Combining your favorite tamales ingredients and steaming them in a corn husk is the traditional way of cooking this dish. But you can also bake them. Whether you bake, microwave or steam tamales, the corn husk casing will ensure even cooking and prevent dryness.
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Traditional Tamale Cooking Method
Tamales are mostly made from corn, with some 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 contain cheese, meat and vegetables. Once it's ready, wrap it up in one or more corn husks before cooking.
This traditional Mexican food is typically served on the Day of the Dead, says the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Also known as Dia de Los Muertos, this two-day celebration honors the dead.
Traditionally, tamales are 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. There is more than one way to prepare this dish, and each recipe calls for different ingredients and cooking techniques.
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Tamale Nutrition Facts
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. However, its 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.
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Baked Tamale Masa Recipe
If you don't have a steamer, you can make homemade chicken tamales or another variation. However, they may not be as moist. To solve that problem, make a baked tamale casserole — like this one from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Start by combining cornmeal and chicken broth in a saucepan. Cook until the mixture thickens. Then, coat a casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread the cornmeal mixture on the bottom of the dish.
Tamale masa ingredients may vary, depending on the recipe. This is equivalent to the filling in a tamale, but in this recipe, you won't use a corn husk to cover it. Combining all your tamales ingredients in a casserole isn't a traditional cooking technique, but the flavor is amazing.
Next, add shredded chicken on top of the cornmeal mix. Combine tomato sauce with garlic powder, oregano and thyme. Spread the sauce over the chicken. Top that with grated cheese and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Read more: The Calories in Homemade Tamales
Vegan Baked Tamale Recipes
Some tamale recipes call for pork, beef or chicken. However, since the basic ingredients are derived from corn, you can easily turn them into a vegan dish. Don't be discouraged if you can't find vegan tamales at a restaurant — they're easy to make at home.
To make baked vegan tamales, start with a corn masa mixture. You may add onions and chili peppers for extra flavor. A recipe from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) suggests using Anaheim chilies in your vegan baked tamales recipe.
Once the corn masa filling is ready, form it into a ball and place it in a corn husk. Then, all you have to do is bake them in the oven. 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 to the mixture. The fat in olive oil has a similar effect as the animal fat in butter or lard. Cutting meat and animal fat out of your tamales will reduce your saturated fat intake. Eating less of this kind of fat may lower heart disease risk, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Read more: Vegan Mexican Personal Pizzas
- 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"