Vegetarian tamales are essential in my house, not because they are challenging to make, but because they are traditionally made only for special occasions – Christmas, New Year, Easter, or whenever there is a big family reunion. Since my family only makes them a few times a year, they usually make a lot when they do. As in hundreds. One way or another, they are all eaten in a week.
As Christmas approaches, there is no better time to get started and share the simplest and least complicated vegetarian tamales recipe I know: green chili and cheese tamales (or tamales de rajas con queso).
But first things first.
WHAT ARE TAMALES?
Tamales are a Mexican dish made from a corn paste (similar to the one used to make corn tortillas) that is shaped like a thin burrito and filled with meat, cheese, roasted peppers, or other salty or sweet fillings. The dough and fillings are usually wrapped in corn wraps or banana leaves and steamed or boiled until cooked.
The way tamales are made varies from region to region, but the essential concept is that the same: a corn masa dough crammed with delicious goodness.
Once you’ve prepared the dough and filling, here’s the step-by-step process of how my family assembles it all together.
These garden vegetarian tamales have traditional masa paste, but the vegetarian filling is formed with fresh corn, tomatoes, green onions, coriander, and cheese. The smoked corn flavor of the masa paste contrasts nicely with the sweet filling of fresh corn. Once you have learned the basics of making tamale, you can fill them with stewed or pulled meat and/or other vegetables.
- 1 package dried cornhusks
3 cups masa harina cornmeal
Pinch of salt
1 to 2 cups vegetable stock
12 tablespoons vegetable fat or 6 tablespoons vegetable ghee and 6 tablespoons butter.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large tomato (chopped)
5 green onions chopped, green and white 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 vegetarian tamales recipe:
- Gather the ingredients.
- On a large corn husk with the pointed side facing away from you, spread a tablespoon of prepared masa on the bottom half of the husk using the back of your spoon. You want to possess a skinny layer of masa on the corn husk, but not thin enough for it to be transparent and tear. If spreading the masa with the rear of a spoon is just too hard, you’ll spread and flatten the dough onto the corn husk using your fingers. Believe me, spreading masa is an art I don’t yet master. My parents are experts in the field! Do what works.
Fill with desired fillings – during this case, roasted green chiles, and cheese.
- Fold the long edges together sort of a book.
- Fold over the remaining edge another time.
- Fold within the pointy edge and secure the entire thing with a tie made up of a skinny strip of corn husk.
- Place the filled tamales with the open end facing up during a large steamer pot. Fill the steamer chamber with water and steam for 60 to 90 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and thus the tamale easily pulls away from the corn husk.
Doing tamales with the family usually passes quickly as there are always a lot of people helping. We usually end up forming a small assembly line – some people spread the dough on corn husks, some people fill the tamales, and others close and secure the tamales.
As my family lives a few states away, I had to make them by myself.
But luckily considering this recipe makes a touch batch of 24 tamales (and not the hundreds that my family usually makes), it wasn’t so bad.
Traditionally, tamales are made with lard, which makes them not suitable for vegetarians. However, as long as I can remember, my family has always made them with oil, usually canola oil, making them vegetarian friendly. And since the masa is formed of corn, it’s also naturally gluten-free!
Tamales are often reheated within the microwave. they will even be frozen; reheat them by steaming them for 15 to twenty minutes or by heating them within the oven, wrapped in foil, for about an equivalent amount of time.
You may also like:easy vegetarian stuffed pepper recipe