Squash Tamales

This is the season for all things pumpkin. Everywhere you go, there are a ton of pumpkins around and every menu has at least one pumpkin item on it — pie and soup being probably the most common, but also including things such as ravioli. Well, with that in mind, I decided to make some pumpkin tamales.

Try Smitty’s recipe for Pumpkin Empanadas

The only problem was I didn’t have any pumpkin left after making Pumpkin Empanadas for my last column. So I ask you, “What could I do?”

I knew I still had an acorn squash, so that is what I used. In fact, squash is the perfect substitute for pumpkin for almost any recipe.

I told a friend I was making tamales and the first question I was asked was: “Are they authentic tamales?” This one I had to contemplate for a few seconds. I mean, what makes a dish authentic? Since I think of tamales as a Mexican dish, does that mean I need to originally be from south of the border in order for my tamales to be authentic? Or, does it just have to do with the ingredients? That is a tough question to answer because if you go by the last choice, which I think most people would pick, then you get into different regions using different ingredients.

One example is apple strudel. I consider the Apple Strudel I make to be authentic Austrian apple strudel. I learned the recipe from an Austrian chef that learned it back home in Innsbruck. The recipe calls for the use of phyllo dough, but I have also had authentic Austrian strudel that uses puff pastry dough. Find Smitty’s recipe for Apple Strudel at TheTahoeWeekly.com.

So, where exactly do you draw the line at something being authentic? I said it was authentic “Smitty” and said my friend would have to make up his own mind.

So, here is how I made my authentically Smitty tamales. I did use a lot of what I consider to be traditional herbs and spices. However, I added them slowly to taste so that I would not overpower my taste buds. I also like to keep the heat a little lower if I am going to share with others and let them spice it up to their own liking.

Squash Tamales

Soak the corn husks for two hours according to the package, but I liked mine soaked much longer.

1 acorn squash
2 avocados, medium diced
1 jalapeno pepper, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T butter
1 T maple syrup (very authentic Smitty)
1½ T cumin
1 T chili powder
½ T chipotle powder
1 T chili paste
¼ to ½ bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 C cheese (cheddar, jack, asadero, queso quesadilla mix)

Cut the squash in half and seed. Place cut side down on a baking sheet, add an inch or so of water and bake until soft. Scrape the meat into a bowl.

Sweat the garlic and jalapeno in the butter and add to the squash. Add the spices a little at a time to taste. Add the cilantro.


1 C polenta
2 C vegetable stock
1¾ C water
1½ sticks butter
Salt, pepper, chili powder & touch of cumin to taste at the end

Bring the stock and water to a boil with half the butter. Remove from the stove and add the polenta and mix well. Pour into a baking pan and place in a 350-degree F oven for 45 minutes or until smooth. Melt in the rest of the butter and season as needed.

Lay out one or two husks and spread polenta over three-quarters leaving empty space around three sides. Place a small spoon of the squash filling in the middle and make a slight pocket and fill with the cheese. Roll toward the empty side of the husk and twist and tie the ends. Also, tie a few pieces of string around the tamale so it won’t unwrap while steaming. Steam for 15 to 20 minutes to heat and melt the cheese. Serve with a spicy red sauce.