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Looking for the Best Tamale Recipe? Look No More!

Updated on February 16, 2014
corn husks soaking in hot water
corn husks soaking in hot water | Source
tear strips of husks for ties
tear strips of husks for ties | Source
masa and broth stirred and let it sit for at least 20 minutes
masa and broth stirred and let it sit for at least 20 minutes | Source

First, a backstory!

The woman looked around her house. Her pictures on the wall and bookshelf were sparkling, the beloved faces showing her their love through their smiles. Her floor was swept and mopped, not even a hint of dirt in the corners. Her fireplace was clean and had kindling ready for a match. Hubbie had split and stacked mesquite just the week before and she smiled at the bundle waiting on her to build a fire.

She gave a happy and contented sigh; her house was cozy, her best friend, her lover, her husband was dozing on the sofa and her children and their families were flourishing and happy. What else did she require?

The woman thought back to her life 33 years prior and smiled. She had been so young, so immature and so fearless! Well, immaturity and a drop of gypsy blood covers many imperfections, right? She thought back and called up a vision of her little apartment on Columbus. A pretty one bedroom duplex, very snug and so well insulated her landlord didn’t turn on the swamp cooler until Memorial Day! He planted hedge roses across the front and one year he gave into her pleas to please! not to trim them until she had gathered all the rose petals. The woman and her two sisters had crushed and rolled those petals into small balls, strung them with a needle and thread and used them as beads for jewelry and needlecrafts!

But even then, the woman knew something was missing.

An ache, a knowledge that a part of her very being was not there. She knew almost from the start that he was the one, the soul mate that was meant for her.

It took him a bit to know that but the woman was patient; she waited.

The woman smiled to herself, thinking of all the up and downs. Three decades and a little more they have been together but the wonder never left. She was always amazed at her great fortune.

There are not many who can say they are still together, even fewer who say they are more in love now than the first time they knew they were in love with one another!

Valentine’s Day was yesterday and after all these years her husband had still left a beautiful card on the table so it was the first thing she saw when she woke to the day. What a sweetheart!

The woman sighed once more and looked around…what next? Tamales! What a wonderful way to show love and the pretty baggies in the freezer would be enjoyed for several months!

All right then!
Let’s Get Started!

What Recipe To Use?

I searched, looked, and begged everyone I knew for recipes of tamales. Tamale recipes are clutched tight to many a chest! I do not know why, but the making of tamales changes with every cook! It isn't as if one recipe will be better than another either, tamales just get better, the more you make them. Sort of like cornbread in that way don’t you think?

However, I will admit there are a few tips that are invaluable! Like the tip about using lard; not shortening.

Oh, I know!

I know!

Still, lard makes a better tamale. Shoot, it isn't as if you are going to eat all 40 tamales at one time!

Oh, well….okay….well…cough…. maybe not more than once or our times in your lifetime at any rate!


lard/yes it really is lard
lard/yes it really is lard | Source
chilies torn into pieces
chilies torn into pieces | Source
monterey jack cheese
monterey jack cheese | Source
corn husks soaking in a sink full of hot water
corn husks soaking in a sink full of hot water | Source
3 things to add to your masa dough
3 things to add to your masa dough | Source

Here is the Masa I use!

this is what I use,looks like flour but texture is a bit thicker than flour and softer than corn meal
this is what I use,looks like flour but texture is a bit thicker than flour and softer than corn meal | Source
Here is the nutrition label
Here is the nutrition label | Source

Start with a list of ingredients.

Masa/3 cups

Lard/1 cup

Onion powder/2 tablespoons

Chili Powder/2 tablespoons

Cumin/1 tablepoons

Salt/2 teaspoons

Chilies (I prefer Anaheim)

Monterey jack Cheese

Corn Husks/1 package

Tamale Steamer/this is just a double boiler with a steamer bakest

Time and Patience (I haven’t been able to find these in Wal-Mart)

Disclaimers and Important Facts

Now about the chiles. I am fortunate to live in the desert and every Sunday, all year long, at my favourite farmers market in St Phillips Plaza there is a stand that sells all kinds of roasted peppers. Best get there early and stay put though. He starts selling at 10 AM and by 11 AM? SOL!!!!! The funniest part is it is owned by a lovely Italian gentleman! He will laugh and tell you about the local grocery markets begging him to teach their employees how to roast chiles! He says, “You want an Italian to teach Mexicans how to roast peppers?”

That is a hoot!

They go fast and no wonder because to me that is the hardest part, is roasting the chilies. There isn't anything worse than paying the price for pretty chilies, taking them home, greasing them and laying them out carefully on the cookie sheet and putting them under the broiler, turning and suffering the heat and the burns just to get a batch where the skin won’t come of easily and you lose half the chilies meat. Therefore, paying the price is well worth it!

If I get down to three or four ziploc bags in the freezer, I freak…its time, way past time to stock up! However, we have also lived where that was not available and canned whole chiles is a perfectly acceptable substitution!

I need to place a disclaimer here. Green corn tamales means you use actual corn, grind them and make the masa yourself. I don’t do that. My green corn tamales means you use the masa dough and place a strip of roasted green chile and a slice of Monterey cheese in and steam it up! Delicious!

The next most important part of making tamales is the dough itself. For chile and cheese tamales, you want the masa flavored. Well, actually I like the dough flavored whether it is for green corn or for meat but a lot of recipes for the meat tamales call for plain masa dough. The dough needs to be treated like cake batter or biscuit dough.

Do Not Work It To Death!

Be Easy!

Tamale dough is like love. It is best when it is treated with soft kind hands and sweet words of affection. Yell at it? Hit it? Be Mean to it? Try to trap it? You will find yourself gagging on the end result.

How much do you want to make? Well, I enjoy making tamales. It only takes an afternoon and I get about eight to 10 ziploc baggies with six tamales each. A lot of the recipes I researched call for making dozens!!!!! As in 40 dozen tamales at a time! No thank you. I would prefer to make one pot full every 3 months than to drag it out over 3 days once a year! What fun is that? None! So, here is the recipe I use to make just ONE potful of green corn tamales at a time.

I like Maseca and it is an instant masa dough. But that is the one I like. Experiment and find the one you like the best.

I used chicken stock one time and it was a disaster but again, play with it.

I keep the lard in the fridge. So on the tamale day I take it out in the morning and by afternoon it is just right then I stick it back in the fridge again.

The first and Most important thing of all is to Soak the Corn Husks for a MINIMUM!!!!!


I know, but you will be happy you did, If I am in a tearing hurry I will fill the sink with hot water and put the pan in the water and go from there.

I put all the husks into the bottom of my steamer, fill with hot water and then squish the steamer basket on top of it and let it sit.

After a bit take about four of the husks and tear them into strips to use as tie ends around each tamale.

Look How Pretty!

Spread 1 tbl no more! on middle of the husk
Spread 1 tbl no more! on middle of the husk | Source
1 strip of chili and some cheese
1 strip of chili and some cheese | Source
fold the skinny end over the filling
fold the skinny end over the filling | Source
fold one side over then the next
fold one side over then the next | Source
now tie it loosely
now tie it loosely | Source
pack those puppies in!
pack those puppies in! | Source
floating ball of masa dough TaDa!!!
floating ball of masa dough TaDa!!! | Source

Here Are the Actual Instructions

3 cups of masa.

One container of chicken broth

One cup of lard.

1 tablespoon of onion powder

2 tablespoons of chile powder

1 tablespoons of cumin

2 teaspoons of salt

Heat the Broth, pour it over the masa in a big bowl, and stir it up.

Leave it alone for at least 20 minutes

In the meantime, take the chilies, remove the tops and the seeds, and pull them apart into strips.

Cut the slices of Monterey jack cheese and place in separate bowl.

Put the lard into a small bowl and whip it fluffy with your mixer.

Add the spices to the masa and broth mixture.

Add the lard to that mixture and beat it just until it is mixed.

Now this is the ultimate I wish I had a patent on this secret. Get a glass and fill with water. Roll a small marble sized ball of dough in your palm and drop it into the water.

If it sinks and stays at the bottom? Add more broth or water. Because what you want to see is that it comes back to the top and floats!

If the ball of dough floats that means it is perfect!

Next just take a corn husk, lay it in your hand with the skinny end at your fingertips, spread just one tablespoon NO MORE Of dough in the middle, lay a piece of chile and a piece of cheese on top of that then fold the skinny end then one side then the next side and secure it with a piece of husk you tore into stripes.

I have seen tamales that didn’t have a tie and I have seen tamales where both ends were tied down. I leave one end open and barely tie it together. Just play with it and you will find the way you like your tamale to look!

The Finale!

Add about an inch of water to the steamer and put the basket in. If the water comes through the holes in the bottom, you need to drain some out. You do Not want water to touch your tamalesl!!

Only steam!!!

Do NOT turn on the heat until you have the entire basket filled. I lay the steamer basket on its side and pack the tamales in like that so I do not have to worry about them falling over.

Once the basket is packed tight.

And yes, that is a contradiction. Treat the dough easy and pack the basket tight. Oh well, that is a woman for you!

Once the basket is full put it into the pan, place top on and turn on high until it comes to a boil. Turn it down to medium high and wait.

Almost every recipe I found said put a coin in the water so when it rattles you will know it is time to add water. But for myself I just check it every 45 min or so, get hubbie to help, it’s all good.

All the recipes say 90 minutes to steam. Better play with it. Sometimes it takes 45 minutes, most times it takes longer, sometimes 3 hours. Just take one out, wait a few minutes, unwrap it and see what it looks like. The tamale should pull away easily from the corn husk and not look wet. Doesn’t matter if it’s done or not, you can re wrap it and put it back or eat it. I eat it!

Once they are done, let them cool off and freeze. Yummie! Especially with beans and avocado or just by themselves. I bet you will find that having tamales on hand is a lot of fun for just a little bit of time and effort!

Packed in And Done!
Packed in And Done! | Source
so Pretty!
so Pretty! | Source
See how wet it looks?Not Done Yet!
See how wet it looks?Not Done Yet! | Source
Unwrap and Eat It Up!
Unwrap and Eat It Up! | Source


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    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 3 years ago from Tucson, Az

      Thank you so much Teaches:) I do love tamales although I admit it sure has taken me a long time to learn how to make them! Sure are good though arent they!

      and I figure, if I do just one potful every 3 months or so then I will get plenty of practice right? :) and hubbie and adult in training number one has to taste them!

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 3 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you Lori! I looked and went "Where's my picture of my masa?" I don't know whay that one got let out that is a very important question!

      Yes, here in Tucson you can buy the bags of masa already mixed in the refrigerated section...I don't do that, its just heat up the chicken broth and stir it into the masa...but I have friends that use it already prepared and love it so its just a preference thing...Masa is a type of corn meal but it is really fine, not coarse like corn meal we southerners use for cornbread...I put the picture in and thanks again!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I pushed all the buttons on this one! Each Christmas season my family makes loads of tamales and they are special treats for family and friends. Your post here presents the best of this wonderful recipe. Love your photos as they make it all authentic. Thanks for sharing and reminding me how much I love eating them.

    • Lori P. profile image

      Lori Phillips 3 years ago from Southern California USA

      I'm sorry to be ignorant but is masa a dry corn flour or is it wet? I can buy a bag of masa at the local Mexican food market but is that masa already fully prepared or do I use it in your recipe?