Tamales 101: Basic Recipe

Tamales 101: Basic Recipe

Tamales have been a tradition amongst many Hispanic families to enjoy especially around Christmas time. Our family has a yearly tamalada, a get together where we come and enjoy one anothers company around cooking, chisme, and usually a little wine.

It’s also this time of year that people become more reminiscent and nostalgic of their own family’s traditions. Tamales and their recipes are very matriarchal in the HIspanic culture, usually the Abuela keeps the tips and tricks very close to the vest and only teaches the most devout family members who want to learn. Here are some frequently asked questions along with some tips and tricks that I’ve learned from my Abuela. If you have any more tips, tricks, or comments, please share below.


Q: Is Tamale a correct word?

A: technically no, but at least in San Antonio, we have made it a word, oops. the correct way to describe tamales in a singular form is a “Tamal”

Q: What should I use to spread the masa dough on the corn husk or hoja

A: You will hear lots of strong opinions, whether people say, you need to use your hand, or a spoon, a butter knife, or a nifty little tool that they sell at some places called a tamal spreader, but really it just looks like a scraper. Truth is there is no wrong way to spread the masa.

Q: How do I reheat tamales, after they’ve already been steamed once?

A: There are a couple of ways to do this, you can wrap them in a wet towel and microwave them for a bit. In my house we used to heat up a cast iron skillet and place them in their corn husk on there and let them get charred on the outside, then enjoy the toasty masa.

Q: Can I eliminate the lard?

A: Yes! you will be changing some of the flavor profile, but I’m not against changing up the ingredients a bit, just to make them work in your diet. I’ll post the recipe on this soon

Q.: Is it proper to eat tamales with ketchup?

A: Honestly, I’ve never heard of this until a few days ago, I even tried it, and it’s not bad, but I love topping mine with some salsa, either a creamy jalapeño salsa, or a tomatillo salsa all fit the bill.

Basic Tamal Masa Recipe

2 cups of Masa Harina, like Maseca, they have many variations of their masa harina but I just used the regular yellow one because that’s what my grocery store was carrying.

8 oz of lard, room temperature

1/2 cup of water or broth, either chicken or vegetable, have an extra half cup on hand just in case you need it.

2 Tablespoons of Ancho Chile Puree

1 Tsp Salt

1/2 Tsp Cumin

Ancho Chile Puree

  1. Boil 20 ancho chiles in water until softened

  2. remove them from the water and take out the seeds and stems

  3. put in a blender and puree until smoooth

  4. CHEF PRO TIP: You will need this puree throughout your tamal making likely for the pork if you make that filling, either save the extra or put it in ice cube trays and freeze it, once they freeze store in a freezer bag and keep for future Mexican Food Recipes, this will save you time later on.

For the Masa

  1. In a Mixer use the paddle attachment and put in the lard, mix on low until the lard looks fluffy

  2. In a separate bowl add all of the spices and masa harina together, once combined, add it to the lard. mix on low for a few seconds and add the chile puree

  3. add 1/4 cup of the broth or water and mix on low

  4. If the masa looks too thick and unspreadable add another 1/4 cup of water until it spreads easily on a corn husk.

Once you have this basic dough you can fill these with anything from bean and cheese with jalapeno, red chile pork, shredded chicken, and really whatever you think of, it’s your turn to be creative and I”ll include some of my favorite fillings in my next blog post.

Con Cariño!


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