Corn-Green Chile-Cheese Tamales

Corn-husk wrapped Mexican tamales

Miguel Malo / Getty Images

  • Total: 3 hrs 15 mins
  • Prep: 105 mins
  • Cook: 90 mins
  • Chilling Time: 60 mins
  • Yield: 30-40 tamales (serves 15-20)

Tamales come in all shapes and sizes, and with all sorts of fillings. Eaten throughout Latin America in endless varieties, tamales are a great option for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. These flavorful tamales are made with sweet corn, cream cheese, and spicy chile peppers. Although most tamales you might find in stores have meat in them (pork, chicken, or a combination of beef, chicken, and pork) our recipe offers a vegetarian option if you replace lard with vegetable shortening, and use water instead of chicken broth.

Even though making tamales is somewhat time-consuming, it isn't difficult (check this link to get a sense of what you need to do). It may take you a little while to get the hang of assembling the first few, but after you catch on, you'll have a whole batch ready in no time. Double the amounts, freeze in individual resealable bags once cold, and steam when ready to eat.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 3 ounces green chile peppers, diced
  • 16 ounces queso fresco, shredded
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons

    plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 40

    dried corn husks

  • 6 cups masa harina (corn flour for tortillas or tamales)
  • 5 cups warm water (or low-sodium chicken broth)
  • 1 teaspoon

    ground chile pepper

  • 3 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 cups good quality pork lard (or vegetable shortening)

Steps to Make It

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a large bowl, place the corn kernels and the diced chiles.

  3. Add the shredded cheese, cream cheese, chili powder, 1 teaspoon of the cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

  4. Use a large spoon to mix ingredients thoroughly.

  5. Once the filling is made, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

Prepare the Corn Husks

  1. Go through the corn husks removing any debris. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces.

  2. Place all the usable husks (whole leaves, without tears) into a large bowl and cover them with warm water. Place a heavy item on top of the husks to keep them submerged.

  3. Allow husks to soak for at least 1 hour or until they have rehydrated and become pliable.

  4. Remove the husks from the water and pat dry.

  5. Place into a covered dish or a large plastic bag to prevent them from drying out. Use only the larger and medium-sized husks to wrap the tamales; the smaller ones can be used for ties or patches.

Make the Dough

  1. In a mixing bowl combine the masa harina and warm water or broth. Stir a couple of times in a gentle mix and let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes to let the masa soften.

  2. Vigorously stir the mixture with a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer on low speed until a dough forms. You can also use your hands, in the traditional way, to mix well and ensure there are no dry bits of cornflour left without mixing.

  3. Add the onion powder, 2 tablespoons of the cumin, and 1 teaspoon of salt by sprinkling them gradually over the dough as you mix it.

  4. In a separate bowl, whip the lard or shortening with a hand or electric whisk for about 3 minutes or until fluffy.

  5. Slowly and patiently add the whipped lard to the dough, mixing well until the mixture is combined and uniform. The masa should be similar in consistency to peanut butter, dense but malleable, and most importantly not sticky. Add more masa harina or liquid as necessary until you can press the dough with your open hand, remove it, and not have dough in your palm.

Assemble Your Tamales

  1. Lay a big hydrated husk on a flat surface.

  2. Spoon on one to two tablespoons of dough, depending on the size of the husk. Using the back of a metal spoon, spread the dough onto the husk keeping it approximately a quarter-inch in thickness.

  3. When spreading the dough, leave a space of about four inches from the narrow end of the husk and about two inches from the other end. Spread the dough up to the edge of one of the long sides and two inches away from the other long side.

  4. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of filling down the center of the dough with a putty knife or an offset spatula, leaving at least one inch of dough around each side.

  5. Locate the long side with a two-inch space with no masa.

  6. Fold that end over, slightly overlapping the other side so the edges of the dough meet. Wrap an extra husk around the back. Then fold the broad end over the top, and then the longer narrow end over the broad end.

  7. Cut or tear long quarter-inch-wide strips using some of smaller husks. Tie these strips across the middle of each tamale to hold the flaps down.

  8. Repeat the process until you're out of masa and filling.

Cook and Serve

  1. Before you start the cooking process, check that all your tamales are tightly tied and there are no large tears or cuts in the husks. If so, use smaller husks to cover the tears up, like a patch, and tie again.

  2. Set tamales upright in a steamer and steam for 90 minutes. Although there are tamale steamers on the market, you can steam them without one by boiling a small amount of water in a large pot and placing a colander or mesh on top, always keeping the tamales away from the water. Cover the colander with the unused husks and place the tamales on top.

  3. Boil water in a kettle to add to the bottom pot if necessary.

  4. Once cooked, let tamales cool in the steamer for 1 hour before serving. This time allows the masa to firm up.

  5. Traditionally, tamales are served with the husk. But if you are new to tamales and find it messy, simply unwrap and serve on a plate.

  6. Serve with pico de gallo, avocado slices, and hot sauce for a kick.

  7. Enjoy!

Tamales 101

If you are new to tamales here are a few basic tips to achieve the best results:

  • Buy good masa: Masa harina is widely used in Hispanic recipes and thus easy to find in Hispanic markets and even at most Target stores in the US. The most common brand is Harina Pan. Good masa harina means good tamales.
  • Get dirty: By using your hands you'll get a better sense of the consistency of the masa and will know if it needs more cornflour or liquid.
  • Keep it wet: Maintain a bowl of water next to your assembly station, and always have wet hands when handling the masa if you choose to use your hands for assembly. If things get too messy, rinse your hands thoroughly and start again. If the masa is sticking to your hands add more cornflour, and remember that if it is sticky, it will be impossible to remove from the husk.
  • Be patient: The tamales need to cool off after the cooking time has passed. If you try to open one right away, it will stick to the husk and will be impossible to open. If you want to check for doneness, give it at least 5 minutes on a plate before opening.

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