Making Mexican Tamales

Mexican Tamales

The holidays are here, and that means it is time to enjoy foods and drinks from Hispanic culture. One of my favorite is Mexican tamales. Tamale or tamal is one of the traditional dishes of Latin America. It’s made of masa which is a corn based starchy kind of dough that’s steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper.

There are a variety of things that you can fill the tamale with and they can range from vegetables to small bits of meat, cheese, chilies and the like. To know more about tamales read my page on Tamale Pie and Tamales.

Mexican tamales originated in Mesoamerica during the civilizations of the Maya and the Aztecs. They used these foods as portable kind of foods to serve hunters, travelers and armies.

Mexican Tamales

Mexican Tamales
by Marcela Hede

In Hispanic culture, we make tamales using hominy dough. This dough is wrapped in plantain leaves. Inside the dough, you can have either a sweet filling or a savory filling. We steam the tamale in the tamale steamer until it is firm and we serve it warm as the main course.

In Mexico many restaurants serve tamales on Sunday nights and holidays like the start of the celebration of All Saints Day.

The type of corn Mexicans and many other countries of Central America use to make tamales came from the fields of corn treated with wood ashes in the olden times, to cal in modern times. These two additions to the fields of corn guarantee a softer and richer corn that helps the human body absorb more nutrients overall. This processing of the fields of corn is called Nixtamalization.

Mexican tamales differ from one region to another in the fillings and leaves used to wrap them. Here are some of the types you can find throughout Mexico:

  • In Culiacan, Sinaloa they use small sweet brown beans, corn and pineapple.
  • In Veracruz they use corn and pork seasoned with hoja santa.
  • In Oaxaca tamales are large and seasoned with black yellow and green moles.
  • Tamales in Monterrey are small and made with smooth or coarse dough filled with red chilies and strips of meat.
  • Tamales in Yucatan are seasoned with Achiote and are baked or cooked in a pit with chicken and pork fillings.
  • In Michoacan tamales are wrapped in corn leaves and have no filling.

The largest tamales come from North Western Mexico where they cook them in large pits or bake them in ovens. These tamales can be three or four feet long and use coarse masa filled with pork seasoned with red chilies.

If you have a craving for a Hispanic meal, you can make yourself some tamales.

Making Mexican Tamales

Lets Make Tamales, the real Mexican tamales. Here are some of my favorite recipes created by my friend Sandra Vasques. Enjoy!

Authentic Tamale Recipe

Chicken Tamale Recipe

Sweet Tamales Recipe

Cinco de Mayo Tamales


Quick Mexican Tamale Recipe


  • 7 lbs of fresh masa
  • 5 lbs cooked pork or beef
  • 1 1/2 lbs lard
  • 1 1/2 pts red chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 bundle of corn shucks


1. Cook the meat by boiling it in a large covered pot. Make sure that the water covers the meat completely.

2. Add a bit of salt to this and boil the meat slowly.

3. When it’s cooked, save the broth and allow the meat to cool.

4. When it’s already cool enough to work with, shred the meat and mix it in with chili sauce.

5. You then have to prepare the corn shucks. Soak these for two hours in the sink or a large pot filled with warm water. Your goal is to make the corn shucks soft.

6. Once they’re soft, separate them gently making sure you don’t tear the leaves.

7. With regard to the masa, you can make it by hand or with the use of a mixer. Mix the lard, salt, broth and masa. Turn the mixture into smooth paste by beating it. Get a small amount of the mixture and put it in a cup of cool water, if it floats, it’s ready. You can also buy the readymade masa from maseca, that you can find it here under tamales ingredients.

8. Spread this masa onto the corn shuck and put a small amount of meat in it and roll it up. Many people have a tough time spreading the masa. I recommend a masa spreader. It really makes the process really simple.

9. Tie the tamales up with wax string.

10. Fold the ends of the corn shucks and put these tamales on a rack for steaming. It is very useful to have a tamale steamer with large capacity where you can place many tamales at once. For my best recommendations on tamale steamers see my page.

11. With 1 to 2 inches of water in the steamer, steam the tamales for 1 1/2 hours. You might like to try putting other ingredients in your tamale like fried bean, chicken, etc.

They are now ready to enjoy. If you don’t have time but still want to enjoy Mexican tamales just buy them made through MexGrover. I have tried them myself and they are very tasty!

Tamale Making Tools

When making tamales think about owning a big and efficient tamale pot. Here are my recommendations:


  1. I made tamales with banana leaves, using shredded chicken, a red mole sauce, and used butter for mixing with the masa harina. I also made tamals with green sauce, fresh cooked corn, white cheddar cheese, thin sliced grilled chiles de Delores and used sunflour oil to mix with the masa flour, then wrapped them with corn shucks. They both came out very delicious, but I prefer the banana leaf chicken-mole ones.

    • Marcela Hede says:

      They sound delicious! I also prefer the banana or plantain leaves to wrap the tamales. I guess is because I think the leaf is stronger and I love the strong green color of it.

  2. It’s common in Mexico to use the corn husk hojas for wrapping the tamales too.

  3. Michelle says:

    Umm my grandmother was taught to cook by her mother who is from Michoacan. We use filling in the tamales we make either with pork, chicken or beef and I have made them that way as well.

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