Quick and Easy Cheese Tamales


MiguelMalo/Getty Images

  • Total: 85 mins
  • Prep: 45 mins
  • Cook: 40 mins
  • Servings: 16 servings
  • Yields: 16 tamales

Tamales can be labor-intensive to prepare, but most of the work goes into the filling. These cheese tamales are great for beginners because the filling only requires salsa and grated cheese. All you have to make is the corn masa or dough—and that's surprisingly simple. With those two elements prepared, it's just a matter of assembling and steaming the tamales.

Tamales are perfect for breakfast or lunch, and they can be reheated quickly in the microwave. Once you learn how to make them, fill tamales with whatever strikes your fancy—barbecue pork, chicken salad, leftover roast chicken—anything at all. You can even make little appetizer-sized tamales.


  • 1 (6-ounce) package banana leaves (frozen; or dried corn husks)
  • 6 tablespoons lard (or vegetable shortening)
  • 3 ounces cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 cup chili con queso (homemade or jarred)
  • 4 cups masa harina cornmeal
  • 2–3 cups chicken stock
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese (grated)
  • 1 cup pepper Jack cheese (grated)
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa (black bean, corn, and roasted pepper)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Set the banana leaves out to thaw. If using corn husks instead, soak in very hot water for an hour to soften.

  3. Make the masa: In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the lard or vegetable shortening, cream cheese, and chili con queso until light and fluffy. 

  4. In a separate bowl, mix the masa harina with 2 cups of chicken stock. Add half of the masa harina mixture to the lard mixture and beat well.

  5. Add the remaining masa along with additional chicken stock as needed, beating well, until mixture resembles a thick cake batter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

  6. For the filling, stir together the grated cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses with the salsa.

  7. Rinse and dry the banana leaves and cut them into rectangles about 8 inches by 10 inches in size (for medium tamales). Pat the corn husks dry, if using.

  8. Lay a banana leaf rectangle or corn husk on a flat surface. Place about 1/4 cup of the masa in the middle and spread into a rectangle about 2 inches by 4 inches. Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the rectangle. 

  9. Fold the sides of the banana leaf (or corn husk) in over the filling, closing the masa over the cheese filling.

  10. Fold up the bottom half over the filling, then fold the top half down and roll the tamale until well wrapped.

  11. Tie the tamale with a piece of kitchen string or a strip of banana leaf to secure it. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to produce more tamales.

  12. Bring 1 to 2 inches of water to boil in a steamer pot or in a large pot with a colander or steamer basket set inside. Fill the steamer with one layer of tamales (you may have to steam in batches). The tamales should be above the water; they are cooked by the steam only. Cover the tamales with a dish towel and the pot lid and steam for 30 to 40 minutes. Add water to the pot when necessary.

  13. Remove the tamales and serve warm. Enjoy!


  • Tamales can be reheated in the microwave.
  • Tamales can also be frozen. Reheat them from frozen by steaming for 15-20 minutes, or by heating them in the oven, wrapped in foil.