How to Cook Tamales: A Step-by-Step Guide for Delicious Results

How to Cook Tamales

Understanding Tamales

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish made of masa, a dough made from corn, filled with various ingredients such as meats, cheese, or vegetables, and then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. Tamales are a staple of Mexican cuisine and are enjoyed across the world.

To make tamales, you will need a few key ingredients such as masa harina, which is a special type of corn flour used to make the dough, and corn husks, which are used to wrap the tamales. Other ingredients such as meats, cheese, or vegetables can be added to the filling to create a variety of flavors.

Making tamales can be a time-consuming process, but the end result is worth it. The process involves preparing the masa dough, preparing the filling, assembling the tamales, and then steaming them until they are cooked through.

It is important to note that there are many variations of tamales, and each region of Mexico has its own unique recipe and preparation method. Some tamales are sweet, while others are savory. Some are filled with meat, while others are vegetarian. Regardless of the variation, tamales are a delicious and traditional Mexican dish that is enjoyed by many.

Ingredients for Tamales

Making homemade tamales requires a few key ingredients that can be found in most grocery stores. Here are the essential ingredients you’ll need:

Masa Preparation

  • Masa dough or masa harina
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Lard or shortening
  • Baking powder

To prepare the masa, mix masa harina with water, salt, and lard or shortening until it forms a smooth dough. Add baking powder to make the dough light and fluffy.

Filling Options

  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Vegetables
  • Refried beans
  • Cumin
  • Garlic
  • Pepper
  • Onions
  • Carnitas
  • Barbacoa

Choose your favorite filling or mix and match to create a unique flavor. Cook the filling until it’s fully cooked and seasoned to your liking.

Additional Ingredients

  • Corn husks
  • Dried corn husks
  • Water
  • Salsa
  • Salsa verde
  • Pico de gallo
  • Sour cream
  • Olive oil
  • Tomatoes

Soak the corn husks in warm water until they’re pliable and easy to work with. Use salsa, salsa verde, or pico de gallo as a topping. Add sour cream, olive oil, or diced tomatoes for extra flavor.


  • Salad
  • Elote

Serve tamales with a side salad or elote (Mexican-style corn on the cob) for a complete meal.

Caloric Information

Tamales can vary in calories depending on the filling and size. On average, a pork tamale can range from 200-400 calories. If you’re watching your calorie intake, consider smaller portion sizes or opting for a vegetable filling.

Preparing Tamales

To make delicious tamales, it is important to prepare the corn husks, masa, and fillings properly. Here are the steps to follow:

Soaking Corn Husks

Before using corn husks, they need to be soaked in water to make them pliable. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place the corn husks in a large bowl or pot.
  2. Cover them with hot water and let them soak for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Drain the water and pat the husks dry with a towel.

Making Masa

Masa is the dough used to make tamales. Here’s how to make it:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine masa harina, water, salt, lard, and baking powder.
  2. Mix the ingredients until the dough is smooth and pliable.

Preparing Fillings

Tamales can be filled with a variety of ingredients such as pork, chicken, beef, vegetables, or refried beans. Here’s how to prepare the filling:

  1. Cook the filling ingredients with cumin, garlic, pepper, onions, and other seasonings of your choice.
  2. Shred the meat or chop the vegetables into small pieces.

Assembling Tamales

Now that you have the corn husks, masa, and fillings ready, it’s time to assemble the tamales. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Spread a thin layer of masa on the center of a corn husk.
  2. Spoon the filling onto the masa.
  3. Fold the sides of the corn husk over the filling and roll the husk up tightly.
  4. Tie the ends of the husk with a small strip of corn husk.

With these steps, you are now ready to cook your tamales. Enjoy!

How to Cook Tamales

Cooking Tamales

When it comes to cooking tamales, there are two main methods that can be used: traditional methods and modern appliances. Both methods can produce delicious tamales, but the cooking time and process may vary.

Using Traditional Methods

To cook tamales using traditional methods, you will need a large pot and a steamer basket. The tamales are placed vertically in the steamer basket with the open end facing up. The water level should be below the steamer basket, and the pot should be covered with a lid. The steaming process can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on the amount and size of the tamales. It is important to check the water level periodically to ensure that there is enough steam to cook the tamales properly.

Using Modern Appliances

Modern appliances such as instant pots, pressure cookers, microwaves, Dutch ovens, casserole dishes, and air fryers can also be used to cook tamales. The cooking time and process may vary depending on the appliance used. For example, an instant pot or pressure cooker can cook tamales in as little as 20 minutes, while a microwave may take up to 10 minutes. When using modern appliances, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and ensure that the tamales are cooked thoroughly.

In conclusion, whether you choose to use traditional methods or modern appliances, cooking tamales can be a fun and delicious experience. Just be sure to follow the proper cooking time and process to ensure that your tamales are cooked thoroughly and ready to be enjoyed.

Storing and Reheating Tamales

Freezing Tamales

When it comes to storing tamales for later use, freezing is an excellent option. To freeze tamales, wrap them tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Then, place them in an airtight container or freezer bag and label them with the date. Tamales can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.

Reheating Tamales

To reheat tamales, there are a few different methods you can use. The first is to place them in the microwave, wrapped in a damp paper towel, for about 30 seconds per tamale. Alternatively, you can reheat them in the oven by wrapping them in foil and baking at 350°F for about 10-15 minutes.

If you prefer to reheat your tamales using steam, you can do so by placing them in a steamer basket over boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. Be sure to wrap them in foil first to prevent them from getting soggy.

Storing Leftovers

If you have leftover tamales, they can be stored in the fridge for up to four days. To store them, wrap them tightly in foil or plastic wrap and place them in an airtight container. When you’re ready to eat them, simply reheat them using one of the methods mentioned above.

Overall, tamales are a great make-ahead dish that can be stored and reheated easily. By following these simple tips, you can enjoy delicious tamales anytime you want!

Serving Tamales

When it comes to serving tamales, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your dish is both delicious and visually appealing. Here are some tips to help you serve tamales like a pro:

  • Garnishes: Tamales can be served with a variety of garnishes, such as chopped cilantro, diced onions, and sliced jalapeños. These garnishes not only add flavor and texture to the dish, but they also make it look more appetizing.

  • Salsa: Salsa is a great accompaniment to tamales, and there are many different types to choose from, including red salsa, green salsa, and pico de gallo. Experiment with different flavors to find the perfect salsa to complement your tamales.

  • Sour Cream: Sour cream is another popular condiment for tamales, and it can be used to balance out the spiciness of the dish. Try serving tamales with a dollop of sour cream on top, or offer it as a side dish.

  • Mexican Rice: Mexican rice is a classic side dish that pairs perfectly with tamales. It is easy to make and can be flavored with a variety of spices and herbs to complement the flavors of your tamales.

When serving tamales, it is important to remember that presentation is key. Arrange the tamales on a platter or individual plates, and garnish them with fresh herbs and vegetables to make them look more appetizing. With these tips, you can serve tamales that are both delicious and visually appealing.

How to Cook Tamales

Alternative Tamale Recipes

As a tamale enthusiast, I love experimenting with different recipes to keep things interesting. Here are a few alternative tamale recipes that you might enjoy:

Vegetarian Tamales

For those who prefer a meatless option, vegetarian tamales are a great choice. Instead of using meat, you can use a variety of vegetables to create a flavorful filling. Some popular options include:

  • Roasted sweet potato and black bean
  • Spinach and feta cheese
  • Mushroom and onion
  • Roasted poblano pepper and cheese

To make vegetarian tamales, simply substitute vegetable broth or stock for the meat-based broth in the recipe. You can also add some extra spices and seasonings to enhance the flavor.

Other Mexican Dishes

If you’re looking for a way to mix up your Mexican cuisine, try incorporating tamale ingredients into other dishes. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Tamale pie: Layer cornbread or masa with your favorite tamale fillings and bake in the oven for a delicious casserole-style dish.
  • Tamale enchiladas: Roll your tamale filling in tortillas, top with enchilada sauce and cheese, and bake until bubbly.
  • Tamale tacos: Use the tamale filling as a taco filling instead, and top with your favorite toppings like salsa, avocado, and cilantro.

With a little creativity, you can enjoy the flavors of tamales in a variety of different dishes.

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