Tag Archives: Tamales

Tamale Tutorial: Authentic Recipe Reworked


Tamales are a near and dear to my heart. They were always served at major holiday get togethers and handmade with care by my abuela. Of course, she made them with traditional ingredients like lard and meat fillings. I have adapted mine to be vegetarian or vegan friendly, while preserving as much authenticity as possible. When I was in high school, I was entrusted with the task of learning how to make them. I wrote everything down on a couple little pieces of paper. Seven years later and 2200 miles away, I was amazed when I found this while cleaning:

The original recipe! Complete with a diagram!

Seriously, I don’t know how it got here, but I took it as a sign that I needed to make some tamales asap.

I’m not going to lie. Making tamales is not for sissies. There is a reason why these are a fiesta food, not a lazy weeknight cooking food. They take time! But they are oh so rewarding… delicious and homey yet fancy enough to impress your friends ­čÖé

I decided to prep my fillings the night before I planned to serve them. Tamales are usually filled with meat, but you can really put anything you can imagine in them. My abuela used to make some filled with pinto beans for me (she understood that I didn’t eat meat, but never got the whole lard thing…) and she also made cinnamon raisin ones. I decided on a Spinach and Cheese filling and a Chipotle-Kissed Pinto Bean filling.

Popeye would be proud

Spinach and Cheese:

1 small onion, minced

1 Tbsp olive oil

10 frozen chopped spinach (thawed)

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon cumin

6 oz queso fresco

1-2 oz chevre

1-2 Tbsp parmesan

1 Tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper


Saute the onion in oil until translucent. Add the spinach, oregano, and cumin and season with salt and pepper. You may also need to add about 1/4 cup water or broth to keep it from drying out. Cook about 5 minutes and remove from heat. Let cool a few more minutes before adding the crumbled queso fresco, chevre, parmesan, and lemon juice. Stir to combine and either use right away or refrigerate for later use.

Chipotle-Kissed Pinto Bean


1. 5 cups cooked pinto beans (or about 15 oz can)

1 small onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup canned tomatoes with green chiles

2 Tbsp chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (the rest freezes beautifully for later use)

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke

salt and pepper


Saute onion until translucent, then add garlic and saute a few minutes more. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened. You can mash them up a bit to thicken them, but leave them chunky for the best texture in the tamale. Again, use now or refrigerate for later.

Ready to begin working on the dough? Get your hojas soaking! Soak hojas in hot water while you prepare the dough. Corn husks are traditional, as are banana leaves in some areas. In a pinch, tin foil will do the trick too, but it wont be as cute.


Now for making the dough:

*For truly authentic tamales, you would soak a dried ancho chili in water overnight, and blend it in the morning to add to the dough. My abuela told me this was just for color, not flavor because the ancho is so mild, but I disagree! It has a subtle kick and adds a more complex note to the masa. It can be left out, but its worth it if you can find dried anchos.*

*This recipe makes about 35-40 tamales. That may sound like a lot, but you can always freeze leftovers (before cooking)*

Masa Dough:

Combine dry ingredients:

6 cups masa harina

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 Tbsp salt

1 Tbsp tumeric (something I discovered also gives a nice color. Use double if you could not locate anchos)

Combine fats (beat until smooth):

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup coconut oil, softened

*for vegan tamales, use all coconut oil*

Blend your chile up, if using. Add the dry ingredients to the fats and add the blended chile plus warm water as needed to make the dough soft and pliable. It should not be crumbly, but it shouldn’t be too wet either. This might take about 1.5- 2.5 more cups of water.

Now you’re ready to start assembling the tamales!

1. Lay soften corn husk on a flat surface and spread about 2 heaping Tbsp of masa dough onto it.

2. Spread a scant Tbsp of filling in a line down the middle of this.

3. Now roll the tamale length wise, THEN tuck the end, and secure with a slim strip of corn husk.

4. Holy crap! now all you have to do is cook them! Steam these babies for about 15 minutes.You will have to do this in batches unless you have a ginormous steamer.

5. Serve with salsa (I made a roasted tomatillo green salsa to accompany),  regular or tofu sour cream or greek yogurt, cilantro pesto, jalepeno hummus- hey go crazy. Your worked hard and deserve to have a little fun!