Let’s make tamales: part 2

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You have pots of stewed meat simmering on the stove, bowls overflowing with cheese, green chiles and refried beans, a huge lump of masa and a kitchen filled both with savory scents and a group of friends. Now what?

Before you can start making tamales, you need to soak your corn husks for an hour to make them pliable. If you’re feeling really creative, you can dye the water, which also comes in handy for identifying what fills each tamale—say a blue wrap for pork and a red wrap for beans. Natural dyes can be made out of herbal tea with rose hips such as Celestial Seasoning’s Red Zinger, turmeric or blueberries. When the husks can easily bend without cracking, take them out and pat them with paper towels. They should be damp but not dripping.

There are several ways to roll tamales, but I’m a fan of the tied-end method. It’s simple, plus the tamales look like little gifts, perfect for this time of year. To do this, first take some of the damp corn husks and tear them into thin strips. Set the strips aside because that’s what you’ll use to tie the tamales.

Tamales | Homesick Texan

Now haul your wares to a flat work surface and set up your rolling station. The process is simple: take a corn husk and lay it flat. Put in a handful of masa (about 1/2 cup) and spread it around the center of the husk, leaving the circumference (about 1/2 inch) clean. Pour in a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of the masa. Take the husk and starting at one end lengthwise start rolling. When it’s completely rolled up, tie the two ends with the masa strips. Eso es todo! You’ve made a tamale!

Don’t be daunted by the mountain of masa, the rolling will move quickly. And the more people you have, the faster it will go. After you get the hang of rolling, it becomes almost second nature. Then you can concentrate on swapping stories or singing songs with your friends. And before you know it, you’ll have dozens of tamales ready to steam, eat and share.

Steaming is simple: take the tamales, and layer them in a steamer basket in a large pot. If you have a bamboo steamer this works as well. Steam for about 35-45 minutes. The tamales are done when it peels easily away from the husk. Depending on how many tamales you make, you might have to do this in batches. Serve and enjoy!

Certainly, a tamale party takes an investment of time. But the rewards are outstanding. Not only will you have a terrific meal (and hopefully lots of leftover tamales to freeze and steam at a later date, just when you need a quick fix), but it’s also very satisfying working in harmony with a group of treasured friends and family toward a common goal. A perfect way to celebrate the season.

Tamales | Homesick Texan

As I’ve said before, anything goes with a tamale—you can get as creative as you wish. For fillings, two of my favorites are cheese and pork. I eat them without sauce as I feel that’s gilding the lily. But many people enjoy sauces on them, and you can use anything from a homemade salsa made out of tomatoes or tomatillos, to chili or mole. Don’t worry, there’s no right or wrong way to eat tamales, it’s simply a fun food that’s meant to be shared and enjoyed.

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5 from 1 vote

Cheese and rajas filling

Author Lisa Fain


  • 4 poblano peppers
  • 2 pounds Monterrey Jack, grated


  1. Place the poblano chiles on a foil-lined sheet. Place under the broiler and cook until blackened on both sides, about 10 minutes, turning once. Place the blackened peppers in an air-tight container, and allow to steam for 20 minutes. At this time, rub of the skin, remove the stem and seeds and cut the chiles into thin strips. 
  2. When making the tamales, take a small handful of the cheese and lay it on the masa. Add a strip of poblano. Roll!

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0 from 0 votes

Pork filling for tamales

Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain


  • 5 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 4-inch cubes
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 8 plum tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium-yellow onions, diced
  • 8 jalapeños, seeded and diced


  1. Cover the pork in a large pot with water and add 2 cloves garlic, salt, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to low and cook uncovered until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. When meat is ready, remove from the heat and shred with two forks.

  2. Meanwhile, as the pork is cooking, place the tomatoes and remaining garlic on a foil-lined baking sheet, and place under the broiler for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 3-5 more minutes. Skins should be charred. Place in a blender and puree until smooth.

  3. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomato puree and chiles and cook at medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the salt then taste and adjust seasonings.

  4. Stir in the shredded pork, and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed and pepper to taste.

  1. Danielle

    Now I am totally craving tamales.

  2. I had my first tamale in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was walking down the street with my then-husband, it was our honeymoon, and I smelled something *wonderful*. We stopped and sniffed for the source, and found a door open in a courtyard. We went in and there was a restaurant and their special that day was a mole negro turkey tamale. We got one and it was one of the most profound food expereiences I’ve ever had. It took probably 60 seconds for every flavor in each bite to unfold to it’s end. Tiny bites and finally we were done.

    I’ve made tamale’s once since then, and naturally I made them with a black mole filling, I think I did pork when I did htem at home. One was pork and one was vegetarian, substituting plantains for pork. Both had the black mole steamed inside the tamale.

    Just glorious!

  3. Lisa Fain

    Danielle–I’m always craving tamales!

    Nicole–Oaxaca is the best place in the world to be introduced to tamales–the land of the seven moles! What a wonderful taste memory.

  4. WhiteTrashBBQ

    When’s dinner? I’ll bring some pulled pork – or since you’re a homesick Texan – some BBQ brisket.

  5. Mmmm…. I am totally jealous even though I’ve never had one. It just sounds so good….. drool.

  6. Mary Sue

    My mom is vacationing in Florida at the moment. She called our tamale supplier in California to order five dozen for Christmas Eve. Then she called me in Oregon to let me know she’d made the order.

    We have our priorities straight in my family. 😀

  7. I love tied tamales and I never see them in restaurants that way, too labor intensive I guess, but they are so pretty that way. My favorite sauce for tamales is made with tomatillos, does it have a name other than verde sauce (that’s what I call it).

  8. I plan to make tamales sometime between now and New Year’s. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  9. BlueLight

    we are selling really big pork, beef, chicken and bean homemade tamales from Austin, TX. Price $8/dozen + shipping. Please contact [email protected]

  10. Francesca

    My grandmas both would make them with spiced ground beef.. Texas tamales are so different than the ones out in Arizona! Crazy how regions dictate so much and it’s not even that far. Apparently my Grandma is sending some over. <3 I can't wait!

  11. Tamales are my Kryptonite. Only I don’t live in fear of tamales because I love them too much.

  12. Need tamale help, please. I just ordered some tamales from Texas Tamale Warehouse. They arrived in great shape and look yummy, just like I remember. What I can’t remember is what to serve them with in the way of salsa. I do remember standing around at family gatherings eating them with nothing, right out of the shuck. Got any suggestions? Thank you.

  13. Lisa Fain

    I like them plain or with any kind of salsa–red or green.

  14. Lisa Fain

    They’re also good with chili gravy and mole sauce, too.

  15. My favorite are chicken with salsa verde. I always grate some pepperjack over them just as they come out of the steamer. I also love the bean filling with chile con carne spooned over the top!

  16. My grandmother’s family is from Sonora in Northern Mexico and when I was a kid we made tens of dozens of tamales at Christmas, a dozen each given to friends and family. Nana’s recipe calls for beef braised in a spicy chile broth, spiked with heady spices like clove and cinnamon, with each tamale finished with black olives. I’ve never had tamales quite like hers anywhere else. I’m finally getting the recipe this year, as it’s only now that she believes that I am old enough to appreciate it.

  17. Joan from Idaho

    I am planning a tamale making party with four of my neighbors. Then we will have a dinner party the next night for our husbands. I plan to have everything cooked before they get here to make them up. Or should I wait until they arrive and have everyone in on the cooking and chopping? I've never done this before so any ideas would be appreciated. Also, what to serve with them?? I just bought your book and am loving it.

  18. Lisa Fain

    Joan–That's what I do–I make the tamale filings the day before.

  19. Anonymous

    question- how many layers deep is it ok to go in the steamer basket?

  20. Lisa Fain

    Anon–As many as will fit.

  21. In Part One, the masa recipe is for 60 tamales. Here in Part Two, the pork filling is for 8 servings. How many tamales are in a serving? In other words, do I double, triple, quadruple the pork amount to match the masa? Thanks in advance for the help. Can’t wait to taste the end result!

    • Lisa Fain

      Sarah–Five pounds of pork should be plenty for 60 tamales.

  22. Jeannette Kuppers


    I have a question about steaming. Are your tamales upright or laying down?

    • Lisa Fain

      Jeannette–I usually stack them laying down but you can also steam them upright.

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