Tamale Cooking Project

We were in the mountains and were looking for something to do instead of skiing so we decided to make tamales and gingerbread cookies. Oh my, this was a bit too much to take on in one day, but we did it and dirtied every dish in the house in the process! My daughter made the gingerbread cookies, so I will try to get the recipe from her and share that later. Together we made the tamales. We decided we would try to please everyone, so we made four different fillings: Vegetables and black beans, Braised chicken with cheese, Braised chicken without cheese, and Beef and cheese (we had leftover beef from tacos the night before). This is only the second time that we have made tamales, the first being some years ago, so we are not very experienced at this but I decided to post it so I can share it with others and give people the courage to try this, and so I can re-visit the recipe in the future in order to make it again and improve the recipe over time. The recipe may be a little vague as I winged a lot of it. I think I would not braise the chicken if I made this again, instead I would bake it or sauté it in a fry pan with the vegetables. I think that would add a lot of flavor. The ground beef I used for a few Aidan-friendly tamales was leftover from last night’s ground beef taco dinner, so that was the easy part.


Some of the tamales before cooking them

Chicken and Vegetable Tamales

  • Servings: made about 20 tamales
  • Difficulty: difficult
  • Print

Healthy Chicken and Vegetable Tamales and Vegetarian Tamales for a fun afternoon cooking project.

Tamale dough recipe from  Mexico in My Kitchen


Tamale Dough (makes 16-20 tamales)

  • 2 1/2 cups of masa harina (corn flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of canola oil
  • 1 3/4 cup of warm low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Vegetable Filling (for about 6 tamales)

  • 1 cup of sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 2 large mushrooms, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced
  • 2 cups of fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup of refried black beans

Chicken and vegetable Filling (for about 12 tamales)

  • 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 large mushrooms, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 Poblano peppers
  • 2 Anaheim peppers
  • 4 cups of fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese (may be better with jack cheese?)
    • Note: may need more cheese if you are putting it in all of your tamales, we just put it in half of them.

Corn Husks – have at least 24 on hand as some may be small or torn

Tomatillo Sauce – this is very approximate

  • 1 pound of tomatillos, quartered
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, diced
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Soak the corn husks in hot water for at least 30 minutes and then drain.
  2. Chicken and vegetable filling:
    1. In a medium sized pot add the chicken breast meat and the next 11 ingredients (through bay leaves). Bring to a boil and then partially cover and simmer 30 minutes or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
    2. While the chicken and vegetables are cooking, broil the Anaheim and Poblano peppers until the skin is blackened. Turn so all sides are blackened then let cool in a paper bag or foil. When cool peel off the skin and remove the seeds. Chop roughly.
    3. Let the chicken cool slightly in the liquid.
    4. Remove the chicken and vegetables, shred the chicken and mix with the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the broiled peppers and shredded cheese if using. Set aside.
    5. Drain the remaining broth through cheese cloth and reserve the broth for another use or use it in your dough recipe.
    6. NOTE:  I think this was pretty good, but next time for more flavor I would try sautéing all the vegetables together and then separating out 3/4 of the vegetables for the vegetarian filling and using 1/4 of them with the chicken. I would probably just bake the chicken and then dice it up.
  3. Vegetable filling:
    1. Heat a large pan on medium-high heat. Add a small amount of olive oil and coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, mushroom, zucchini, jalapeño, spices and salt and pepper and sauté for 8 minutes or until softened. Add spinach and cook for 2 more minutes.
    2. Put the cooked vegetables in a bowl and stir in the black beans (and cheese if using) and then set aside.
  4. Tomatillo Sauce:
    1. Put all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
    2. Pour cooked ingredients into a blender and blend until sauce is slightly chunky but thoroughly mixed. Pour into a serving bowl and set aside.
  5. Dough:
    1. In a large bowl mix the masa harina, baking powder and salt with a whisk.
    2. Add the canola oil and mix with a spoon or spatula.
    3. Add the warm chicken broth and continue to mix. You may need to add a few tablespoons more of the broth to get the right consistency. You want the dough to be creamy like soft ice cream. Set aside.
  6. Assembling the tamales and cooking them:
    1. Using your pre-soaked but dry corn husks, lay one husk out with the pointy end pointing at you. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the dough in the top middle of the husk forming a large oval.
    2. Add about 2 tablespoons of your filling on top of the dough, leaving some margin of plain dough on the perimeter.
    3. Fold one side of the husk to the center, fold the other side to the center overlapping the husk, then fold the bottom pointy end towards the center. Place on a plate while you assemble the rest.
    4. NOTE:  We kept the different types of tamales on different plates and then put different food coloring dots on them to color code them so after steaming we knew what each one had in it.
    5. After filling all of the tamales, prepare your steamer. Fill your pot to just under the steamer insert and heat to boiling. Put all of your tamales in the steamer standing up, with the closed side pointing down and the open side pointing up. Put a layer of extra corn husks on top and cover tightly with a lid. Cook on medium heat for 75 minutes, checking periodically to add water if needed (you don’t want the pot to run dry).
    6. To make sure your tamales are finished cooking you should be able to easily remove the husk from the dough and the dough should feel firm.
    7. Serve with the tomatillo sauce. Peel open the husk and enjoy!


December 22, 2016


Chopping the vegetarian tamale ingredients
The onions and garlic in the pot for the chicken and vegetable tamales. I should have diced the onions and minced the garlic, so that is now how the recipe reads.
The finished chicken and vegetable mixture. 
Roasted peppers
Tamale dough. Not quite creamy enough yet.
Tomatillo Sauce cooking. We blended it first and then cooked, but I think that was a mistake so I am now recommending cooking first and blending second.
Spreading the dough on the corn husk. A larger disk of dough would be better. There was a learning curve!
We found that spreading the dough with a spatula worked the best. 
Our cooked and color-coded tamales. The food coloring was a bit messy.  The pumpkin-gingerbread cookies are also on display. Yum!
Chicken, vegetable and cheese tamale out of the corn husk.
Chicken, vegetable and cheese tamale with some tomatillo sauce. 


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