D: Tamales!

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!

I must say, I was extremely excited about this month’s challenge. I love Mexican food, and I could eat tamales until my eyes bleed. And maybe even longer.

So, to really have a party, we invited some friends over for dinner. I made two different varieties of tamale, a green chili chicken:

… and a vegetarian black bean:

They came out awesome! Keep reading to find out more.

So, in case you don’t know what a tamale is, and the above pictures didn’t help you out, we’ll start with a pronunciation lesson. The word tamale is pronounced tah-MALE; it rhymes with “impale”. Some people will try to tell you that the correct pronunciation is tah-MAL-ay, but they’re just crazy. Don’t listen to them.

A tamale is just some form of stuffing (usually meat, but not always), folded up in corn dough and a corn husk, and then steamed. Usually, they’re not very healthy, because usually the corn dough is made with lard. Lots of lard. Mmmmmmm, lard.

However, we didn’t have any lard on hand, so I ended up using butter, instead. Here’s the recipe:

Masa Harina Tamale Dough

Prep time:
20 mins
Cook time:
20 mins
Serves: 18-24 tamales


  • 1 1/3 cups lard or butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (omit if already in masa mixture)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (omit if already in masa mixture)
  • 4 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/2-2 cups low sodium chicken broth


  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, on medium high speed, cream together the lard or vegetable shortening, baking powder and salt.
  2. Mix in the masa harina, one cup at a time.
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to low, gradually add in 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth.
  4. If the mixture seems too thick (you can taste it for moistness) add up to 1/2 cup more of the broth 2 tablespoons at a time. The dough should be a cookie-dough-like texture.

Masa harina is a corn-meal-like powder made from fresh hominy. You can find it in a lot of grocery stores in their ethnic foods section, or go to a specialty store for it. You don’t want to substitute corn meal, though.

Next, make up the filling; for the black bean filling, I took a half a can of black beans, a half a can of roasted corn, a tomato, half a can of tomatoes with green chilis, and a chipotle pepper, and mixed them all up in a bowl with some chili powder.

The green chili chicken was a bit more involved, however. First, you take 1 pound of tomatillos, and broil them on all sides until big dark spots appear. The throw them (together with their juices) in a food processor with three chopped serrano chilis and 2 cloves of garlic, and puree them all up. In a skillet, add some olive oil and the tomatillo paste over medium high heat, until the mixture thickens slightly. Finally, add in 1 cup of chicken broth. When you’re done, you’ll have a deliciously wonderful green chili sauce:

I must say at this point: I’m not normally much of a green chili guy. I tend to prefer red chilis (apparently the red vs. green question is a big deal, according to some friends we have living in New Mexico). But this green chili sauce is to die for. It is spicy, yes, but it doesn’t feel spicy while you’re eating it, and it’s got a ton of flavor. If you stop a couple of steps earlier, before mixing everything in the skillet, it’s the perfect consistency for a green chili salsa, which is again amazing. I have three more serrano peppers in the freezer to make another batch with soon.

Ahem. Yes, anyways — carrying on. Once you’ve got your green chili sauce, go ahead and dump in some shredded chicken (I used 4 large chicken thighs, and boiled them for about 25 minutes before shredding) and a handful of cilantro:

Cook this up for a bit longer, and then you’re ready to make your tamales!

Traditionally, tamales are made inside of corn husks, but we couldn’t find any, so we used parchment paper, which works just as well. Take a small ball (a bit less than a quarter cup) of masa dough, mash it flat on the parchment paper or husk, and spread some filling down the middle. (I think you actually want this pretty thin; ours were about 1/4″ thick, and I think that was too thick):

Then, you fold everything up (including the parchment paper or corn husk) twist the bottom up so nothing falls out, and tie it closed. We (and by “we” I really mean “K”) used thread to tie this up, and we (and again I mean “K”) recommends using something that is easier to tie:

Then you stick all of your tamales upright in a steamer or metal colander, and place over boiling water for about twenty minutes, until the dough is a deep yellow color. You should get something out that looks like the original pictures, and tastes fantastic.

9 thoughts on “D: Tamales!

  1. They both look great. You got a tough critic with Meredith there – I suppose next she will say it is not vegetarian if it has a cup of lard in it.

  2. I’ve noticed such a wide variation on the steaming time, everything from your 20 minutes to several at 2 hours. Ah well, yours look quite yummy, and if they’re cooked, they’re cooked. I used corn flour (not starch, but a finely ground corn meal) and they came out perfect.

      1. We also had a fairly thick layer of the masa dough relative to the filling, so I think the 20 minutes would have been absolutely perfect with a slightly smaller amount of the dough. Still – the entire meal was delicious!

  3. Just in case any of you didn’t know the baking powder is 100% not at all making any difference you really don’t need to add it in the masa will harden because of the heating dryes out the water masa flour is very different than regular flour or corn flour.

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