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If it weren't for the fact that tamales are wonderfully versatile, and that we're big fans of variety, we could easily call this The Only Tamale Filling You'll Ever Need. The sauce not only has great depth from a combination of bitter anchos, robust coffee, and a touch of sweet mango, but the slow cooker takes care of babysitting the cooking process. And that's before you even get to the ground chickpea-tempeh mix, which gives seriously great texture, and takes about one minute of active time to prepare. And you don't even have to touch a knife. Make your tamale dough (or tortillas) while the tempeh steams, and you're ready to begin assembly in no time.

Note: The filling recipe is a big one. It makes enough for 20-24 tamales, plus a dozen tacos, which can be very handy. Eat tamales one night, freeze the leftovers to eat over the next few weeks, and you still have filling for a taco night that weekend. If you only want to make one or the other, simply halve the filling recipe. 

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Ancho Chickpea-Tempeh Tamale (or Taco) Filling with Cilantro Crema

Print the recipe 

yields enough for 40-48 tamales or 24 tacos

For the Ancho Chickpea-Tempeh filling: 

1 1/2 cups water

4 anchos (about 2 oz), trimmed, seeded, and torn into strips

1 large yellow onion

4 cloves garlic

1 TBSP natural cane sugar

1 TBSP vegetable oil

juice of 1 lime

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 cup frozen diced mango

1 TBSP ground coffee

1 vegetable bouillon cube

1 8-oz block tempeh

1 15-oz can chickpeas

1/4 teaspoon fine sea (or kosher) salt

Heat the 1 1/2 cups water in a kettle on the stove (if you use a press to make coffee--if you use a drip maker, brew one cup of coffee in your machine and heat only 1/2 cup water in a small sauce pan). While it heats, place the ancho strips in a bowl with enough warm water to cover and let soak.

Meanwhile, roughly slice the onion and add it to your slow cooker. Peel and halve the cloves of garlic, and add them to the cooker with the sugar, oil, lime juice, oregano, and mango. By now, your heating water should be hot (but not boiling--if it begins to boil while you're working, remove it from heat and proceed). Pour one cup into your press with the ground coffee, and pour the other half cup into a small sauce pan with the bouillon cube. Heat and stir until dissolved, then add it to the slow cooker along with the ancho strips once you've drained them (the soaking water will be bitter--discard it). When the coffee is ready, pour it into the slow cooker, give everything a quick stir to distribute, and cook on low for 8 hours. When ready to proceed, turn off the heat, and cock the lid to let some heat escape.

Meanwhile, steam the block of tempeh for 20 minutes. While it steams, drain and rinse the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor.

Carefully puree the hot ancho sauce with an immersion blender until smooth. Return the lid. 

When the tempeh is ready, carefully transfer it to the food processor and add the 1/4 tsp salt. Process until the mixture is ground to your liking (we like a fairly fine grind--you shouldn't be able to identify large chickpea chunks, basically) and carefully stir it into the ancho sauce. 

For the Cilantro Crema: 

1 can navy beans, drained, but not rinsed

1 small clove garlic

1 bunch cilantro (large handful) 

1/4 cup vegetable oil (we like safflower for this) 

juice of 1 lime

1/4 tsp fine sea (or kosher) salt

Puree all ingredients until creamy and very smooth. 

To serve: 

1 recipe tamale dough from Veganomicon 

8 oz corn husks, soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes (we get ours at El Girasol in Bearden)

1 recipe fresh tortillas 

To assemble the tamales, lay a corn husk in landscape orientation in front of you. Scoop about 3 TBSP of dough and flatten it into a large circle on the husk. Place 1 TBSP of filling in the middle of the dough, pull in the top and bottom to cover the filling completely, pull in the small ends as best you can (the loose filling will make this more difficult than with some other fillings) and roll it up in the husk, making sure the husk encases it completely and no dough is left exposed. Tie each end with pieces of husk and repeat until you've used all the dough. Steam for 35 minutes and serve with the cilantro crema.

A note about assembly: Because the filling is so saucy, it doesn't make for the neatest tamale assembly we've ever undertaken. But it does work, and we were beyond thrilled with the final result. If you're brand new to tamale making, or if you simply don't want to spend the effort (even though we believe the reward is more than worth it), rest assured that these make great tacos, too. Alternately, try filling the tamales with only the naked ground chickpea-tempeh mix for easy assembly, and spoon the ancho sauce generously over the cooked, unwrapped tamales at the table.

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