In the Kitchen With Kim Herrera Cruz of Citlali Tamales

We got to know Kim when she was working at the Mojave Flea in Yucca Valley.  Kim has always shown All Roads big support, and when we would stop in Mojave Flea to restock our shop, she was always offering bites of various foods she had brought in for her lunch. We were lucky enough however, to get to know Kim even better while sharing a delicious multi-course breakfast at our favorite restaurant in Mexico City, Expendio de Maiz.

Kim hand makes tamales, and serves them at pop-ups around the high and low deserts under the name Citlali Tamales. Her energy is truly infectious and we were so honored that she was down to create a beautiful food spread for our fall 23 textile photoshoot, as well as get in front of the camera and be the face of our shoot!  She has a weekly tamale residency at joshua tree bar called mas o menos - so everyone should try to catch her there and eat her tamales!

Kim Herrera Cruz of Citlali Tamales in the kitchen.

How long have you lived in the desert?

~I’ve been living in the high des for about 3 1/2 years

Where did you live before?

~I was born in Mexico City but raised in LA, in the city of Baldwin Park. Before moving to the high des, however, I was living in Echo Park.

What brought you to the desert?

~It was all pretty serendipitous actually. The mans and I were visiting JT which led to  ‘pretend shopping’ for homes and then we came across the perfect fixer upper. We  just saw all the potential (insert daydream emoji here) and immediately fell in love.

How did you learn to cook? 

~First and foremost, I learned from watching my mom in the kitchen. Once I started getting familiar with the ‘basics’ I very soon started exploring different flavors and ingredients, as one does, casually while growing into adulthood.. Not gonna lie, t.v. food shows definitely played a part! It wasn’t till the last few years or so, however, that I got much more into it. 

Serving tamales over an All Roads plaid tablerunner.

Did anyone teach you how to cook tamales?

~Yes and no, lol. Unlike many families who grew up making tamales together during the holidays, my family did not. Don’t get me wrong, we did get together and we did most definitely feast! (Even on tamales, just not make them) anyway, to answer the question, I learned to make tamales by simply doing hella research via books, talking to people, recipes online, etc. taking the bits that spoke to me, and eventually creating my own recipes.

When did you start Citlali Tamales?

~I started Citlali Tamales about a year ago (she a baby!🥰) 

What does Citlali mean? Why did you choose it as your business name?

~Citlali means “star” in Náhuatl, both of Aztec and Maya origin.  Growing up, I was told it was supposed to be my name. Turns out it was actually my sis, haha, but it doesn’t change the fact that I lived my life with this thought~ partnered with the fact that one of my aunties (a twin btw) who unfortunately passed away as a baby, was also named Citlali. I like to think she IS a star, watching over our family. Need I say why I chose it? Fitting and meaningful, indeed.

I have experienced being fed by you many times, even in passing you always seem to offer a bite or taste of whatever delicious foods you have with you (which you always seem to have!).  Tell us about what it means to you to feed people. 

~Ugh! I LOVE feeding people! I always say, if I could make a living, wrapping people in a blanket and feeding them a delicious meal, that would be life! It’s a feeling that happens in my little heart. I’m a hugger, I’m a lover, I’m a people slut, what can I say? I guess it’s my way of showing love.

Kim Herrera Cruz of Citlali Tamales.

In regards to your craft, what inspires you? Where do you find inspiration?

~Oh hunnay, I find inspiration ALL OVER the place! Obviously, books, food shows and a trip to the farmers market offer up some juicy inspo, but literally the most random things like a walk in nature, a drive, can sometimes spark a lil nudge of magic in my mentals for a potential dish or flavor combo.

I love a good tip on an easy/lazy but delicious meal recipe.  What is your favorite easy meal to cook at home?

~Oooh! Lately I’ve been on pasta + noods of any kind, but my current fav has got to be a quick ramen! A good soup base to start is important, like some homemade chicken broth you might have in the fridge, a good store bought broth works just fine! (Highly recommend mushroom broth for veggie peeps) 

I’d then jooj it up w/some fresh grated ginger, seasonings of choice. 

I usually go with some kinda mushroom seasoning, lil splash of soy or tamari, (coconut aminos for gluten free fam) some gochujang or garlic chili paste and toasted sesame oil to taste. Then any add ons of choice! I usually go with mushrooms, bok choy and corn. Add the almost cooked ramen and finish cooking through which takes like no time, and you’re done!!

I like to serve it up and top with;

fresh grated carrot + fresh chopped cilantro, lil extra drizz of toasted sesame, and lil more garlic chili paste or sriracha AND if I have some on deck, giiirrrlll, some Bechan’s Japanese bbq sauce is sooo yum! Fly by Jing sauce would be delish as well! 

I’m hungry now!

Where can we find you in the desert and buy tamales from you?

~Come get you some tamales in the hi des (Yucca Valley/JT) vía a special private dinner, catering, drop off or my weekly Tamales Tuesday pop up at Mas o Menos in Joshua Tree! 

Follow me on IG @citali_tamales for other pop ups, festivals or events that I may be doing!

Kim Herrera Cruz of Citlali Tamales in the kitchen.

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