Cook's Hideout: Vegetarian Tamales with Spinach, Corn and Cheese Filling

July 18, 2015

Vegetarian Tamales with Spinach, Corn and Cheese Filling

Blogging Marathon# 54: Week 3/ Day 2
Theme: Kid's Delight -- Cooking from Kid's Books/ TV shows
Dish: Tamales with Spinach, Corn & Cheese Filling 
For the second day of BM# 54 under 'Kid's Delight: Cooking from story books/ TV shows', I made Tamales. I asked my son to give me ideas for this week's theme and he said he watched a TV show where they made tamales and he wanted me to try them too.
Tamales have been on my to-make list for a very very long time. I asked my blog buddy Mir to buy me some corn husks and the sweet heart she is, she brought me a big bag of corn husks that I finally got to use today.
Vegetarian Tamale
Tamales are made with masa harina, a traditional flour used to make corn tortillas and other Mexican dishes. The flour is made from dried masa, a dough made specially from treated corn. If you want to know more about masa harina, read this. The masa dough encases the filling and the whole tamale is wrapped in a corn husk or a banana leave and either steamed or boiled.

Vegetarian Tamales
Tamales have many different names and ingredients in Central America, the Caribbean and many parts of South America.. the combination of softly steamed masa surrounding yummy fillings makes for substantial street food or a festive meal when dressed up with side dishes.
Vegetarian Tamales
Traditionally the mass dough is made with lard, but this vegan version is made with non-hydrogenated margarine and shortening. I used Spectrum brand shortening and Earth Balance brand margarine.
Vegetarian Tamales
Tamales are a labor of love and need some time to put together. So make sure you give yourself enough time to make them, don't start cooking just before lunch or dinner time. Also get somebody to help you and the whole process will be done in a breeze. I have tried to break down the recipe, so it is easy to follow.

Step 1: Prepare the Filling. 
I found a ton of recipes for vegetarian fillings, but most of them had mushrooms and/ or sweet potatoes. My son is not a big fan of either ingredients, so I made my own combination of spinach, corn and cheese. Skip the cheese and you have a completely vegan meal.
Here are some ideas for vegetarian tamale fillings:
  • Black beans-Sweet potato
  • Black beans-Cheese
  • Spinach, mushrooms
Spinach, Corn & Cheese Filling:
Frozen Spinach - 1cup, thawed 
Corn kernels - 1cup, fresh or frozen
Onion - 1small, chopped
Green Pepper - 1 small, chopped (optional)
Garlic - 2cloves, finely minced
Ground Cumin - ½tsp
Chili powder - ½tsp
Salt & Pepper - to taste

  • Heat 2tsp oil in a pan, add the onions and cook till they translucent. Stir in the garlic cloves and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
  • Add green pepper, corn and spinach. Cook covered till the veggies are tender, about 3~5 minutes.
  • Stir in cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Mix well and turn off the heat.
Step 2: Prepare the Corn Husks.
While the filling is cooling, prepare the corn husks. Dried corn husks need to be soaked in warm water prior to using to make them soft & pliable. Fill a deep pan with warm and soak the dried husks for 15~20 minutes. 
Soak more husks than you need for the recipe because there might be rips and tears and also you need a few extra to line the steamer basket and tie the tamales. Once the husks are ready, then drain and keep them ready.

Step 3: Prepare the steaming equipment.
Set up the steaming basket. Fill the pot with 2~3" of water, or whatever level will stay below the steamer basket. Line the steamer basket with a few corn husks and keep ready.

Vegetarian Tamales
Step 4: Prepare the Masa dough.
Vegan Masa Dough:
For the Vegan Masa Dough:
Mexican masa harina - 1¾cups
Non-hydrogenated Vegetable shortening - ¼cup
Non-hydrogenated vegan margarine - ¼cup
Baking powder - 1tsp
Garlic powder - ½tsp
Salt - ¼tsp
Vegetable stock - 1½cups

  • In a large mixing bowl, with a handheld mixer or in a stand mixer, cream together the shortening and margarine until creamy and light.
  • Sift in the masa harina, baking powder, garlic powder and salt, then continue to beat for about 3 minutes, until a sandy looking mixture forms.
  • Pour the vegetable stock into the masa mixture and continue to beat until all the liquid is absorbed and a fluffy dough forms, about 5 minutes.
  • The tamale dough should have a moist -- almost like mashed potato consistency - and should be easily spread with a rubber spatula. If the mixture seems too wet, then sprinkle in another tablespoon or two of masa harina. If too dry, then drizzle a tablespoon of vegetable stock until the desired consistency is reached. Use this dough right away for making tamales.
Step 5: Assemble the tamales.
Once Step 1~4 are done, get ready to make the tamales.

  • For each tamale, spread a generous ¼cup of dough down the center of a pliable soaked corn husk, leaving at least 1½" on either end. This will form a oblong of 4~5" wide and ⅜~½" thick. Spoon 1 generous tablespoon of filling down the center of the tamale dough, then top with a little of the grated cheese.
  • Grab both the edges of the corn husk that are not covered with dough. Bring the edges toward each other and push the sides of the masa dough together to encase the filling. Gently press the tamale to form a firm, solid tube shape. Tightly twist each end of the tamale wrapper and tightly tie each end with a soaked corn husk strip. You can even use kitchen twine to tie the tamales.
  • About half way through the tamale making, turn the steam basket on and get the water going. So that the steamer will be ready for you when the tamales are done.
Vegetarian Tamales
Step 6: Steam the tamales.
  • Place the tamales in the steamer basket and steam for at least 55minutes up to 1 hour 5 minutes. Check the pot occasionally to make sure that the water has not completely evaporated; add more hot water as needed.
  • Test to see if the tamales are ready by removing a tamale and peeling back some corn husk. Fully cooked tamale will be tender but solid, not wet. Remove the entire basket from the pot, place on a dinner plate, and let stand, covered for at least 15 minutes to cool. Handle the tamales carefully as they will be very hot and steaming.
Serve the tamales with any chile sauce plus beans, rice or salad, if desired. DO NOT eat the Corn husks -- just wanted to get it out of way. Tamales can also be frozen. Cool the steamed tamales completely, then stack them into plastic bags and freeze them for up to few months. Frozen tamales can be re-steamed or microwaved until hot.
Vegetarian Tamales

Lets check out what my fellow marathoners have cooked today for BM# 54.


  1. Truly a labour of love ! But glad it worked so beautifully !!

  2. Very very interesting recipe! I have tried corn tamales but with fresh corn . This version is quite different and stuffing it takes it to a new level !

  3. Very interesting and delicious recipe.Hats off to your efforts

  4. I have never heard of this looks very interesting!good effort!

  5. I've had many tamales but never made them myself although I did join my friend's family every Christmas when they would make hundreds of pasteles for their extended family - basically the Puerto Rican version of tamales. You have inspired me to make these and I'm glad to see you got to use up the husks

  6. Pavani, that dish surely is worth all the efforts you have taken..such an amazing dish!..everything looks new to me..and so nice to know your son is willing to taste new dishes..


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