A Mexican classic, these Green Chile and Cheese Vegetarian Tamales are filled with roasted poblano peppers and spicy pepper jack cheese. Also gluten free!
Tamales are finally here! After two years of convincing myself that I could actually make tamales on my own, I finally did it!
And they’re freaking delicious.
Tamales are a big deal in my house, not because they’re hard to make, but because they’re traditionally only made for special occasions – Christmas, New Years, Easter or whenever there’s a big family gathering. Since my family only makes them a couple of times a year, they usually make a lot when they do. As in hundreds. Somehow they all get eaten within a week.
With Christmas right around the corner, there’s no better time to jump right in and share the easiest and least complicated tamale recipe I know – green chile 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 dough (similar to the kind used to make corn tortillas) that’s shaped like a skinny burrito and filled with meat, cheese, roasted peppers or other various savory or sweet fillings. The dough and fillings are usually wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed or boiled until cooked.
The way tamales are made vary from region to region, but the basic concept is the same – a corn masa dough filled with delicious goodness.
Once you’ve got the dough and filling prepared, here’s the step by step process of how my family puts it all together.
How to make tamales
- On a large corn husk with the pointy side facing away from you, spread a heaping spoonful of the prepared masa onto the bottom half of the husk using the back of your spoon. You want to have a thin layer of masa on the corn husk, but not thin enough that it’s transparent and rips. If spreading the masa with the back of a spoon is too hard, you can spread and flatten the dough onto the corn husk using your fingers. Believe me, spreading the masa is an art that I haven’t mastered yet. My parents are experts at it! Just do whatever works.
- Fill with desired fillings – in this case, roasted green chiles and cheese.
- Fold the long edges together like a book.
- Fold over the remaining edge once more.
- Fold in the pointy edge and secure the whole thing with a tie made from a thin strip of corn husk.
- Place the filled tamales with the open end facing up in a large steamer pot. Fill steamer chamber with water and steam for 60 to 90 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the tamale easily pulls away from the corn husk.
Making tamales with the family usually goes by quickly since there’s always a lot of people helping. We usually end up forming a little assembly line – some people spread the dough on the corn husks, some people fill the tamales and other people close and secure the tamales.
Since my family lives a few states away, I had to make these on my own. But luckily considering this recipe makes a small 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 vegetable oil – typically canola oil – making them vegetarian friendly. And since the masa is made of corn, it’s also naturally gluten free!
Which means tamales for everyone. 🙂
I served these vegetarian tamales with a dollop of sour cream, some salsa verde and freshly chopped cilantro. Give me a cup of hot coffee and I’ll gladly eat these for breakfast. Some water and they’re lunch. A cold beer and they’re dinner.
I’ll eat them pretty much any time!
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For the dough
- 3 1/4 cups instant corn masa flour (I used MASECA)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup vegetable oil (or other neutral-tasting oil, or lard if you're not vegetarian)
- 2 1/4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian)
For the filling
- 12 ounces spicy Pepper Jack cheese (or Asadero or Monterey Jack)
- 5 large poblano peppers (or about 10 jalapeno peppers)
- 1/2 packet corn husks
Prepare the corn husks
- Place the corn husks in a large bowl and fill with hot water. Place a heavy mug or something on top of the corn husks to help them stay submerged. Set aside for an hour to soften.
Make the dough
- In a large bowl, add the instant corn masa flour (I used MASECA), salt and baking powder. Mix together with a fork.
- Add in the oil and broth. Mix everything together using your hands until the mixture forms a wet dough. Cover the dough with kitchen towel and set aside to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling.
Make the filling
- Cut the cheese into 24 strips. Set aside.
- Turn the oven broiler on high. Place the peppers on a large baking sheet and broil them on the top rack for 3 to 5 minutes per side.
- Once the skin of the peppers is bubbly and a little charred, remove the baking sheet from the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Set aside to let the peppers "sweat" for 5 minutes.
- Uncover and carefully peel the skin off of the peppers. Remove the seeds and cut the peppers into thin strips.
Fill and wrap the tamales
- On a large corn husk with the pointy side facing away from you, spread a heaping spoonful of the prepared masa onto the bottom half of the husk using the back of your spoon.You want to have a thin layer of masa on the corn husk, but not thin enough that it’s transparent and rips. If spreading the masa with the back of a spoon is too hard, you can spread and flatten the dough onto the corn husk using your fingers.
- Fill with 2 or 3 strips of roasted chiles and a portion of cheese.
- Fold the long edges of the corn husk together like a book. Then fold over the remaining edge once more.
- Fold in the pointy edge and secure the whole thing with a tie made from a thin strip of corn husk. Repeat with the remainder of the masa.
Steam the tamales
- Fill the bottom of the steamer pot with water cover with the steamer insert. Place the tamales in the steamer with the open end facing up, making sure to lean them against the side of the pot so they don't fall down.
- Cover and place steamer over medium-high heat. Steam for 60 to 90 minutes, until the tamale dough is cooked through. Remove tamales from steamer, let sit for 3 minutes, then serve.
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