Food and Food: Home Cookin'16 Aug 2009 06:04 pm

(update, Oct 7 2009: Masa harina is available at Bosch Kitchen Centre in Edmonton.)

Most of my cooking starts with a single ingredient. I see something unusual or new, buy it, and then find a way to learn a new recipe.

Although I have been stockpiling ingredients (masa harina, corn husks, dried peppers) from trips to the U.S. to make tamales for some time, it was actually the purchase of pasilla peppers from Sobeys Urban Fresh that prompted the tamales finally get made. I’ll admit it, I was intimidated. I have learned how to roll cabbage rolls and make perogies from my Gran before she died, but she’s Ukranian, not Mexican. So I did not know how to roll tamales, and it seemed complicated.

Oh, I had books. Rick Bayless has a multi-page section dedicated to the filling and making of tamales. There are diagrams, tips and descriptive paragraphs, but it just wasn’t the same. Luckily, Youtube came to the rescue with a visual guide on what to do.

Zarela runs a restaurant, and has a series of videos up on Youtube on Mexican cooking. She also had an easy going attitude, and was knowledgeable. In four minutes with her help, I was rolling tamales.

I made the masa dough for a filling and stuffed the tamales full of roasted pasilla peppers, adobe tomato salsa and Monterey Jack cheese. I made a few vegan tamales by making the masa dough with vegetable shortening instead of pork and omitting the cheese.

tamales animated gif

And you know what? Just like perogies and cabbage rolls, tamales aren’t that hard to do.

soaking corn husks

First you must acquire corn husks, and soak them so they are pliable. I used the hole filled ones to tear into strips to tie the tamales with. This isn’t a necessary step, but it’s a pretty one.

bob's red mill masa harina

Bob’s Red Mill masa harina from a Whole Foods in Minneapolis. I would have bought a bigger package, but my luggage was already grossly obese.

I cannot find masa harina in Edmonton. I’m hoping the latin markets will have it, I just haven’t had time to look yet. It’s easier to do my grocery shopping while on holiday, apparently. Safeway, Save-On and Planet Organic all carry a wide assortment of Bob’s Red Mill products, just not this.

What gives?

Masa harina is a corn flour, mixed with lime. It’s used to make a variety of things, including tamales and tortillas.

masa dough

The masa dough being stirred. You need strong arms and a wooden spoon if you don’t have a mixer. Luckily I’ve been making cookie dough for years, so I can handle my spoons.


Peeling the roasted pasilla peppers. I broiled them in the oven on all four sides, tossed them in a bag for a bit and then peeled, cored and seeded them.


After making an adobo tomato salsa, and cubing the cheese, I rolled. It’s really easy.

tamales vegan

Tied with strips of corn husk. Not as easy. I had to redo a few, and some popped on me.

vegan vegetarian tamales


The tamales were steamed for about an hour. The dough gets fluffy, and the smell of corn is wonderful.



A bit moist, still, but I think I had a good dough to filling ratio.

If it seems like I’m proud, it is because I am. The key thing is to have the ingredients. The rest is easy.

Vegan Masa filling for tamales

  • 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable stock, plus 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Beat the shortening in a bowl with a whisk until fluffy. In another bowl, mix the masa harina and salt. Combine stock and water. Mix the masa and liquid into the shortening, alternating, until the dough stiffens. Mix in the baking powder. This makes enough for about 15 mid sized tamales.

I made mine sort of chile rellenos tamales, with peppers and cheese. You can use any variety of ingredients however, and make them any size.

8 Responses to “Tamale Day”

  1. on 17 Aug 2009 at 11:09 am 32-P

    I’m quite sure I saw corn flour in the ‘Natural Living’ aisle at my local Superstore… maybe it was something else. I am going to check when I go there next. These look super cool – and tasty! I would probably try mine with jarred artichoke hearts, cheese, and peppers. 🙂

  2. on 20 Aug 2009 at 10:01 pm nKim

    Thanks for making a few vegan style!

  3. on 22 Aug 2009 at 1:02 pm kelly

    I don’t think the corn flour is the same, Prem. I saw it too, but all the reading I have done indicates it’s not the same.

    Luckily I brought back several pounds from Seattle. Yesssss.

  4. on 25 Aug 2009 at 12:57 pm 32-P

    Maybe it’s just the corn flour without the lime or something. I forgot to check last time because Superstore was full of crazy people and their crazy anklebiters and I had to get out as quick as I could. :-S

  5. on 04 Sep 2009 at 11:08 pm Roz

    wow kel! I’m so impressed!!!! they looked delicious!!! seriously, I want to be in your cooking class/experiences sometime!

  6. on 07 Oct 2009 at 1:03 pm Kelly

    Prem! I found masa harina in Edmonton. They sell it at Bosch. No sign of corn husks yet, but banana leaves are also used, and those are easy to find at any Asian supermarkets.

  7. on 15 May 2010 at 1:02 am Flossie Madlung

    I came to this site by searching Bing. I have to say that this looks delicious. Thank you for taking your time submitting this recipe!

  8. on 05 Nov 2010 at 5:54 pm SergDun

    this is an old post but I figured I should let you know that you are absolutely wrong on this:

    “A bit moist, still, but I think I had a good dough to filling ratio.”

    you don’t have nearly enough masa, you need to spread it more on the husk. Also your masa looks like it’s too dry, well from the photos. You want something almost like a peanut butter consistency. not creamy or soupy but it should spread without crumbling.