hand-made donut shop. Fany is one of the most authoritative voices on Mexican pastries and frozen desserts, and she shares a recipe for Tamal de Limón (Lime Zest Tamales) from her first book, My Sweet Mexico.

Tamal de Limón

  • 30 dried cornhusks
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • Green food coloring (optional)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated lime zest
  • Pinch of salt

Makes about 2 dozen


1• Rinse the cornhusks under cold water, place them in a bowl, and cover with boiling water (put a plate on top and weight it with a large can to keep them submerged). Let sit for at least 30 minutes, or until soft.

2• In a bowl, combine the butter, shortening, and sugar with your hands or in a mixer with the paddle attachment until very creamy. Add the masa and mix well (it’ll look a bit like coarse meal). Combine a few drops of the food coloring with 3 tablespoons of the milk, then add that and the rest of the milk gradually while mixing until incorporated. Stir in the lime zest and salt.

3• Drain the cornhusks and scoop about ¼ cup of the batter into a husk, spreading it with the back of a spoon and leaving at least 1 inch all around (a little more on the long sides). If the husks are too small or broken, put two together and overlap them. Fold one of the long sides toward the center, and then fold the other long side on top. Tuck the exposed sides underneath; if they are still too small, wrap the tamale in another husk and tie it with a thin strip of husk (this isn’t necessary but is just an extra precaution). Repeat to use up all the batter.

4• Fill a pot with enough hot water to reach just underneath, but not touching, a steamer (you can use the collapsible kind if you don’t have a special pot). Cover the bottom of the steamer with leftover cornhusks and arrange the tamales vertically, standing them up so they rest against one another. Cover with any remaining leaves or scraps, cover with a lid, and cook over medium heat until the tamales slide out of the wrappers, 1 to 1½ hours. Add more boiling water to the bottom pot as needed to make sure water reaches the bottom of the steamer. Serve warm. The tamales can be stored in the freezer, wrapped tightly, for up to 3 months.

Testing Tamales:

There is a theory that many home cooks firmly believe in. To test whether the dough has been beaten enough and is ready to be put in the husks, put a bit of dough in a glass filled with cold water. If it begins to float, it’s ready and you can be sure that your tamales will be light and fluffy. If it doesn’t, just beat a bit longer.

Recipe Reprinted with permission from My Sweet Mexico, by Fany Gerson, copyright © 2010, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Photographs copyright © 2010 by Ed Anderson.

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