The Food and Art of Myra Roberts
by Craig Chapman
The words Family, Food, Culture and History ring true with artist and food enthusiast Myra Roberts. The Sanibel Island resident has long been an established and popular visual artist, known for her her vintage-style oil paintings (reflecting the 1920s to 1950s era), and her limited collection of paintings of Anne Frank. She is also a huge proponent of cooking healthy foods that nourish the soul and nurtures others as part of her life long passion to explore other cultures, “I love to nurture others by cooking delicious healthy food. As a artistI love to create my own dishes much like creating a color palette for my paintings. I have been know to go from kitchen to art studio painting and cooking all day. The best way to learn about another culture is through their cuisine.”
One of her favorite dishes to create each year are vegetarian tamales. The all day process is a therapeutic one to her, one she does at least once a year with her close friends and family, “Tamale making is an all day eventat my home each year. I love to decorate using the bright festive colors that reflect Cinco De Mayo. My neighbor Molly brings great Latin music and Roxanne prepares Margaritas for us.”
This tradition isn’t a new one in her life either, she has been making and sharing these delicious pockets of goodness for years, and has passed on this tradition to her own children, “Making tamales with friends and family began a good fifteen years ago. Exploring world cuisine has always been a passion and I passed this down to all three of my children.”
One very important aspect of cooking to Myra is being sure it is healthful and vegetarian or vegan. It is one of the big goals of hers when making her tamales each year, a healthy version of a traditional tamale, “My main goal was to bring friends together every year. The more hands the more fun! The recipe was takes a dish made with lard and meat and uses healthier options such as olive oil and veggie broth. The use of vegetables instead of meat leaves many creative healthy options. I cook dairy free and gluten free mostthe time. As an active painter and daily practitioner of yoga I use food as fuel to boost my immune system and energy level.”
As a lifelong learner, diving in to cooking different foods is a way to constantly explore and try something new, but Myra always sticks to the tamale making tradition she has created as well, “The Tamale party is a tradition I hope to continue. We all ended up dividing up enough tamales to take home fifty or so each. I loved giving baskets of freshlyrolled Tamales to my island friends as a gift. What better way to show love and a sense of community.”
Speaking of community, we met Myra at the Sanibel Community Center last year at a fund raiser for the community centers new kitchen. She made an incredible Thai dish that we hope she shares the recipe for with us someday, “It wasalso so enjoyable to share my Thai cooking skillsat the Sanibel Community Center for Cooking with the Stars. There is Comfort in knowing we're all eating healthy and light cuisine and learning to substitute healthy, delicious ingredients to replace that which can harm our sacred bodies.” Myra’s approach to food and her tamale making tradition are ones to truly appreciate.
SWEET POTATO TAMALES
by Myra Roberts
1 bag dried corn husks (soak for 1 hour, drain, then dry)
3 large sweet potatoes, pre-baked
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large sweet onion, dried
2 cans black beans, drained
5 ears fresh corn (or 1 bag frozen corn)
6 large poblano peppers, roasted and peeled
1 bag instant masa mix
2 Mexican cheeses - quesa fresco and quesidella cheese
1 can or carton veggie broth
1/2 stick butter
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
sea salt to taste
coconut oil - for saute
Follow instructions on the masa mix package.
Add butter to veggie broth and water, melt in microwave.
Slowly mix liquids in to masa until it reaches a dough like consistency.
Add the spices to the mix along with a pinch of salt.
Have cotton strings or raffia strips ready for timing the end of the tamales.
Saute onions and garlic in coconut oil, then mix in sweet potatoes.
Broil poblanos until charred on all sides, place in paper bag and put in refrigerator until cool.
Once cool, moisten with cool sink water and gently rub off skin. De-seed and chop.
Put poblanos in to sweet potato mix.
Drain black beans and add to mixture.
Strip the corn off the fresh ears of corn and stir in to mixture.
Pat dry corn husks.
Use plastic wrap to pat masa mix in to a post card size rectangle in the center of a corn husk.
Spread a tablespoon of filling in the center of the masa.
Sprinkle with cheese, then roll the corn husks shut (watch video for instruction).
Tie the ends shut with your string or raffia then place tamales in a steamer for one hour.
Let cool and peel husk open.
Garnish with verde sauce and sour cream and enjoy!
You can learn more about Myra Roberts, her paintings, and her food by visiting www.myraroberts.com
For tamale making tips from Myra, be sure to watch her video on the Real Food Real Kitchens Youtube channel.