Christmas is not Christmas without tamales. And this year, I'm giving a nod to a newcomer in the tamale-making tradition: Lorena Jakubczak, owner of Azteca Gourmet Foods.

Jakubczak grew up in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, a region of Mexico known for traditional tamales. She came to the U.S. on vacation in 1996, met her husband and settled in Colorado Springs.

In July, she and her husband started the food company, which specializes in tamales. But not just any old tamale. She manufactures vegetarian and vegan numbers that are lard-, dairy- and gluten-free.

"I wanted to marry traditional, savory flavors of the ancient South American tamale with American flavors," she said. "We are a Colorado Proud business using local ingredients."

Instead of lard in the corn masa, she chooses from a variety of oils, such as avocado, rice bran, coconut and olive. And she blends vegetables into the masa for more nutrition.

"My masa is green instead of pale yellow," she said. "I process jalapenos, leeks, spinach and celery until it is chopped very fine. Then I mix it with the corn flour."

Jakubczak also uses banana leaves instead of corn husks to wrap the little packages of masa and fillings. This gives the tamales a festive look and adds flavor. The tamales are steamed, cooled and frozen. She recommends letting them defrost in the refrigerator overnight before resteaming them for about 15 minutes. Or you can steam them frozen for about 30 minutes.

I have discovered you can speed up the heating process in the microwave. Heat them frozen in the microwave for one minute on high to soften, then remove the banana leaf and heat for another minute.

Jakubczak's savory tamales sell for $4 and come in the following flavors: Garden Mix (seven vegetables); Roasted Bell Peppers and Sun-Dried Tomatoes (with or without sharp cheddar cheese); Asparagus, Spinach and Jalape?; Zucchini, Sweet Corn and Poblano Pepper; Three Squash; Cranberries and Lentil (with or without sharp cheddar cheese); and Butternut Squash and Black Beans (with or without Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses).

She makes dessert tamales, too, switching up the masa mix by adding baking powder, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon to the corn flour. For vegan fans, she substitutes tofu cream cheese for sour cream. And she wraps them in corn husks. Her dessert tamales sell for $2.50 and flavors include Chocolate Chip; Pumpkin Pie and Chocolate; Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip; Blueberry Cream Cheese; Apple Pie; Pineapple-Sweet Potato and Coconut Flakes; Pi? Colada; and Mocha.

If you desire salsa to dress up the savory tamales, Jakubczak makes three types: Roasted Tomatillos and Jalape?, Roasted Tomatoes and Chipotle, and Avocado. A 6-ounce jar costs $6.

"The avocado salsa is like guacamole," she said. "It can be used like a sauce or dressing. It's good on grilled salmon."

Everything I've tasted from Jakubczak's line of Mexican food has been delicious and unique. She recently returned from a monthlong visit to Oaxaca, where she took cooking classes with the intention of expanding her offerings. I hardly can wait to taste her new creations.


Farney's On Food column appears bi-weekly in The Gazette.