Quick and Easy Cheese Tamales

Quick and Easy Cheese Tamales

The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 80 mins
Total: 2 hrs 5 mins
Servings: 14 to 16 servings
Yield: 14 to 16 tamales
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
257 Calories
14g Fat
26g Carbs
9g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 14 to 16
Amount per serving
Calories 257
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 17%
Saturated Fat 6g 31%
Cholesterol 28mg 9%
Sodium 399mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 10%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 9g
Vitamin C 1mg 7%
Calcium 166mg 13%
Iron 3mg 17%
Potassium 231mg 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.

"A great tamales recipe, by all means. The recipe is very straight-forward and easy to follow. The filling is rich and doesn’t need any cooking time. The dough is flavorful and fluffy. The recipe does take time but it actually worth every minute. I served mine with some homemade salsa and lime juice." —Tara Omidvar

Quick and Easy Cheese Tamales
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 (6-ounce) package banana leaves, or dried corn husks

  • 6 tablespoons lard, or vegetable shortening

  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened

  • 1 cup jarred or homemade chili con queso

  • 4 cups masa harina

  • 2 cups chicken stock, more as needed

  • 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, soak in very hot water to soften, about 1 hour.

    Corn husks in water

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  3. Make the masa: In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the lard, 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 cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, and 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, or pat the corn husks dry. Cut them into 8 x 10-inch rectangles for medium tamales.

    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 2 x 4-inch rectangle leaving a generous border. Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the masa.

    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, enclosing the masa over the cheese filling.

    Rolled tamale on a concrete surface

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  10. Fold the bottom half up over the filling, then fold the top half down to create a neat package.

    Folded tamale on a concrete surface

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

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

    Tamale wrapped and tied with a string

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  12. Bring 1 to 2 inches of water to boil in a large steamer pot or large pot fitted with a colander or steamer basket. Fill the basket with 1 layer of tamales (the tamales should not touch the water). Steam in batches if necessary. Cover the tamales with a kitchen towel. Place a cover on the pot and steam until the masa is tender, 30 to 40 minutes per batch, adding more water to the pot as necessary.

    Quick and easy cheese tamales in a steamer

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  13. Remove the tamales and serve warm.


Tamales can be reheated on low 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.