From the author, Toni Okamoto: For as long as I can remember, around Christmas time, someone in my extended family has made tamales to share with us all. They spend hours (and sometimes days) in the kitchen with labor of love. And it’s not just my family, I know it’s a tradition for many other of our Mexican-American friends and family, too.
I was so sad when I became vegan because I thought I’d be giving up on my family and cultural traditions, but thankfully, I was so wrong! For the past five or six years, I’ve been trying many vegan recipes and tweaking them here and there to come up with something that saves time in the kitchen, while also not compromising much of the taste and texture. Here’s what I’ve come up with!
First things first, before we dive into the logistics of making tamales, I need to clarify something important. When you’re talking about the singular of tamales, it’s not “tamale,” it’s “tamal.” Example: “Hey honey, can you please serve me an extra tamal.” Mind-blowing, I know! My husband, a native English speaker who speaks Spanish fluently, couldn’t believe it.
Oil vs. Shortening
To be honest, I like them both. I’m adding oil as the first option because it’s always available in most kitchens, and it will get the job done. But traditionally, they are made with lard, and I find that shortening is the more similar replacement.
My favorite filling for tamales is the classic store-bought soyrizo (a chorizo made from soy!) with sliced jalapeños and a bit of vegan cheese, I encourage you to try it! It’s so good! But, if you don’t have any or you simply want to try different fillings, then you have many fantastic choices. You could add some sliced jalapeños for a spicy kick or vegan cheese to make it richer and creamier. Or you could add both, a perfect combo!
What about a homemade filling? You can saute black beans, steamed sweet potato with onions and cumin for a healthy and protein-filled add on. Your jackfruit carnitas leftovers would also be a dreamy tamal companion. If you have another favorite way to stuff your tamales, let us know in the comments.
Here’s the filling that our photographer, Alfonso, created for the photos:
1 tablespoon of neutral oil
1 medium red onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large sweet potato
1 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of vegetable broth
1 tablespoon of hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pan, heat the oil. Saute the onion and garlic until they’re tender, add the sweet potato, cumin, and paprika and saute for another minute. Add the remaining ingredients, cook on medium-high heat for one minute, cover, and then lower to a simmer for 10 minutes. If the potato is still firm, steam for another five minutes.
This recipe stores in the refrigerator for up to a week. It is great for batch cooking and freezing.
6cupsof rich vegetable broth (I used bouillon or better than bouillon + water)
3/4cupof vegetable oil (any neutral oil will work) OR veg shortening at room temp
2teaspoonsof baking powder
1 1/2teaspoonsof garlic powder
Batch of fillingor soyrizo
Pour hot water into a large baking dish or stockpot and add the dried corn husks. Let them sit for 15 to 20 minutes until they have softened.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the corn flour, vegetable broth, vegetable oil (or shortening), baking powder, garlic powder, and salt. You can also mix it by hand, but it’s a much easier process with an electric mixer.
Pat dry a corn husk, lay it flat, and spread a spoonful of dough to cover most of the corn husk. All corn husks are different sizes, so each tamal may look differently. Once the dough is spread out, add one to two tablespoons of filling vertically to the middle of the tamal. Bring both sides of the corn husks together until the dough seals. Then, close up the husks (see above for photos of how to do it).
In a large stockpot with a steamer basket, add all the tamales and bring water to a boil. Once boiling, lower to a simmer for 45 minutes. If you find that the masa is still meal-y, continue steaming for another 30 minutes. This is particularly relevant when layering your tamales on top of each other.
"They say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy.
My goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy,
'Cause true wealth comes from good health and wise ways...
we got to start taking better care of ourselves " - Dead Prez