When I was a kid, my dad used to buy Derby tamales, which came in a jar, soaking in a kind of semi-spicy red sauce. In those days, tamales were not exactly mainstream.
Tamales are now found everywhere, even at sausage stands like at Big Guy's in Berwyn and, as of this year, at River Valley's mostly mushroom stand at the Oak Park Farmers' Market.
The folks at River Valley told me that their mushroom tamales have been a huge success. They've pretty much doubled production to meet demand over the past few months.
Traditionally, in Mexico, tamales are made with a good quantity of manteca, or lard, which adds flavor and, critically, keeps the corn meal of the tamales from cracking. The ones offered by River Valley are vegan: no animal products are used in the production of these tamales. Instead, canola oil provides the necessary moisture (though I must admit, pig fat is tastier).
These tamales come at a somewhat stiff $5 for three rather small ones, but the flavor is good, and if you're committed to avoiding animal products, you're probably willing to pay a little extra.
We found River Valley's tamales to be tasty, with slight chile heat and a generous amount of filling. Directions on the package say that you can microwave them in a moist towel, which definitely works, but our preference is to simply put them in a vegetable basket and let them steam for a few minutes.
For breakfast tamales, add a fried egg.