Vegetarian Tamales: Healthy Take on Tradition

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Garden Vegetable Tamales. Marian Blazes
  • 115 mins
  • Prep: 75 mins,
  • Cook: 40 mins
  • Yield: 16 tamales (16 servings)
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Traditional tamales are made with a corn masa dough surrounding a meat filling. Humitas are another kind of tamale made with ground fresh 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.

What You'll Need

  • 1 package dried cornhusks
  • 3 cups masa harina cornmeal
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 to 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 12 tablespoons lard (or vegetable shortening or 6 tablespoons lard/vegetable shortening and 6 tablespoons butter)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large tomato (chopped)
  • 5 green onions (chopped, white and green parts)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 to 4 ears corn
  • 1 dash salt (or to taste)
  • 1 dash pepper (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro (fresh and chopped)
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste
  • 1/2 cup queso fresco (crumbled)

How to Make It

Make the Tamales

  1. Place the cornhusks in a large pot and completely cover them with hot water. Soak the cornhusks for 30 minutes to an hour to soften.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the cornmeal with a pinch of salt and 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock. 
  3. Add the lard or vegetable shortening and work it 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.
  1. Add the vegetable oil to a heavy skillet and saute 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.
  2. Cut corn kernels off the ears of corn and stir into the vegetable mixture. Saute 2 more minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro leaves and the aji amarillo paste, if desired.
  3. Drain the cornhusks and spread them out flat. 
  4. Place about 3 tablespoons of masa harina dough in the middle of each cornhusk. Use your fingers to press the dough into a 2- by 3 1/2-inch rectangle.
  5. Top the dough with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the corn and tomato mixture and a few crumbles of the queso fresco. Place another 2 tablespoons of masa dough on top.
  6. Fold the sides of the cornhusks in over the filling, then turn the pointed ends up to the middle, then fold the top flap down, making a little package (see How to Wrap a Tamale).
  7. Tie the tamales with a strand of cornhusk or twine to secure the husks around the filling.
  8. 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 water -- they are cooked by the steam only.
  3. Cover the tamales with a dish towel and the pot lid and steam them for 30 to 40 minutes; add water to the pot when necessary.
  4. Remove tamales and serve warm.

Reheating and Freezing

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.