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How to make vegan tamales with 8 filling options, step-by-step instructions, top tips, FAQs, storage recommendations, and more! These vegan/vegetarian tamales are perfect for enjoying during the holidays, potlucks, and celebrations year round!

completed Tamales plated on a plate

What Are Tamales?

Tamales (singular is ‘tamal’ in Spanish) are a Latin American dish that combines pockets of masa (a nixtamalized corn dough), filled with sweet or savory fillings, then wrapped up with corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. While they’re enjoyed year-round, these little ‘present bundles’ are perfect for the holidays, especially Christmas—ready to unwrap, like a present, at the dinner table.

Vegan Tamales With Multiple Filling Options

If you grew up enjoying tamales every Christmas with friends and family, you may have mistakenly thought that turning vegan would close the door on that and many other family and cultural traditions.

Luckily, with lots of recipe testing and tweaking, we’ve found vegan workarounds for all our favorites like tofu chilaquiles, frijoles de la olla (pot beans), Mexican horchata, and these vegan tamales!

Unlike regular tamales, this vegan tamales recipe ditched lard for either vegetable oil or vegetable shortening and swaps out meaty fillings for the vegetarian and vegan tamales fillings of your choice—and there are plenty to choose from!

Even better, making these veggie tamales at home is more cost-efficient than buying them (if you’re even able to find vegan versions where you live!). Plus, tamal making, while simple, is pretty time-consuming. So it’s one of our favorite Christmas group activities to enjoy with music and good cheer.

Within this post, we’ll be sharing how to make the masa for tamales, how to spread the filling, how to fold them, how to cook tamales, and how to store, freeze, and reheat them – all with simple step-by-step instructions!

The Ingredients and Substitutes

Learn how to make tamales from scratch with simple ingredients and your choice of filling.

ingredients for Tamales measured out against a white surface

The Vegan Masa (and Husks)

  • Dried corn husks: You can get these from your local Spanish market, Latin stores, or online. For substitutes, refer to the FAQs.
  • Masa flour: Use a good-quality masa harina (finely ground corn flour), looking out for the version labeled ‘for tamales’ or ‘for tortillas and Atoles.’ Maseca brand works particularly well.
  • Vegetable broth: Use a rich vegetable broth or bouillon/better than bouillon + water.
  • Oil: Instead of lard, use a neutral oil, like vegetable oil, coconut oil, or vegetable shortening (room temperature), to make vegan masa for tamales.
  • Garlic powder: This adds subtle but delicious savory depth to the tamales. Optionally add a bit of onion powder, too, for even more flavor.
  • Salt: Added to taste.

The Filling Options

When preparing a vegan or vegetarian tamale filling, there are plenty of options. Some of our favorites include:

  • Soyrizo & vegan cheese: Cook the soyrizo (soy chorizo) with jalapeno, then combine it with shredded vegan cheese.
  • Beans & vegan cheese: Combine a can of black or pinto beans with vegan shredded cheese. Optionally add cooked sweet potato or squash.
  • Spinach & vegan cheese: Sauté spinach with a bit of garlic and salt, then combine with shredded vegan cheese.
  • Chile & vegan cheese: Dice and sauté poblano peppers (or jalapeños), then mix with vegan shredded cheese.
  • Mushrooms: Sauté mushrooms with garlic, vegan butter, and herbs, then combine with a spicy sauce.
  • Refried beans: Or pot beans. Optionally with some dairy-free cheese.
  • Sweet potato, black beans & corn: Combine sauteed onion and garlic with canned beans, cooked sweet potato, and corn (frozen) with salt, cumin, paprika, and optional chile.
  • Jackfruit carnitas: Use jackfruit for ‘pulled’ jackfruit tamales filling in a savory sauce.

Let us, and all the other readers, know in the comments what your favorite vegan/vegetarian tamales filling is for even more inspiration!

How to Make Vegan Tamales?

Learn how to make homemade tamales in 5 simple steps, each carefully laid out for foolproof vegan tamales every time.

How To Prepare Corn Husks For Tamales

  • 1) First, transfer the dried corn husks to a large dish and cover them with hot water.
process shot showing corn husk in a baking dish
  • 2) Leave them to sit for 15-20 minutes or until pliable.

If they’re floating, place something over the husks to keep them submerged.

You can also prepare your desired filling at this point while they soak.

How To Make Masa For Tamales

  • 3) Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer (or by hand) to combine the corn flour, vegetable broth, oil/ shortening, garlic powder, and salt until the mixture is smooth. It should be a consistency similar to creamy peanut butter.

You may prefer adding the vegetable stock a little at a time, whipping continuously.

Depending on your masa harina, adjust the amount of vegetable stock until the dough reaches a spreadable consistency. If it’s too thin, add more masa harina, one tablespoon at a time.

  • 4) Continue to whip for a further few minutes on medium speed until fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

The whipping will help aerate the dough for a fluffier texture. The masa dough is ready when you can press a little into the palm of your hand, and it holds its shape without cracking or sticking to your palm.

How to Spread the Masa and Fillings

  • 5) Working one at a time, pat a corn husk dry with a paper towel and lay it flat on your cutting board or in your hand. If the husks are narrow, use two overlapping husks.
process shot of preparing corn husk for filling for tamales
  • 6) Use a spatula/the back of a spoon (or your fingers if you wet them first) to spread a thin layer of the masa dough over the wide end of the husk in a rectangular shape, leaving about a 1-inch border on each side and about 3-4 inches at the bottom, where it tapers in.

The size of each corn husk will differ, so each tamal may require slightly more or less of the dough, but adding 2-3 tbsp is a good starting point. The mixture should be around 1/4-inch thick.

  • 7) Next, add 1-2 tablespoons of the filling vertically to the middle of the tamal.
process shot of spreading tamales filling mixture into corn husk

If you have friends/family members to turn into kitchen helpers, now is the perfect time to set up an assembly line or tamales – making party (tamalada). Have a couple of people spreading the masa, one adding the filling/s, and one folding/securing.

How To Fold Tamales

  • 8) First, cut 1-2 corn husks into ¼-inch ‘ribbons’ (or use kitchen twine).
  • 9) Close the tamales by bringing both sides of the husk inwards until they meet in the center over the top of the filling and the dough meets and seals (to form a filled roll). Gently pinch/squeeze the masa together if necessary.
  • 10) Then, fold one side over the other and fold up the tapering bottom, using a husk ribbon to tie it shut.
several pre cooked tamales in a baking dish

How To Cook Tamales

  • 11) As you prepare the tamales, transfer them to a large steamer basket with a lidded stockpot, standing upright with the open side upwards.
process shot showing tamales in a large pot
  • 12) Add water below the steam pan and bring it to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer (around medium heat) and steam the vegan tamales for about 45 minutes.

The thickness of the masa dough will determine how long they take to steam, with slightly thicker ones taking upwards of an hour. Monitor the water level at 30 minutes, adding more if needed.

 

How To Cook Vegan Tamales in an Instant Pot

  1. Pour a cup of water into the bottom of the Instant Pot liner and add the steamer basket.
  2. Then place the tamales standing upright, seal the lid, and cook on manual HIGH pressure for 25 minutes.
  3. Allow the pressure to release naturally, then carefully open the lid, and use tongs to remove them from the IP.
  4. Leave them to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes, then enjoy!

How Do You Know When Vegan Tamales are ready?

Remove one from the steamer (do so carefully as the steam is scorching) and let it sit at room temperature for 5 minutes, then try to unwrap it. If the husk separates easily from the dough, it’s ready. If not, cook it for a further 10 minutes and try again.

Finally, remove the vegan tamales from the steamer/Instant Pot and allow them to cool for 10 minutes (to help them firm up), then serve and enjoy!

FAQs

How to make tamales without corn husks?

You could use another type of edible leaf, like banana leaves (trimmed to 8-inch squares) or Swiss chard leaves. Alternatively, you could use a combination of wax paper and aluminum foil.

Can you make vegan tamales ahead of time?

You can prepare the dough for this vegan tamales recipe a day in advance when using masa harina and store it covered in the fridge overnight. Bring it back to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.

You can also prepare most fillings 3-4 days in advance and store them in an airtight container in the fridge.

Top Recipe Tips and Notes

  • Adjust the amount of broth used: This can vary between batches based on the masa harina you’re using, the humidity, etc. Start with the amounts provided, then add more veg broth, if needed, until the masa dough is spreadable.
  • Have a tamales making party (tamalada): Part of what makes these great to prepare during the holidays is that it’s a great group activity. So put on some music, get the drink of your choice flowing, and set up an assembly line to prepare this vegan tamales recipe in style.
  • Batch cook: Since preparing this vegan tamales recipe is pretty time-consuming, make as big a batch as possible and freeze the leftovers for another time. They’ll cook straight from frozen!
several completed tamales on a plate and on top of a white surface

Serving Recommendations

Enjoy these vegan and veggie tamales at potlucks, on Christmas Eve, and throughout the holiday season (or year-round). We love serving ours with a dollop of vegan sour cream or salsa like Pico de Gallo, red or green chile sauce, guacamole or avocado slices, etc.

How Long Are Tamales Good For?

Store: Any cooled leftovers will store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for 5-7 days, depending on the fillings you use.

Freeze: Allow the tamales to cool in the husks, spread them across a baking tray to flash freeze (not touching). Then, transfer to a freezer-safe container or Ziplock/Stasher bag (excess air removed) to freeze for up to 3 months. You can thaw them in the fridge overnight or reheat them directly from frozen.

Reheat: To reheat the vegetarian tamales from the fridge, either steam them for 6-8 minutes, air fry them for 6-8 minutes at 350F/175C, or use a microwave for 3-4 minutes.

How to Cook Frozen Tamales?

My favorite way to reheat frozen tamales is to re-steam them for around 15-20 minutes.

You can also cook frozen tamales in an Instant Pot following the method above, but cooking them for 14 minutes on HIGH pressure, then leaving them to natural release.

You could also bake them at 325F/165C for 20-25 minutes wrapped in foil (or at 375F/190C for 15 minutes in an air fryer) until heated through. No need to thaw first.

More Vegan Mexican Recipes

Photos by Alfonso Revilla

How To Make Vegan Tamales

4.89 from 68 votes
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Total: 1 hr 15 mins
Servings: 20 servings
How to make vegan tamales with 8 filling options, step-by-step instructions, top tips, FAQs, storage recommendations, and more! These vegan/vegetarian tamales are perfect for enjoying during the holidays, potlucks, and celebrations year round!

Ingredients 

  • 1 package of dried corn husks
  • 6 cups of corn masa flour
  • 6 cups of rich vegetable broth (I used bouillon or better than bouillon + water)
  • ¾ cup of vegetable oil (any neutral oil will work) OR veg shortening at room temp
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • Batch of filling

Instructions 

  • Pour hot water in a large baking dish or stock pot 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.

Notes

  • Adjust the amount of broth used: This can vary between batches based on the masa harina you’re using, the humidity, etc. Start with the amounts provided, then add more veg broth, if needed, until the masa dough is spreadable.
  • Have a tamales making party (tamalada): Part of what makes these great to prepare during the holidays is that it’s a great group activity. So put on some music, get the drink of your choice flowing, and set up an assembly line to prepare this vegan tamales recipe in style.
  • Batch cook: Since preparing this vegan tamales recipe is pretty time-consuming, make as big a batch as possible and freeze the leftovers for another time. They’ll cook straight from frozen!

Nutrition

Calories: 231kcalCarbohydrates: 30gProtein: 8gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0.1gSodium: 560mgPotassium: 93mgFiber: 4gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 223IUVitamin C: 0.003mgCalcium: 100mgIron: 4mg

Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.

Additional Info

Author: Toni Okamoto
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Mexican
Method: Stovetop
Diet: Vegan
Keywords: christmas, corn cakes, holiday, holiday recipe, meat free, mexican, mexican food, mexican recipes, plant based recipes, tamal, tamales, vegan, vegan mexican, vegan tamales, vegetarian recipes, vegetarian tamaels
Tried this recipe?Please tag us at @PlantBasedOnABudget! 🙂
About

Toni Okamoto

“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

More about Toni Okamoto

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Comments

  1. These look so good. I was wondering is there a less fat option other than oil to make theses. I’m always trying to omit that when possible. Nut butters usually work but not sure here.

  2. 5 stars
    This was my first time making tamales and this recipe did not disappoint! Thanks for introducing me to a new dish!

  3. 5 stars
    I was always too intimidated to make tamales but this recipe was straightforward and so delicious! I’m so happy I found a recipe to make tamales at home!

  4. When we lived in Nashville, the little market on the corner sold the BEST tamales. Now that we are back in Canada, we haven’t been able to get real fresh made tamales. I am excited to try this recipe.

  5. Tamales is one of my favorite things in the world. I live in NYC and theres a street cart right by me but their veg option has only cheese. These were so much better. They may be losing some of my business with these delicious vegetarian tamales.