Corn, Green Chile, and Cheese Tamales

Corn, Green Chile, and Cheese Tamales

The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Prep: 105 mins
Cook: 90 mins
Soak and Cool: 2 hrs 20 mins
Total: 5 hrs 35 mins
Servings: 15 to 20 servings
Yield: 30 to 40 tamales
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
497 Calories
36g Fat
38g Carbs
10g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 15 to 20
Amount per serving
Calories 497
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 36g 46%
Saturated Fat 13g 66%
Cholesterol 41mg 14%
Sodium 365mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 38g 14%
Dietary Fiber 6g 22%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 10g
Vitamin C 18mg 92%
Calcium 205mg 16%
Iron 4mg 22%
Potassium 461mg 10%
*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 come in all shapes and sizes, and with all sorts of fillings. Eaten throughout Latin America in endless varieties, they're 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), this 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. 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.

This recipe makes a lot of tamales, so you can freeze some in individual resealable bags once cold, and steam when ready to eat, or you can cut the recipe in half. Either way, you'll need masa—find it in the baking aisle, online, or in Latin markets.

“A wonderfully tasty vegetarian style meal if you’re willing to put in the hours to complete it! Honestly, as intimidating as the commitment might seem, making the recipe is rather straightforward so don’t get scared by it.” —Noah Velush-Rogers

Corn, Green Chile and Cheese Tamales/Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Cheese Filling:

  • 16 ounces fresh or frozen corn kernels

  • 3 ounces fresh green chile peppers, diced

  • 16 ounces queso fresco, shredded

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder, more to taste

  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

For the Tamales:

  • 40 dried corn husks

  • 6 cups masa harina, more as needed

  • 5 cups warm water, or low-sodium chicken broth, more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon ground chile pepper

  • 3 tablespoons onion powder

  • 2 cups lard, preferably pork

For Serving:

Steps to Make It

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for corn, green chile, and cheese tamales recipe gathered

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

    In a large bowl, place the corn kernels and the diced chile peppers

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

    Add the shredded cheese, cream cheese, chili powder, and cumin to the corn mixture

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  4. Mix the ingredients thoroughly with a large spoon.

    Mix the ingredients in the bowl

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  5. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to use.

    Cover the cheese filling in the bowl with plastic wrap

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Prepare the Corn Husks

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

    Go through the corn husks, removing any debris

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

    Place all the usable husks into a large bowl and cover them with warm water, and weigh them down

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  3. Soak the husks until they have rehydrated and become pliable, about 1 hour or more.

    Corn husks in water

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

    Remove the husks from the water and pat dry

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  5. Place them 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.

    Corn husks in a bag

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Make the Dough

  1. In a large bowl combine the masa harina and warm water. Stir gently to combine. Let the it sit until the masa softens, about 20 minutes.

    In a mixing bowl combine the masa harina and warm water

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  2. Vigorously stir the masa 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, ensuring that there are no dry bits of corn flour left.

    Stir the masa mixture with a wooden spoon

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  3. Add the chile pepper and onion powder. Sprinkle the remaining 5 teaspoons of cumin and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt over the dough as you mix it.

    Add the chile pepper, onion powder, cumin, and salt to the masa

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  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the lard with by hand or with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

    In a separate bowl, whip the lard with a hand whisk

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  5. Slowly and patiently add the whipped lard to the dough a bit at a time, mixing well until 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 any dough remaining in your palm.

    Lard mixed with the masa

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Assemble the Tamales

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

    Lay a big hydrated husk on a flat surface

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  2. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of dough onto the husk, depending on the size of the husk.

    Spoon dough on the husk

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  3. Using the back of a spoon, spread the dough onto the husk, keeping it at an approximately 1/4-inch thickness. Leave a space of about 4 inches from the narrow end of the husk and a space of about 2 inches from the opposite end. Spread the dough up to the edge of one of the long sides and 2 inches away from the opposite long side.

    Spread the masa on the husk

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  4. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of filling down the center of the dough with an offset spatula or butter knife, leaving at least 1-inch border of dough around each side.

    Spread a couple of spoonfuls of filling down the center of the dough with a putty knife

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  5. Locate the long side with the 2-inch space with no masa. Fold that end over, slightly overlapping the other side so the edges of the dough meet.

    Filling on top of masa dough

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  6. 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 to enclose the dough and filling, making a sealed package.

    Fold the husk around the masa dough

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  7. Cut or tear long 1/4-inch-wide strips using some of the smaller husks. Tie these strips across the middle of each tamale to hold the flaps down.

    Tie the filling in the husk with another piece of husk

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

    Fill all of the husks with the masa dough

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Cook and Serve

  1. Before you start the cooking process, check that all the tamales are tightly tied and that 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.

    Tie the dough in the husk with a piece of husk

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  2. Meanwhile, prepare a large steamer pot with enough boiled water for steaming. Set tamales upright in the 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 strainer on top, being sure the tamales are not touching the water. Cover the colander with the unused husks and place the tamales on top. Cover with a lid to steam.

    Set tamales upright in a steamer

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  3. Check the steamer pot occasionally to maintain the water level.

    Boil water in a kettle to keep on hand to continue to refresh the bottom of the steamer pot with water as necessary.

    Boil water in a kettle to add to the bottom pot

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

    Tamales in a covered steamer

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

    Unwrapped tamales served with pico de gallo

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  6. Serve with pico de gallo, and avocado slices.

    Corn, green chile, and cheese tamales, served on plates with pico de gallo

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Tamales 101

If you are new to tamales, here are some 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 some supermarkets in the U.S. 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 masa harina 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 corn flour, 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 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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