3–4 hours
to prep

60 minutes
to cook

2-3 dozen

About this Recipe

Tamales are a wonderful dish that has been made and enjoyed for thousands of years. Their preparation isn’t too difficult, but can be labor intensive and time-consuming, part of why they are often made around the holiday when lots of family is on hand to assist in their preparation and assembly. They can be a fun dish to prepare with family or friends; host your own tamalada (tamal-marking party) to make a bunch! Don’t be afraid to prepare and freeze extra wrapped tamales so they’re ready to steam later.

Recipe by: Pedro Hernandez
Photos by: Cait Taylor


For the Tamales

  • 6 ½ cups corn masa mix for tamales
  • 6 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup corn oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 bag of corn husks
  • 1 recipe black bean or chili filling (recipes follow)

For the Black Bean Filling

  • 1 cup onion, rough chopped
  • 16 cloves roasted garlic, rough chopped
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4 cups cooked black beans (from scratch or approximately three 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained)
  • 4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • Salt to taste
    Lao-Style Pho

    For the Chili Filling

    • 2 (14-ounce) packages of vegan ground “beef”
    • 4 large dried California chilies (found in most grocery stores)
    • Salt to taste

      Special equipment

      • Tamal pot with rack (preferred; available at many grocery stores or online) or large stockpot with steamer insert and tight-fitting lid
      • Blender or food processor

        Step-by-Step Instructions

        For the tamal masa:
        1. Soak corn husks in warm water until soft (or soak in cold water 24 hours prior). You can weigh them down with a dish to help them stay submerged.
        2. In a large bowl, mix together the corn masa mix, water or broth, corn oil, salt and baking powder until well combined. The masa should be moist but hold together. To test if it’s mixed well, you can roll a ball of masa in your hands and place it in warm tap water: If it floats, you are ready to go.
        3. Drain the corn husks and blot them dry.
        4. Spread out one corn husk in front of you and add approximately 2 tablespoons of the masa across the upper section of the husk (avoiding the narrow bottom portion of the husk). Flatten the masa into a rectangle approximately 1/4 inch thick (doesn’t have to be exact, 1/8 inch – 1/3 inch is fine and depends on your personal preference of masa thickness).
        5. Add a scant tablespoon of filling on the center of the masa (this amount may increase if you were more generous with spreading your masa).
        6. Wrap the tamal: Folding into thirds like a letter, fold in each side of the corn husk to fold the masa over and around the filling, enclosing it inside. Fold the bottom of the husk up and underneath the tamal so that it is opposite the seam created when the sides were folded in. (The top of the tamal will not be enclosed by the husk, so make sure this end is positioned upward when placing the tamales in the steamer later).

          Optional : Small strips of corn husk can be used to tie around each tamal to hold the folds in place (but generally, if your husks soaked long enough they should fold well and this isn’t a necessary step).

        7. Continue with the remaining masa and filling. The masa recipe makes approximately 2 – 3 dozen, depending on the size of your corn husks and how much masa you spread across each one.
        8. Fill the pot with several inches of water, leaving several inches of space between the water and steamer rack. Bring the water to a boil.
        9. Place the tamales in the tamal steamer in an even layer, cover and cook for 60 minutes, checking every 20 minutes. Add boiling water as needed to keep the steam going. (A couple optional tricks: Put a penny in your steamer so you can hear it rattle while steaming and when it stops you know you need to add more water. If you have unused corn husks leftover, lay a few over the top of your tamales in the steamer before putting on the lid, and this can help seal in the moisture a little better and help prevent your tamales from drying out.) The tamales are cooked when they feel firm and separate easily from the corn husk.
        For the Black Bean Filling
        1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, approximately 10 minutes.
        2. Transfer to a blender, add the black beans and vinegar, and purée until smooth.
        3. Heat the remaining oil in the sauté pan over low heat, add the purée and fry, stirring constantly, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges of the purée becomes crusty. Remove from heat.
        4. Add salt to taste.
        For the Chili Filling
        1. In a dry pot or skillet, heat the chilies until soft.
        2. Remove the chilies from the heat, pull off the stems and shake out the seeds.
        3. Put the chilies in a blender (or food processor) with a bit of water and salt and blend until soft.
        4. Adjust salt as needed.
        5. Heat a skillet over medium heat, then add a splash of oil.
        6. Crumble the vegan ground “beef” into the skillet, then add the purée and stir.
        7. Cook, stirring, for several minutes until all the crumbles are red.

        Instead of either filling, you can use cooked vegetables such as jalapeños, potato, carrots, corn, and squash.

        It is also very easy to make a seitan chili verde filling using store-bought gluten strips and salsa verde or tomatillo sauce (found canned at most grocery stores). Just simmer the strips in the sauce until the flavors are absorbed.