Corn, Green Chile, and Cheese Tamales

Corn, Green Chile, and Cheese Tamales

The Spruce / 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)
464 Calories
33g Fat
36g Carbs
9g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 15 to 20
Amount per serving
Calories 464
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 42%
Saturated Fat 13g 64%
Cholesterol 41mg 14%
Sodium 402mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 36g 13%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 9g
Vitamin C 15mg 73%
Calcium 203mg 16%
Iron 4mg 22%
Potassium 347mg 7%
*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, 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) 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. Double the amounts, freeze in individual resealable bags once cold, and steam when ready to eat. For this recipe, you need masa—find it in the baking aisle, online, or in Latin markets.

Ingredients

For the Cheese Filling:

  • 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 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

For the Tamales:

  • 40 dried corn husks

  • 6 cups masa harina, plus more as needed

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

  • 1 teaspoon ground chile pepper

  • 3 tablespoons onion powder

  • 2 cups lard

For Serving:

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps in the recipe, this dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Corn, Green Chile, and Cheese Tamales ingredients

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  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

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  3. Add the shredded 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. Use a large spoon to mix the ingredients thoroughly.

    mix the ingredients in the bowl

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

    cover the mixture 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 and cover them with warm water. Place a heavy item 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 down

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

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

    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 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

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Make the Dough

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

    In a mixing bowl combine the masa harina and warm water

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  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.

    mix the masa mixture

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  3. Add the onion powder. Sprinkle the remaining cumin and salt over the dough as you mix it.

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

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

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

    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, 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.

    lard mixed with the masa

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Assemble the Tamales

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

    Lay a big hydrated husk on a flat surface

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

    Spoon dough, on the husk

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

    spread the masa on the husk

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  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 1 inch of dough around each side.

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

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  5. Locate the long side with a 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.

    fold the husk around the masa dough

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  7. Cut or tear long 1/4-inch wide strips using some of 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

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  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 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

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  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.

    Set tamales upright in a steamer

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

    Boil water in a kettle to add to the bottom pot

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  4. Once cooked, let tamales cool 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 it 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 / Cara Cormack

  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 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 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 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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