Be A
Tamale Expert

Whether sweet or savory, tamales are a delicious Latin American staple. As a bonus, this traditional food is easy to prepare. Here's how to make it a creative new item in your dinner repertoire.

Tamale

Tamale dough

The most important part of a tamale is the outer dough. Corn masa (also known as masa harina) must be used to make the dough; there is no substitute. Corn masa has become a very popular ingredient that you can find in the international section of many grocery stores or in any Mexican market. You also can order it online. Maseca, a popular brand of corn masa, makes an almost instant dough that works perfectly for tamales.

Once you have the right ingredients, making the dough is simple: Add butter (or lard), water (or broth) and baking powder to the masa and mix until the dough is light and airy.

Tamale fillings

A savory tamale filling, combined with a spicy sauce, may include pork, chicken or beef; however, fish, beans, vegetables and cheese also work well.

Sweet tamales, a delicious ending to a Mexican-themed meal, are typically filled with dried or fresh fruit and nuts. Raisins flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg are a popular addition.

Tamale wrappers

Because tamales are steamed, they have to be wrapped so the dough doesn't fall apart. The most common wrappers are dried corn husks, which you can find at Mexican markets and in large grocery stores.

Most corn husks found stateside come packed in water and ready for immediate use. Dry husks must be soaked in water for about 10 minutes so they become soft. Banana leaves also are a popular option, but they are usually larger and need to be heated to make them flexible enough to use. Finally, the wrappers must be tied with twine, rope or string so they stay in place.

Chicken Tamales

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 10-ounce chicken breast
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 dried chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup corn masa
  • 1/2 (10-1/2-ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup lard or butter
  • 8 corn husks, soaked in warm water (if not already packed in water)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Directions:

  1. Combine chicken, onion and garlic with enough water to cover meat in a pot or Dutch oven. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, soak chiles in simmering water for 20 minutes; let cool. Pour chiles and soaking water into a blender and blend until smooth. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt.
  3. Shred cooked chicken and combine with 1 cup of chile mixture.
  4. Whisk lard or butter with 1 tablespoon broth until light. Mix corn masa with baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt, then combine with lard. Gently mix to make a fluffy dough, adding more broth as needed.
  5. Spread the dough over one side of each corn husk to about 1/4-inch thickness. Spoon meat mixture on top of dough and fold over sides of corn husks to seal; secure with twine or string.
  6. Place tamales in a steamer basket and steam for about 1 hour. Remove tamales from steamer, unwrap and top with the rest of the chile sauce and a dollop of sour cream.

Vegetable & Bean Tamales

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 white onion, dried
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup corn kernels, drained
  • 4 teaspoons mustard, prepared
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups corn masa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 corn husks, soaked in warm water (if not packed in water)
  • 1 cup cotija cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Combine onion with bell pepper, mushrooms, corn, mustard, soy sauce and cayenne pepper; set aside.
  2. Whisk shortening with 1 cup broth until light. Mix corn masa with baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Combine with shortening mixture. Gently mix to make a fluffy dough, adding more broth as needed.
  3. Spread the dough over one side of each corn husk to about 1/4-inch thickness. Spoon vegetable mixture on top of dough and fold over sides of corn husks to seal. Secure with twine or string.
  4. Place tamales in a steamer basket and steam for about 1 hour. Remove tamales from steamer, unwrap and top with the grated cheese. Place tamales under the broiler for a few minutes to melt cheese.

Chocolate & Nut Tamales

Makes 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 cups corn masa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 corn husks, soaked in warm water (if not packed in water)
  • 2 cups Abuelita brand chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup crushed peanuts
  • 2 cups whipped cream

Directions:

  1. Whisk shortening with 1 cup milk until light. Mix corn masa with baking powder, brown sugar and vanilla, then combine with shortening mixture. Gently mix to make a fluffy dough, adding more milk as needed.
  2. Spread the dough over one side of each corn husk to about 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle chocolate and nuts over dough and fold over sides of corn husks to seal. Secure with twine or string.
  3. Place tamales in a steamer basket and steam for about 1 hour. Remove tamales from steamer, unwrap and top with whipped cream.

More luscious Latin American recipes

All about tamales
Grapefruit guacamole
Make it taco night

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Comments

Comments on "How to make tamales"

brenda January 15, 2013 | 1:47 PM

hello, would like to use butter for the lard, how is the flavor going to be different. how much dough do you need for a gathering of 30 people that would be approx, 3 each of the tamales, and how much meet, i am planning to use chicken. thank you b shaw

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