before you start this food project, make sure you have a large pot to steam your tamales in. if you're going through all the effort to make tamales, you might as well make a ton of tamales and freeze the leftovers! you'll also need a few dozen corn husks (dried or fresh), corn flour (this is very different from corn meal, i found out!) and some kitchen string.
to make the corn base, mix 6-8 cups of corn flour with enough hot water to moisten all of the flour. let sit for about 20 mins. in the mean time, if you are using dried corn husks, get them soaking in warm water. after 20 minutes, stir in up to a cup of corn/canola oil, and more warm water until your corn base reaches a peanut-butter consistency. at this point, you can add anything you like to the corn base. salt is necessary. but have fun with spices (coriander, chili powder, cumin...)
tamale filler: i made a spicy black bean mixture, cooked with garlic, onion, bell peppers, and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (you can get small cans of this stuff, it has amazing flavor, but be careful... chipotle is powerfully spicy), and of course more spices (coriander, chili, cumin...)
to assemble the tamales: first, pat dry the husks if soaking in water. use the back of the spoon to spread the corn mixture onto the lower (fatter) half of the corn husk. about a quarter inch thick. leave one side clear of corn. put a few spoonfuls of bean filling on top of the corn layer. roll the husk to form a tube. at this point you should have a cone like shape, with your filling at the fat end. fold the empty small end up, so you create a bottom to your tamale pocket. tie a string around the center and stand upright in your steam pot so that the filling doesn't fall out while cooking. pack your steamer full, and steam for about 90 minutes.
like sushi, tamales make for a great dinner party because you can involve your guests in the cooking process!