Quick and Easy Cheese Tamales

Quick and Easy Cheese Tamales

The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 40 mins
Total: 85 mins
Servings: 16 servings
Yield: 16 tamales
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
285 Calories
16g Fat
28g Carbs
10g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 285
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 20%
Saturated Fat 8g 39%
Cholesterol 34mg 11%
Sodium 425mg 18%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 10g
Vitamin C 1mg 6%
Calcium 209mg 16%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 218mg 5%
*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.)

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 tamales, fill them with whatever strikes your fancy—barbecue pork, chicken salad, leftover roast chicken—anything at all. You can even make little appetizer-sized tamales.

Enjoy tamales with rice and beans for a meal or by themselves as a perfect grab-and-go snack.


  • 1 (6-ounce) package banana leaves, 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

  • 2 to 3 cups chicken stock

  • Salt, to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

  • 1 cup grated pepper jack cheese

  • 1 1/2 cups salsa, such as black bean, corn, and roasted pepper

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for quick and easy cheese tamales recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

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

    Corn husks in water

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  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. 

    Beat vegetable shortening, cream cheese, and chili con queso together

    The Spruce Eats/ Julia Estrada

  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.

    Add masa harina to the cheese mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

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

    Masa mixture in a food processor

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

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

    Stir together the grated cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses with the salsa

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  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.

    Corn husks on a towel

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  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. 

    Masa mixture and filling on top of a corn husk

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

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

    Rolled tamale on a concrete surface

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

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

    Folded tamale on a concrete surface

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  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.

    Tamale wrapped and tied with a string

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  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 1 layer of tamales (you may have to steam in batches). The tamales should be above the water; they are cooked by 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.

    Quick and easy cheese tamales in a steamer

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  13. Remove the tamales and serve warm. Enjoy!


Tamales can be reheated in the microwave.

How to Store and Freeze Tamales

  • Tamales can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
  • Tamales can also be frozen. They will keep in the freezer for up to four months. Reheat them from frozen by steaming for 15 to 20 minutes or heating them wrapped in foil in the oven.