This easy Tamales de Rajas recipe is filled with roasted poblano peppers and melted cheese! This traditional Mexican dish is naturally vegetarian and gluten free.
Tamales de Rajas are finally here!
You’ve probably heard of tamales that are filled with meat and some type of chile sauce, like red pork tamales and green chicken tamales, but these tamales de rajas are just as good and are ready to eat in less than half the time!
Tamales are a big deal in my house. They’re traditionally made for special occasions like Christmas, New Years, Easter or whenever there’s a big family gathering. Since my family only makes them a couple of times a year, we usually make a lot when we do! Needless to say we have leftovers for days.
With the holidays right around the corner, I’m excited to share the easiest and least complicated tamale recipe I know – Tamales de Rajas con Queso.
What are Tamales de Rajas?
Tamales de Rajas are a traditional Mexican dish made from a corn dough that’s filled with slices of roasted poblano peppers and cheese. The dough and fillings are wrapped in corn husks and steamed until cooked.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Tamales de rajas are one of the easiest tamales to make! Here’s what you need:
- Peppers: I used poblano peppers as that is what is traditionally used. Poblanos are fairly mild and have heaps of rich flavor when roasted. If they’re a little too spicy for your liking, you can use anaheim or even bell peppers instead. If you prefer a spicier pepper, you can use jalapeños or serranos.
- Cheese: There are various cheeses that work great in these tamales. My personal favorites to use are Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack as they add a really great flavor to each bite. If you want to go a bit more traditional, you can use Chihuahua or Oaxaca cheese instead.
- Tamale dough: For the dough, you’ll need some masa harina (I used Maseca), canola oil (or other neutral-tasting oil), broth, baking powder, and salt. Many traditional tamale recipes use lard or shortening, but my family has always made it using canola oil and it tastes great! The masa isn’t greasy and it’s still very flavorful and fluffy.
- Corn husks: You’ll need about 25 or so corn husks to spread out your masa and then fill it with the peppers and cheese. You can find dried corn husks at most Mexican grocery stores or you can order them online.
How to Make Tamales de Rajas
1. Soak the corn husks: You’ll need to soak the corn husks in hot water since they’re sold dried. Soaking them for an hour or so before using them will help soften them up and make them very pliable. When you’re ready to use them, simply remove them from the water and pat them dry with paper towels.
2. Make the dough: Make the masa by combining masa harina, salt, baking powder, vegetable oil, and broth.
(Full instructions are located in the recipe below, but if you’d like to see step-by-step photos on how to make the masa, take a look at this masa for tamales post.)
3. Roast, peel, and slice the peppers: Place the poblanos on a baking sheet under the broiler or directly under an open flame. Roast until all the sides are blackened and blistered, then transfer them to a large bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and let them ‘sweat’ for 10 minutes.
Then, using your fingers, rub off the blackened skins. Slice the peppers open, and remove the stems, seeds, and large veins (or keep them in if you prefer it spicy), then slice into strips and set aside.
4. Assemble the tamales: Spread a heaping spoonful of masa onto the smooth side of the corn husk using the back of a large spoon in a thin layer. If spreading the masa is too difficult with a spoon, you can use your fingers to mold it in place. Don’t get discouraged if spreading the masa is difficult at first. Just keep trying and you’ll get the hang of it!
Next, add the filling by placing one stick of cheese and a few strips of roasted poblano peppers into the center of the corn husk. Fold together the long edges like a book, then once more before folding up the pointy edge.
5. Steam: When all the tamales have been assembled, place them open side up in a large steamer pot that’s been filled with water and topped with a steamer insert.
Steam them for 1 hour and 15 minutes, remove them from the pot, and let them rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Are these Tamales Vegetarian?
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!
Storing, Freezing, and Reheating
To store: Place the tamales in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to one week.
To freeze: Place the cooled tamales in a freezer-safe container, and freeze for up to 6 months.
To reheat: You can re-steam the tamales for 15 minutes in a steamer pot, heat them in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, heat them on a hot griddle for 2 minutes on each side, or microwave them in batches for 1-2 minutes on high.
- 25 corn husks (about ¼-⅓ pound)
For the dough
For the filling
- 1 pound Monterey Jack cheese*, sliced into 25 strips
- 6 poblano peppers
- Prepare 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 aluminum foil and let them soak for 1 hour to soften them up. Meanwhile, make the tamale dough and prepare the filling.
- Make the dough: In a large mixing bowl or pot, add the masa harina, salt and baking powder. Mix with your hands to combine. Add the canola oil and mix together, working the dough through your fingers until everything is well combined and incorporated. The dough should feel a little crumbly, almost like wet sand, and should lightly hold it's shape when pressed together.
- Add the broth and mix for about 3-5 minutes until the dough is fairly wet and well saturated. The dough should be soft and spreadable like thick hummus. If the dough is too dry, add more broth. If it's too wet, add more masa harina. Cover and set aside.
- Roast the peppers: Place the poblano peppers on a baking sheet under the broiler or directly under an open flame. Roast until all the sides are blackened and blistered. Transfer them to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
- Using your fingers, rub off the blackened skins. Slice the peppers open, remove the stems, seeds, and large veins, then slice into strips and set aside.
- Finish prepping the corn husks: Drain the water from the corn husks and pat them dry. Remove and discard any corn silk that may be on the husks. Lay the husks flat onto a baking sheet for easy access.
- Spread the masa: Grab a corn husk and identify which is the smooth side and which is the side with ridges. Place the smooth side face up into your palm or on a plate. Using a large spoon, grab a heaping spoonful of masa and place it in the middle of the corn husk. Using the back of the spoon, spread the masa in a thin layer to create rectangle shape, leaving the top 1/3 of the corn husk empty. (see post above for step-by-step photos)
- Add the filling: Place one stick of cheese and a few strips of roasted poblano peppers into the center of the corn husk.
- Fold: Fold together the long edges of the corn husk like a book, and then fold it once more. Fold the pointy edge over so that only one side of the corn husk is open and exposed. Place in a bowl with the open end facing up, making sure to lean them against the side so it doesn't fall down. Repeat until all the tamales have been filled and assembled.
- Prepare the steamer pot: Fill the bottom of the steamer pot with water and 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.
- Steam: Cover tightly with the lid and place the steamer over high heat. Bring the water in the steamer pot to a boil (you should be able to hear it bubbling), then reduce the heat to low, and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Rest and serve: Carefully transfer the tamales to a baking sheet or serving platter and let them sit and cool slightly for 10 minutes. They may be a little squishy when you first take them out of the steamer, but will quickly firm up once they have time to cool. Serve and enjoy!
- Tamale Steamer Pot (or large pot with steamer basket)
- Cheese: Other cheese that work great include pepper jack, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, or your favorite melting cheese.
- Storage: Leftover tamales can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- Freezing: To freeze, place cooked and cooled tamales in an airtight container or zip-lock bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
- Reheating: You can re-steam the tamales for 15 minutes in a steamer pot, heat them in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, heat them on a hot griddle for 2 minutes on each side, or microwave them in batches for 1-2 minutes on high.