How to Make Tamales Like An Abuela

Have you noticed that there are certain foods that we associate with different holidays? For example, maybe we have brisket at Passover or Hanukkah, or we might have ham at Easter. Maybe we have pasta at Christmas or lamb for Eid.


When it’s the season of navidad, we have tamales!!


It was about this time last year when I decided to bring tamales into my recipe repertoire. I read countless blogs about the huge undertaking it is to make tamales, and that it usually involves an assembly line party put together by many family members, mostly abuelas and kids!

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I ran 2 holiday cooking camps last Christmas break and I featured holiday culinary traditions from different countries. One of them was Mexico and we made tamales, courtesy of my instant pot!


Now that I think of it, I ought to celebrate my 1-year anniversary with my instant pot; a year of convenient bean cooking (from dry beans) in 35 minutes, a year of cooking tamales in 25 minutes rather than the 1 ½ hours it would take to steam them, and a year of quick soup making and even quicker applesauce making! But, I digress…

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Tamales. The traditional filling for tamales during Christmas season (or tamale season) is pulled pork, which simmers for long hours, and adds to the necessity of having mucha gente help make them!


In our kids’ multicultural cooking classes, we don’t use meat and only occasionally use chicken broth. So most of our recipes are vegetarian, and our tamales were no exception.


Tamales are made up of a few different parts:


  1. The dried corn husk used to hold everything together while they steam

  2. The masa, or dough, which is made of corn flour and oil and spices

  3. The filling, which is traditionally savory, but can be made sweet, too

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What I liked about making tamales with the kids is that it’s very hands-on. Our filling was kale, black bean and Monterrey jack cheese. There was chopping and draining and cutting.


For the masa, there was measuring and mixing. The dried corn husks (you can find these at your local Central American grocery or here at Amazon where I get a small commission at no cost to you) have to be soaked in hot water for about 1 ½ hours, and then have to be dried off.

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The kids really enjoyed all the hands-on work and especially laying out the dried corn husk, placing the masa dough on the husk first and then putting the filling in the middle. Then they wrap up the tamale by folding the sides over first and then pulling the long narrow part of the husk down. Then we wrap it up with a narrow piece of corn husk just like the little tasty gift it is!

Then you place the tamales vertically in the instant pot with the trivet and add 1 1/2 cups of water and then steam those babies!

If you have some time on your hands during the December break and you’d like to celebrate tamale season like they do in Mexico, you’ll love this recipe!



central america




cooking with kids

holiday cooking