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ISO Vegetarian Tamale Recipe

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I am a newbie both to this board and to the world of mexican cooking. I love tamales but the place where I live distinctly lacks good mexican restaurants. The best tamales I've tasted were made by my mexican friends mom at home and served fresh and they tasted like something that'd be served only in heaven. Am dying to try making them myself but I don't have the slightest idea how to get started. Can someone give me a tried and tested recipe using ingredients that I'm likely to be able to buy in the US? I'd be really really really grateful. Oh and I'm a vegetarian although I do eat eggs from time to time. So I need a vegetarian recipe too :unsure: . Really looking forward to some help!!!

Thanks a million,


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Tamale making is worth researching and experimenting. Get some friends together to help you out.

In my ill-informed opinion, tamales are not something to whip up in an afternoon, if you've never made them before.

The times I have made them has been with LARD - freshly rendered. I have made them with vegetable shortening, they weren't that great, too lardy tasting. I think I had the ratio wrong, because I worked in a Mexican regional restaurant in the U.S., where we made 700 vegetarian tamales for a festival and they were made with veg. shortening. They tasted fabulous!! Great masa to begin with as well, that always helps.

I've had sweet tamales in Mexico made with butter, but theres that animal product again.

I do have a recipe but it is made with LARD.

I'm sure someone out there knows the answer.


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For my first go at tamales, I started with vengroff's excellent Two-Spice Chicken Tamale recipe from RecipeGullet. Obviously it's not vegetarian, but it'll give you the methodology involved. I've discovered that basically anything will taste good when wrapped up in a tamale. Try a spicy vegetable stew or ratatouille for starters.

A hint is to use banana leaves instead of corn husks. While they're not as cute as husks, they're a lot easier to work with: you can cut them to the size you want and they fold easily. You can find banana leaves at Asian markets as well as at some Latin markets.

Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)

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Hi Shelora,

I did realise that the process is going to be time consuming and effort-heavy. So I managed to convince a couple of friends to make a Saturday afternoon get-together out of the whole thing :). However, most of us are vegetarians, so i need to find a way to do this with vegetable shortening somehow. I scouted around for some decent masa and ended up buying the Maseca Instant Corn Masa Mix for Tamales. I dont know how good this is but this seemed the best of what was available locally and on opening it, I found that its a lil different in texture than regular masa that I bought in the past to make tortillas. I hope this one will do the job reasonably well. Now one of the things I am eager to find out is what kind of stuffing I can use being a vegetarian.. also can I use a pressure cook to steam them? Tricks that will make spreading the masa and rolling it easier (if such tricks exist!) and such. Overall, I'll be happy even if they dont turn out too well.. am looking at this as a 'character building' experience overall :). Even if it takes me twenny attempts before I get this, I am positive its totally worth it!


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Tamales in most parts of Mexico are made using dried corn husks (soaked for several hours before using) as the wrappers. Banana leaf wrappers are used primarily in southern Mexico--Oaxaca, the Yucatán, etc. The banana leaf imparts a distinct flavor to the tamal that may not be the flavor you are dreaming of.

Depending on how many tamales you're making, you'd best invite your friends in the morning to make them. The last time I did this with a neighbor, we made 200 and it took us 10 hours--and we've done it a LOT. Tamales are the sort of thing you want to make a lot of to make the work worthwhile.

A wonderful stuffing for vegetarian tamales is cheese (unless you don't eat cheese) with small strips of roasted chile poblano. Monterey Jack would work for the cheese. Canned green chiles would replace the poblanos, although the taste would be different.

The biggest trick to light, fluffy tamales is beat, beat, beat the shortening until it is fluffier than you think possible. Then mix the shortening with the masa harina and continue to beat it by hand until it is fluffy. When your arm is worn out, it will be almost done.

Rather than roll the masa, you take two or three of the soaked corn husks, overlap them slightly in your hand, and lightly spread about a tablespoon or so of masa with your fingers on the husks. Put the cheese and/or chile strips on the masa and spread another tablespoon or so of masa on top. Wrap the husks around the uncooked tamal, fold one end flap of the husks over to the middle, and stack on a rack in a steamer containing 2 cups of water. Repeat until you've made all the tamales.

Steam for 1 1/2 hours (checking frequently to be sure your steamer is not running dry. Check the tamales after this cooking time see if they are fluffy and done--if not, steam them about 1/2 hour longer. Replenish water as needed with boiling water.

It's not a good idea to do this in a pressure cooker.

Edited by esperanza (log)

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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Andrew, thanks a million for the link. I think I'm going to try a couple of fillings. A ratatouille sounds like a smashing idea as does the cheese and poblano strips.

Esperanza, thats a really nice and detailed recipe and I'm really excited about the whole thing now. My friends mom did make them using corn husks. However, we make some preparations steamed in banana leaf back home in India, so I'm a little more used to handling them. Not sure.. I think I'll try my hand at using the corn husks and resort to banana leaves only if I fail miserably.

Will try and post pictures after the event :smile: . Thanks a million everyone,


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Esperanza makes several great points. The husks are a pain to work with, especially the crappy ones you can get in the US, but I'm not too keen on the flavor banana leaves impart. Another option is parchment. It's about as easy to use as banana leaves, but doesn't impart any flavor. However, it may remind you of the canned variety.

There are different styles -- many different. I prefer the lighter variety, which, as Esperanza notes, take a lot of whipping of the fat. Think: creaming butter. Your masa should float in water after it's mixed. Also, since you're using masa harina (which should be totally fine), give the dough time to hydrate after you add water to it. Then after it's rested covered for 20 minutes or so, add a little more water until it's the correct consistency. The masa harina needs time to truly absorb the water and get back to what it was when it was fresh.

Also, you don't truly even need a filling for tamales. Just make a good sauce (or three) to eat them with. But mushrooms, beans, rajas, and cheese are all traditional vegetarian fillings.

There's a decent vegetarian Mexican cookbook out there, I think, but I can't remember the name. It never truly interested me, but it seemed to at least be trying to take already existing authentically vegetarian Mexican recipes and publish them. I'll try to look for it next time I'm at Powell's.

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I want to add a note about shortening. Although it is not traditional, because lard is the only ingredient used in 95% of Mexican households, you can get a better result with a product found in Indian and middle eastern markets.

It is called Vegetable ghee. It has the same consistancy as lard which is not as dense as a shortening such as crisco.

It beats up lighter and fluffier.

You can also make tamales using baking parchment. Cut it to size, soak the paper in hot water then wrap in a hot, damp towel to hold while you work.

I help my neighbors make up huge batches of tamales and we work on an assembly line basis.

One will put the steamed corn husks down and trim them and form the wrapping.

The next person spreads the masa, the next person applies the filling and pushes it along to the next who rolls and ties the tamale and places it on a rack in a pot. To begin the pot is tipped a bit so the tamales can be placed so they will remain in a vertical position. Once the layer is almost full the pot can be set flat.

The first layer is covered with flattened corn husks and a second layer is placed in the pot, sometiems a third layer is added if there is a shortage of pots or of burners on which to place it.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett


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