speedy_gonzalesYes, my tamales turned out well, and since you didn’t show up for dinner, I’ll share the process with you here.

Tamales (singular Tamal, thank you Lin Robinson) is a traditional Mexican dish, I always think of the vendors selling them at the border as we waited to cross back into America, the corn husk wrapper makes them great street food. The history of tamales goes back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. The essential dish, a steamed masa dough stuffed with a filling and wrapped in a corn husk, is open to interpretation, the stuffing can be sweet or savory, based on meats, cheeses, fruits, or vegetables. Aztec variations included  turkey, flamingo, frog,  pocket gopher, rabbit, turkey eggs, bees, honey, fruits, squash, and beans, today tamales are typically beef or pork, although the Mexican place across the street in South Philadelphia also made them with nopales, or prickly pear cactus. The filling in this recipe is vegetarian, but you can adapt any filling you prefer.

Preparation is time consuming but not difficult, expect to spend three hours putting this together. There are a few unusual ingredients so you’ll want to shop ahead of time, and if you don’t have a large steamer you can make one with a large dutch oven and a colander. Using a food processor to make the dough makes life easier.

Corn Husks

Corn Husks in the dutch oven that will become the base of the steamer


2 cups masa flour

2 sticks of butter, cubed

1/2 cup broth (I use a diluted mole (sauce, not the rodent) instead of broth)

1 tsp baking powder

2 1/2 cups corn (thawed frozen corn works)

1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I use Queso Fresco, but Ricotta salata or even cheddar can be used)

4 ounces (and to taste) diced Roasted chiles (I used a mix of canned chipotles in adobo and a pablano I roasted myself)

2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and sliced

2 portobello mushrooms, gills removed and diced to 1/4 inch cubes

1 small red onion diced

Corn husks


Soak the corn husks in water, they should be soft and pliable. They’re a little like working with phyllo dough in that they dry quickly.

In a food processor, blend the corn and 1 cup of cheese until it is a rough meal consistency. Add the butter, masa, and baking powder, process to a crumbly dough. Add the broth and mix until smooth.

In a bowl, mix the remaining cheese, chiles, tomatoes, mushrooms and onion.

Forming patties of dough, filling in bowl to the left

Forming patties of dough, filling in bowl to the left

Building tamales~

Make a patty of dough about the size of your hand. Place the patty on a corn husk then put about a tablespoon of filling on the patty, and fold the patty around the filling. Roll the corn husk over the dough and fold in the ends. Tear strips from one corn husk to use as ties to hold tamales closed. Place tamales in steamer for thirty minutes or freeze them for later.


Completed tamales ready for steamer


A large dish or bowl with wrapped tamales is a festive presentation, serve remaining chiles and mole as condiments, as well as your favorite salsas. Good side dishes are yellow rice (add 3/4 tsp tumeric, 1/4 tsp cumin. and a dash of cinnamon for each cup of dry rice to the water when making rice) and refried beans (we prefer black beans, adding whole beans to refried beans gives a heartier texture). A dark beer works well with this meal, Modelo Negro would be authentic, we had a chocolate stout last night that went with this very well.

7 comments on “Tamales

  1. lievemc says:

    A real winner! Happy you didn’t use frog for filling though 🙂


  2. Mari Collier says:

    That’s a tad simpler than the recipe my husband brought home. A co-worker’s wife made tamales & my Phoenix raised husband loved them. The recipe started out: Soak the corn in lye. No, I didn’t make tamales.


    • kblakecash says:

      My father lived in Rockport Texas for a while. When I visited him there the local Mexican heritage society had just had a Tamale festival, making them in the historical fashion. Apparently it takes two days and an entire village to make tamales properly.


      • Mari Collier says:

        Yes, that is much closer to the recipe Lanny brought home. Fortunately, I found a family owned Mexican restaurant that made tamales in the traditional way. Our friend’s cousin from Mexico demonstrated the correct way to make flour tortillas. She shook her head at me. My hips weren’t large enough.


  3. Cindy Mullins says:

    I found your tamales to be interesting if not authentic. But that’s how we come up with new and tasty dishes, adding our own touches and tastes.

    I once made tamales with my neighbors across the street, Della and Jess Ramirez. We made close to 300 tamales, some pork, some beef, some fruit, some veggie. Since you mentioned the time it takes to prepare as 3 hours plus preparatory shopping I had to share with you that Della shopped in Santa Paula at a carneceria for the pork shoulder which she started cooking three days prior to the making of the tamales. She went to Oxnard for the masa and to some Mexican grocer for the corn husks and the posillas and other peppers.

    On the third day, the four of us spent the whole day assembling the tamales. It was an authentic experience and I’ll treasure it forever. Lynn and I brought home a couple dozen of the best tamales I’ve ever tasted. The rest were shared with her family at Christmas and New Year’s.

    I’ll send you her recipe which was passed down from her mother and grandmother in Mexico City. Love you lots,


    ps I’ll never ever again spend three days making tamales.

    Edited to remove email footer


  4. […] was planning to make Tamales, gathered the ingredients, and realized my favorite tool was missing. I have yet to name him, but […]


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