Q. Where can I find corn husks for tamales?
A tamale (or tamal, if you're a stickler for Spanish grammar) is nothing more than a filling – any filling, really, coated in masa and wrapped in some kind of protective covering. Traditionally, tamales from Mexico tend to be wrapped in corn husks, while tamales in Central and South America are usually wrapped in banana leaves.
The wrapper holds the tamale together, preventing the masa, a cornmeal dough, from disintegrating before it has a chance to cook but allowing the steam to permeate it, making the dish particularly moist and succulent.
Tamale fillings vary wildly. The most common fillings in the United States are pork, beef or chicken. Mexican, Central and South American tamales can be found with cheese, vegetables or even fruit fillings. Fruit-filled tamales are typically made with a sweet masa. In El Salvador and Guatemala, unfilled tamales are common, and serve as the starchy portion of the meal, filling the role traditionally accorded to bread.
Corn husks used as tamale wrappers should be reconstituted in warm water for at least 30 minutes before using to make them pliable. You can order corn husks on the Internet at www.mexgrocer.com, but they also can be found at stores with good selections of Mexican products, such as La Bonita Mexican Grocery, 5314 South Blvd., and at Bloom, a supermarket in the University area, 6430 W. Sugar Creek Road.