Vegetarian Tamales

Vegetarian Tamales Recipe

Marian Blazes

Prep: 75 mins
Cook: 40 mins
Soaking Time: 30 mins
Total: 2 hrs 25 mins
Servings: 6 to 7 servings
Yield: 13 to 14 tamales

Traditional tamales are made with a corn masa dough surrounding a meat filling. Humitas are another kind of tamale made with fresh ground corn instead of masa.

These garden vegetable tamales have the traditional masa dough, but the vegetarian filling is made with fresh corn, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, and cheese. The smoky corn flavor of the masa dough contrasts nicely with the sweet fresh corn filling. Once you learn the basics of tamale making, you can fill them with anything from stewed or pulled meats and or other vegetables.

Serve these tamales with black beans and this vegan Mexican rice.

"These vegetarian tamales are such a wonderful option for people who don’t eat meat or, more specifically, pork as pork lard is often used in the masa dough. The corn and tomato filling is deeply savory, yet sweet from the fresh corn and works so well with the tender masa." —Kayla Hoang

Vegetarian Tamales/Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 15 to 16 whole dried corn husks

  • 3 cups masa harina cornmeal

  • Pinch kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable stock, as needed

  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening, or 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening and 6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 large tomato, coarsely chopped

  • 5 medium green onions, coarsely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

  • 3 to 4 medium ears corn, fresh or frozen

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste, optional

  • 1/2 cup queso fresco, crumbled

Steps to Make It

Make the Tamales

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Place the cornhusks in a large pot and completely cover them with hot water. Soak the cornhusks for 30 minutes to an hour until they soften and are pliable.

  3. In a medium bowl, mix the cornmeal with the salt and 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock. 

  4. Add the vegetable shortening, working the fat into the mixture with your fingers. Add more vegetable stock in small amounts, kneading after each addition, until you have a smooth, soft dough. The dough should be moist and a little sticky, not stiff.

  5. Add the vegetable oil to a large skillet. Sauté the tomatoes, green onions, cumin and sugar over medium heat. Cook until most of the water is evaporated and the vegetables are soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

  6. Cut corn kernels off the ears of corn and stir into the vegetable mixture. Sauté 2 more minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro leaves and the aji amarillo paste, if using.

  7. Drain the corn husks and spread them out flat. 

  8. Place about 3 tablespoons of masa harina dough in the middle of each corn husk. Use your fingers to press the dough into a 2- by 3 1/2-inch rectangle.

  9. Top the dough with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the corn and tomato mixture and a few crumbles of the queso fresco. Place another 1 to 2 tablespoons of masa dough on top.

  10. Fold the sides of the cornhusks in over the filling. Turn the pointed end up towards the middle, then fold the top flap down, making a little package that completely encloses the dough and filling.

  11. Tie the tamales with a thin strip of cornhusk (torn from the remaining soaked husks) or twine to secure the husks around the filling.

  12. To make larger tamales, you can overlap 2 cornhusks and use them together to wrap the tamale.

Steam the Tamales

  1. Bring 1 to 2 inches of water to boil in a steamer pot or a large pot with a colander or steaming basket set into it.

  2. Fill the colander or basket with one layer of tamales; you might have to steam them in batches. The tamales should be above the waterline. They are cooked only by the steam.

  3. Cover the tamales with a dish towel, making sure the towel is away from the stovetop flame. Cover the pot with a lid and steam them for 30 to 40 minutes. Have hot water on hand to refresh the pot as necessary.

  4. Remove tamales and serve warm.


  • Tamales can be reheated in the microwave. They can also be frozen; reheat them by steaming them for 15 to 20 minutes or by heating them in the oven, wrapped in foil, for about the same amount of time.

Recipe Variation

  • If you prefer, split the vegetable shortening with butter; use 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening and 6 tablespoons unsalted butter.