Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our first try at homemade tamales...

We are slowly getting back into our regular routine around here now that the big baking event has passed. We had so much fun getting everything prepared and packaged up, but it tends to get a little stressful during the last couple of days. I think we made better use of the freezer space this year so a few of the things didn't have to be made last minute.

Instead of taking a few days off from cooking (which I probably should have done!), I decided to make a more time consuming recipe for dinner tonight. We've pretty much relied on recipes that could be made in a hurry during the last week or so.

When we lived in Phoenix, we were lucky enough to get some fantastic homemade tamales from one of our neighbors. We kept meaning to try and make some ourselves - it's always seemed a little daunting though. However, after we attempted these Squash, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Tamales tonight, we found that it is actually a fun way to spend the afternoon/evening!

To encase the batter and filling, you first need to soak dried cornhusks until they become soft and pliable. The recipe suggested 30 minutes, but I found they were still a little too firm - I let them go for about 1 1/2 hours and they were much easier to work with. They will want to float when you pour the hot water on them, so weigh the husks down with a plate and add a couple tomato cans on top or use a heavy pot. You will have softened more husks than you will use, so take your time and pick out the best looking unblemished ones. Some of the leftover husks will be cut into thin strips to use as ties that will hold the assembled tamales together.

Squash, Black Bean and Goat Cheese TamalesThe batter/dough that surrounds the filling is a mixture of masa, water, ricotta, oil, baking powder, salt, grits and enough vegetable broth to get the right spreadable consistency (once it was combined, Jeff's first comment was that it smelled just like fresh tortillas!). The filling is a mixture of pureed winter squash, black beans, green chiles and a bit of creamy goat cheese. You have a couple options for the squash - we made our own puree, but you could just as well use a canned squash or we have even seen it sold frozen in some markets. The filling procedure may seem a little complicated, but after you do your first one, you will see just how easy it is! To ensure the filling is not too runny, don't skimp on draining the squash, especially if you are using a frozen product.

To cook the tamales, they are lined up like soldiers in a little basket inside of a large pot and left to steam for about 60 minutes. They should be done by then, but you can test one if needed - the corn batter should be firm and easily pull away from the wrapper. I'm certainly not one to say if these were authentic or not, but we both agreed that we very much enjoyed the results!

Squash, Black Bean and Goat Cheese TamalesThe batter around the filling cooked up quite light and moist with a deep corn flavor - the filling was flavorful, creamy and we loved the tang from the goat cheese. What I particularly think that we liked the most was that you can change up the flavor quite easily! Leave the batter the same, but have some fun and mix up the fillings - use your favorite chunky salsa or shredded chicken and cheese or whatever sounds good to you! The recipe makes quite a bit, especially for just two of us, but we went ahead and made the full batch as these freeze very well and will be nice to re-heat for lunches! If you are so inclined, you could re-heat them by steaming again for the best results, but you could just as well toss them in the microwave (use medium power) until warm enough.

Squash, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Tamales


  1. I am impressed. My sister-in-law is from Mexico and I've helped her make them once, quite a process. You guys are amazing with all those Christmas goodies too.

  2. Way braver than I am! They look great!

  3. Hi ! Just wanted to say I think you are terrififc! Really all of those goodies and the care and effort you put into your daily life is pretty inspiring!

  4. You do deserve some time off from baking/cooking, but I am glad that you are continuing to post!

    I have always wanted to make tamales, but have been way too intimidated by them. I am very impressed! They look beautiful!


  5. So Joe, I am interested as to how you thought the flavor of your masa dough compared to traditional tamales made with lard. I have made a fair amount of tamales in my life and have always used shortening, but I think they are missing something. I love tamales, but they are time consuming.

  6. Nicely done Joe, they look perfect! I love the ingredients you used on the filling, this might have been quite tasty!!

  7. Kalyn - Thank you! We had fun making these tamales, but you are right, it is quite a process!

    Lewis - Thanks!

    Ally - I love making goodies to send or give away.

    Courtney - They really are not too tough... they just take awhile to prepare. Having help also makes it much easier!

    Laura - To be fair, I think I would have to try them side by side as it has been over 2 years since we had the traditional ones back in Phoenix. I quite liked these though as the batter was quite light and moist.

    Ana - Thanks!

  8. Hi Joe, I need help with this recipe. I made them last week and the filling was terrific, I roasted a butternut squash for the puree, but had problems with the batter. It spread great and seemed thick enough, but didn't puff up at all when I steamed the tamales. I am wondering about the grits. Are you supposed to make the grits or add them dry? I made them and then didn't need to add any vegetable broth. Did I do this wrong? Thanks, I love your site. It has been great inspiration for me.

  9. Hi Jenn,

    The recipe calls for quick-cooking grits to be added, but they are not "cooked" before hand and then added. It is just the dry grains.