Vegetarian Chili and Cheese Tamales

I have a real love-hate relationship with tamales. I love everything from the preparation to the final product, but I hate how I can never have just one! Thankfully, I only ever have tamales during the holiday season.

Every year, my family and I come together during Christmas Eve and share our individually prepared dishes at the host’s house. This year I went a little crazy and decided to bring four food items and a few makeshift games. My food obligations are to deliver mashed potatoes, leafy green salad, baklava, and tamales.

Like me, my family members cannot help themselves when it comes to tamales. We usually purchase tamales to save time, but there’s something special about making them with your loved ones. Practicing an intergenerational form of prepping and cooking is healing and a great way to pass time. Plus, it is really enjoyable to converse and joke with loved ones.

This year, I am making a few dozen batches of green chili and cheese tamales. I cheated and bought pre-made masa, but here’s a great vegetarian recipe here. This recipe can easily be vegan. My only alteration to this masa recipe is replacing the cumin with ½ tablespoon of lime juice. I like cumin but not with my tamales.

So what’s a tamale?

Tamales are a delicious Mesoamerican dish made of masa (corn-based dough with added seasoned broth), which is steamed in disposable corn husks or plantain leaves. Tamales are filled with meats, vegetables, cheeses, and sometimes fruit. They also differ by a region’s local agriculture and shared community food dishes.

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Ingredients:

  • 4 pounds masa (1 pound of masa equates to about a dozen tamales)
  • 60-70 Corn husks
  • 1 ½- 2 pounds shredded or thinly sliced cheese (I chose a combination of monterey and pepper jack)
  • Roasted chili peppers (I chose Poblano, and the number of peppers depends on your filling preferences)
  • Cilantro (optional)

Directions:

Roasting and Sweating Chili Peppers

Preheat oven to 500°F. Thoroughly rinse and dry peppers. Place peppers on a foiled (optional) baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Be sure to flip the peppers at the half way mark so the roasting is even. I used 12 large poblano peppers.

Once the peppers are roasted to your preference, place them in a large bowl and cover with a plastic wrap for 30 minutes. This will sweat the peppers and make it easier to peel off the skins. When you peel the skins, it is recommended to wear gloves to avoid chili burns. I did not use gloves, but poblano peppers are typically mild.  Once the peppers’ skins and the seeds have been removed and discarded, slice or chop the peppers into smaller pieces.

Corn Husk Prep

Place corn husks in a large bowl of warm water. Let soak for at least 10 minutes or until they are soft. Select the larger and medium sized husks to use for the tamales. Save the smaller and/or broken husks to use as a tie to secure your assembled tamales.

Assembling Tamales

Take one softened corn husk and place about 2 tablespoons of masa in the middle. Spread the masa out in a thin layer towards the middle and top of the husk (away from the narrow bottom). You can add more masa if you prefer a thicker tamale. It is best to leave at least ½ inch of space between the sides and top of the husk. Note: corn husk sizes vary so you may need to add or subtract masa.

Next, place about a 1 ½ tablespoon of cheese and a few pieces of the roasted peppers in the middle of the husk. Fold in the sides of the husk and fold up the bottom (similar to a burrito). Take a thin strip of corn husk and secure the bottom of the tamale. Like such:

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Cooking Tamales

The final step is steaming the tamales. Steaming times tend to differ but I have found that 1 hour is perfect. This is probably because I do not use a lot of masa, so if yours are on the thicker side I’d say steam for 1 ½ hours.

Once removed from the steamer, let cool for about ten minutes and serve with a variety of toppings. I prefer sour cream, guacamole, and salsa verde. Garnish with cilantro.

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Storing Tamales

You can freeze any leftover tamales in a tightly wrapped plastic wrap for up to a month. To reheat, remove the plastic wrap and steam until thoroughly heated.

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-Skye

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