These bean and cheese tamales are the ultimate Mexican comfort food. Made from refried black beans and lots of shredded cheese, they’re quick and easy to make and are the perfect traditional no-meat option for the holidays!
Why I Love This Recipe
- Quick and easy – These tamales are relatively quick to make when compared with other varieties. The filling is ready in under 30 minutes, and the cooking time only takes about 90 minutes.
- Make ahead – The refried black beans and the masa dough can be made up to 3 days ahead of time, saving you precious time on the actual cook day.
- No meat – This is a great no-meat option that everyone absolutely loves. It just doesn’t get any better than beans and cheese. To make this recipe fully vegetarian, make sure to use vegetable shortening instead of lard.
- Refried black beans: You can use homemade cooked black beans or canned black beans. I also added in some diced onion, garlic, and jalapeño for more flavor, but you can leave out the pepper if you prefer.
- Cheese: My preferred cheese for these tamales is V&V Supremo’s Shredded Chihuahua® Brand Quesadilla Cheese because its rich and buttery flavor adds so much deliciousness to each and every bite. It’s flavorful enough to stand next to the masa and refried beans and doesn’t get lost in the mix. It melts beautifully and is simply the best! Do yourself a favor and pick some up at your local grocery store! You won’t regret it.
- Masa harina: This recipe makes a small batch of 24-26 tamales, so you’ll only need 4 cups of masa harina, the same corn flour used to make corn tortillas.
- Broth: I used chicken broth, but you can use beef broth or vegetable broth to make it vegetarian.
- Fat: Lard is what’s used in this recipe as that’s what is most traditional, but you can easily substitute vegetable shortening to make it vegetarian.
- Salt and baking powder: To flavor the masa and help it rise and get fluffy.
- Corn husks: For this recipe, you’ll need 26 corn husks (about ¼-½ a pound). You can find dried corn husks at most Hispanic grocery stores, or you can order them online.
How to Make Bean and Cheese Tamales
Make the refried beans. Saute some diced onion, jalapeño, and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the black beans and cook for another 5 minutes before mashing with a potato masher. You could also use an immersion blender.
I prefer the texture to be somewhere between smooth and chunky. Make sure the beans aren’t soupy. If they are, cook it a little longer until they thicken a bit.
Make the masa for tamales. Beat together some lard and baking powder until whipped and fluffy. It should be super smooth and glossy, almost resembling buttercream. Then mix in all of the masa harina and salt before mixing in the broth.
The texture of the masa should be light and fluffy, and should resemble thick hummus.
Spread the masa onto the glossy and smooth side of the corn husks, leaving about the top ⅓ of the pointy end completely bare.
I like to spread the masa out by holding the corn husk in the palm of my hand and using the back of the spoon to smooth it out. You could also use a masa spreader or whatever tool you find more helpful.
Fill each tamal with about 1 ½ tablespoons of refried beans and 1 ½ tablespoons of V&V Supremo Shredded Chihuahua® Brand Quesadilla Cheese.
Fold the tamales by closing them like a book, folding them again, and then folding the pointy end of the corn husk closed.
Add all the tamales to the filled steamer pot with the open end facing up. I like to start adding them by leaning them against the side first so they don’t fall over.
Steam the tamales by bringing the steamer pot to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to a constant simmer and steam for 90 minutes. To check if they’re done, carefully remove a tamal from the pot, let it sit and rest for 10 minutes, and then try to open it. If the husk easily and cleanly peels away from the masa, then it’s done. If it’s still gooey or sticking to the corn husks, steam them for another 15 minutes and check again.
These bean and cheese tamales go great with a dollop of V&V Supremo’s Crema Mexicana de Casa and a sprinkle of cotija cheese!
You could also serve them with some roasted salsa verde or roasted tomato salsa for a little heat.
- Save some time on cook day by making some of the components ahead of time. The refried beans and the masa dough can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Check to make sure they’re done before removing all of the tamales from the steamer pot. I recommend removing one and letting it sit for 10 minutes to chill and firm up. If the masa peels away from the corn husk easily, it’s done. If not, add the tamal back to the pot and steam them for 15 more minutes.
- Spread the masa dough on the right side of the corn husk. Each corn husk has a side with very prominent ridges that’s rough, and a side that’s glossier and smoother. You want to spread the masa on the smooth side so that they’re easier to unwrap after cooking.
- Tamale Steamer Pot. A 16-quart steamer pot is the perfect size for making this batch of tamales without crowding. It also fits a double batch if you want to make a lot.
- Steamer Insert. If you don’t want to buy a tamale steamer pot, you can use a steamer insert. Just make sure it fits the size of your large pot.
- Large bowl. You’ll need one for soaking the corn husks.
Storing and Reheating
These tamales can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 6 months.
To reheat, you can re-steam them in the same steamer pot for 15 minutes, microwave them for 1-2 minutes covered with a damp paper towel, or heat them in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes.
For the filling
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium white onion, diced
- 1 jalapeño, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups cooked black beans, plus ⅔ cup cooking liquid (or 2 15-oz cans, undrained)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 2 ⅓ cups V&V Supremo Shredded Chihuahua® Brand Quesadilla Cheese
For the masa dough
- Prep the corn husks. Add the corn husks to a large bowl or pot. Pour enough hot water over the corn husks to cover them completely. Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and let them soak for 1 hour to soften them up. Meanwhile, make the filling and masa dough.
- Make the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and jalapeño. Saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften.
- Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Add the black beans, their cooking liquid, and salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Mash the beans using a potato masher for a chunky texture, or puree them using an immersion blender or regular blender for a smoother texture. Taste and season with more salt, if necessary. Remove them from the heat and set aside.
- Make the masa. In a large bowl using an electric hand mixer or using a stand mixer, beat the lard and baking powder for 1 minute until whipped and fluffy.
- In a separate bowl, combine the masa harina and salt. Add it to the bowl with the lard and mix together to combine.
- While mixing, slowly add in the broth. Continue to mix until the dough is smooth, fluffy, and has the texture of thick hummus. If the dough is too dry, add more broth. If it’s too wet, add more masa harina.
- Dry the corn husks. Drain the water from the corn husks and pat them dry. Lay them flat onto a baking sheet for easy access.
- Assemble the tamales. Grab a corn husk and identify which is the smooth side and which is the side with ridges. Place the smooth side face up onto the palm of your hand or on a plate. Grab a heaping spoonful of masa and place it in the middle of the corn husk. Spread it in a thin layer using the back of the spoon to create a large square shape, leaving the top ⅓ of the corn husk empty.
- Smear about 1 ½ tablespoons of refried beans down the center of the masa, followed by 1 ½ tablespoons of shredded Chihuahua cheese.
- Fold together the long edges of the corn husk like a book, and then fold it once more. Fold the pointy edge up so that only one side of the corn husk is open and exposed. Set aside and continue assembling all of the tamales until you’ve used up all the dough.
- Steam. Fill the bottom of a large steamer pot with water. Add a penny or coin to the bottom of the pot, then cover it with the steamer insert. Place the tamales in the pot with the open end facing up. Lean them against the side of the pot so they don't fall down.
- Cover tightly with the lid and place the steamer over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 90 minutes or until the masa is fully cooked. You’ll know the water is boiling and simmering when you hear the coin rattle in the pot!
- Check for doneness. Remove 1 tamal from the steamer pot. Let it sit for 10 minutes. If the husk peels away easily from the masa, then it’s done. If the masa is still gooey or sticks to the husk, steam it for 15 more minutes, then check again.
- Serve. Remove the tamales from the pot and let them cool for 10 minutes before serving with a dollop of Crema Mexican de Casa and a sprinkle of cotija cheese.
- Beans: Pinto beans also work great in this recipe.
- Lard: If you don’t want to use lard, you can substitute the same amount of vegetable shortening instead.
- Broth: You can also use vegetable or beef broth. Plain water also works in a pinch.