Steaming them in a corn husk is the traditional way of cooking this dish, but you can also bake tamales in the oven. Whether you bake, microwave or steam tamales, there are so many things to enjoy about the traditional Mexican dish.
Wrap tamales in foil and bake them for 20 to 30 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Are Tamales?
Tamales can be a healthy addition to your diet when enjoyed in moderation. They are mostly made from corn with some other added ingredients. Corn flour, also known as masa, makes up the bulk of the filling and consists of ground and dehydrated corn. The filling may also have cheese, meat and/or vegetables.
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This traditional Mexican food is typically served on Dia De Los Muertos, a two-day celebration that honors the dead and the spirit world, per the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Tamales are also traditionally served at Christmas and on other holidays and special occasions.
Tamales are usually cooked in a steamer. The ingredients are assembled inside the corn husk, then placed in a steamer to cook.
If you don't have a steamer, you can put your tamales on top of a saucepan filled with simmering water and place a steamer basket on top. But there's more than one way to prepare this dish.
Baked Tamales Recipe
Things You'll Need
Dried corn husks
Instant masa dough ($23, Amazon), mixed
2–3 cups meat and/or veggie filling of your choice
1 cup sauce, such as salsa
You can fill your tamales with meats like chicken, beef or pork. Slow cooker recipes work well for filling tamales. You also have the option to use cheese and beans. Salsa verde (green salsa) and salsa Roja (red salsa) make great sauces for tamales.
- Soak the cornhusks with warm water until soft, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Combine your tamale filling and sauce of choice in a large bowl.
- Assemble the tamales by laying down each corn husk on a flat surface and spreading a layer of your masa dough onto it. Then, spoon a heaping scoop of your tamale filling onto the center of the dough.
- Fold the cornhusk in half lengthwise so that the dough encloses the filling.
- Wrap the cornhusk into a burrito shape.
- Use cooking string or a skinny piece of cornhusk to tie a knot around the tamales. Wrap them individually in foil.
- Place your tamales on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the tamales are cooked through.
- Remove the tamales from the foil and allow them to cool for 10 minutes before serving them with salsa, if desired.
Wrapping them in foil helps prevent them from drying out, but baked tamales made in the oven may not be as moist as steamed tamales.
Nutrition in Tamales
A medium-sized tamale with no meat or sauce has 238 calories, according to the USDA. It provides about 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fats and 34 grams of carbs, including 4 grams of fiber. Its overall nutritional value depends largely on the ingredients of the filling.
One medium-sized tamale made with meat has 223 calories. But, the nutritional value is noticeably different from that of vegetarian tamales. You'll get 9 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat and 20 grams of carbohydrates. If you're looking for something with fewer carbs and more protein or fat, add plenty of meat to the filling.
Corn masa, which makes up the bulk of the filling in tamales, is rich in carbohydrates. It's a starchy food, low in protein and fat. One cup has 414 calories, as reported by the USDA. It also supplies 10 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, 87 grams of carbs and over 7 grams of fiber.
How to Make Vegan Baked Tamales
Some tamale recipes call for pork, beef or chicken. But because the basic ingredients are derived from corn, you can easily turn tamales into a vegan dish.
Don't be discouraged if you can't find vegan tamales at a restaurant — you can make homemade tamales with veggie-friendly ingredients.
To make baked vegan tamales, you may add onions and chili peppers for extra flavor to the corn masa filling. A recipe from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) suggests using Anaheim chilies and corn in your vegan baked tamales recipe.
Tamales made with animal products sometimes contain lard or butter in the corn masa mixture. This extra fat can add moisture and flavor to your filling. If you find that your vegan tamales are dry, add olive oil. The fat in olive oil has a similar effect as the animal fat in butter or lard.
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Chicken Tamale Pie"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Corn Flour, Masa, Enriched, White"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Tamale With Meat"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Tamale, Plain, Meatless, No Sauce, Mexican Style"
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: "Traditional Mexican Cuisine - Ancestral, Ongoing Community Culture, the Michoacán Paradigm"
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: "Roasted Chili and Corn Tamales"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Facts About Saturated Fats"