Kosher and Halal Mole-Rubbed Brisket Tamales

Brisket Tamales
Miri Rotkovitz
Prep: 90 mins
Cook: 5 hrs
Husk Soaking Time: 30 mins
Total: 7 hrs
Servings: 11 to 13 servings
Yield: 22 to 26 tamales
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
785 Calories
42g Fat
66g Carbs
39g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 11 to 13
Amount per serving
Calories 785
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 42g 54%
Saturated Fat 11g 54%
Cholesterol 111mg 37%
Sodium 342mg 15%
Total Carbohydrate 66g 24%
Dietary Fiber 7g 25%
Total Sugars 13g
Protein 39g
Vitamin C 12mg 60%
Calcium 118mg 9%
Iron 7mg 40%
Potassium 858mg 18%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)


Wrapped in corn husks like little gifts, tamales are undeniably enticing. But many traditional recipes–at least those that are now typical in the U.S.–use lard in the corn masa (dough), while pork is a popular filling. For kosher keepers and the halal observant, that takes them off the table.

But throughout Mexico and Latin America, there are countless versions of the tamale, from savory to sweet. And as Pati Jinich notes in her cookbook Mexican Today, there was no lard in Mexico until the Spanish introduced pork to the cuisine. So by making the tamale masa (dough) with oil, "you will be taking the tamales back to their roots."

The distinctive flavors of a Mexican mole sauce inspired the spice rub used in this pulled brisket filling. Olive oil imparts a distinctive flavor to the masa, but it complements the brisket well. (It also makes these tamales perfect for a Hanukkah celebration, when olive oil is a holiday star.) Shortening produces a more mildly flavored masa that's both softer and a bit easier to spread, though it's also drier once steamed. 

Kosher Ingredient Tips

According to Star-K and CRC, dried corn husks do not require kosher certification; if you have concerns about their kosher status, check in with a kashrut agency or trusted rabbi. 

Several brands of masa harina, or instant corn masa, are available with kosher certification. Maseca and P.A.N. are widely available in supermarkets. Labeling can be confusing, (the bag may not say "masa harina"–look for "masa instantanea" or "precocida") but if the package lists a variety of preparation options including "tamal," you should be good to go. 

Have leftover brisket filling after assembling your tamales? Here are lots of delicious (and less labor-intensive!) ways to use it up

Halal-Friendly Tip

While the lard-free corn masa is halal, the brisket is not, since that portion of the recipe includes wine. To make the recipe totally halal, replace the wine with additional vegetable broth or chicken stock.


For the Brisket:

  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds beef brisket, preferably second cut

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika

  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder, or smoked paprika

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and trimmed

  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

  • 1 cup red wine, dry or semisweet

  • 1/2 cup tomato paste

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the Masa:

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, such as Spectrum Organic

  • 3 1/2 cups masa harina, instant corn masa, such as Maseca or P.A.N.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or kosher salt

  • 2 1/4 cups vegetable broth, or chicken stock

To Assemble the Tamales:

  • 22 to 26 dried corn husks

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. First, make the brisket: Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place the brisket on a large plate. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cocoa powder, paprika, ancho chili powder or smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Rub the spices all over the surface of the brisket.

  3. Place half of the onions in a roasting pan. Add the brisket and top with the remaining onions and the garlic. In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the wine, tomato paste, and olive oil. Pour over the brisket. Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 2 hours. 

  4. Carefully transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Cut across the grain into slices 1/4-inch or thinner. Place the brisket back in the pan, submerging it as much as possible in the sauce. Cover and return to the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer, or until the meat is fork-tender. (If you are using a leaner first cut brisket or grass-fed meat, you may need to cook it even longer. Check in 30-minute intervals until the meat is easy to shred with a fork.) 

  5. Prepare the corn husks: When the brisket is nearly done, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the corn husks, pushing them down with a spoon to submerge. Remove from the heat and leave the husks in the water for at least 30 minutes, or until they are pliable. 

  6. Make the masa: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the masa harina and oil on medium speed for 2 minutes. (If you are using shortening instead of oil, beat it for a couple of minutes before adding the masa). Add the baking powder and salt, and continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes, or until well incorporated. Slowly add the broth, and continue beating for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the masa is fluffy and pulls away easily from the side of the bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside to rest for 10 minutes. 

  7. Shred the beef: When the brisket is done, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes. Using two forks, shred the meat. (If you are making the brisket in advance, shred it, cover and refrigerate up to two days before proceeding with Step 4, above).

  8. Assemble the tamales: Drain the corn husks and pat dry. Tear thin strips from any very small, large or torn husks to use as ties. Hold a husk with the pointed end facing you. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of masa into the husk and spread it into a 3 x 4-inch rectangle, leaving at least a 1 1/2-inch border at the top and bottom of the husk and a 1-inch border on the sides. 

  9. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the brisket filling down the center of the masa. Pull up the sides of the corn husk to help enclose the filling in the masa. Fold over one long side of the husk, pull up the bottom, then fold over the other side. Take one of the thin strips of husk and tie it around the tamal to secure. Set aside. Continue assembling tamales with the remaining husks, masa, and brisket. At this point, you can either steam the tamales or place them in zip-top freezer bags and freeze for up to 1 month. (If freezing, do not defrost before steaming.) 

  10. Steam the tamales: Add at least 2 to 3 inches of water to the bottom of a stock pot fitted with a steamer insert, making sure that the water level is beneath the insert and won't touch the tamales. Place the tamales open side up in the basket. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover with a tea towel-wrapped lid. Steam for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, adding more water if the pot begins to run dry. Open a tamale after 45 minutes to check for doneness—when the masa is firm and no longer sticks to the husk, the tamales are ready.