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Vegetarian Tamales

Vegetarian Tamales


Vegetarian Tamales

Making tamales at home has been on my to do list for a long time for several reasons: 1. they are delicious (duh), 2. they've always seemed so complicated and mysterious (it must be the wrapping), and 3. they evoke a sense of community since tamales are typically made in large batches with everyone helping. So when the December issues of both Food and Wine and Bon Appetit had tamale recipes, I knew it must be a sign! These are adapted (or maybe just inspired) from the Food and Wine recipe, I don't eat meat but sweet potatoes made a great substitute. The chili sauce is loosely based on the recipe but I used the chilies I had on hand, which were not the ones in the recipe. And I added cheese, because why not? Come to think of it, this recipe is not at all like the one in Food and Wine but it's still really good. I hope you enjoy it. 


  • 1 large sweet potato peeled, 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 medium onion roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves roughly chopped
  • 5 dried guajillo chiles stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 5 dried chiles de Arbol stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp whole, dried coriander
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock divided
  • 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 20 dried corn husks
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 4 cups masa harina
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese grated


  1. Preheat the oven to 450dF. Toss the sweet potato cubes with 2 tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. 

  2. Make the sauce by heating olive oil in a medium sauce pan. Add the onions and garlic and cook about 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add the dried chiles, coriander, oregano and cumin seeds and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock and simmer over medium heat to evaporate the liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add vinegar. Puree mixture in a blender until smooth.

  3. Meanwhile, add the dried corn husks to a large pot of boiling water. Turn off the heat and let soak for 15 minutes, turning gently halfway through. Drain and set aside for assembly.

  4. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the shortening on high until smooth. Add masa, remaining 2 cups of stock, baking powder and a pinch of salt and beat on low speed until the dough just comes together. 

Assembly Time!

  1. Working with 1 corn husk at a time, lay it out on a flat work surface with the pointy end away from you. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the masa mixture onto the wide section of the husk and use your hands to flatten it into a rectangle, leaving a 1/2 inch gap at the bottom. Spoon on your chile sauce based on spicy preference (I used ~2 tbsp/tamale). Add 2 tablespoons of sweet potatoes and a pinch of cheese. 

  2. Fold in the long sides of the husk, sealing the masa filing on itself, and lift the narrow end over the roll. You can either use a strip of husk to tie it together or just set them face down until you're ready to steam them . 

  3. When all tamales are assembled, stand them up in a steamer basket with the open ends facing up. Fill a large pot with water but make sure the water will not touch the tamales when inserted. Alternatively, if you don't have a steamer, like me, crumple up 3 pieces of foil into balls and place them in the bottom of a large pot, fill with 3-4 inches of water and place a heat-proof plate on top, assemble tamales in the pot. Cover with a tight fitting lid and wrap in foil to avoid steam from escaping. Steam for 40 minutes, let cool slightly and enjoy!

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