Tamales from Masa Harina (2024)

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Tips & Tricks FAQs About Tamales

During the holiday season, one of the most frequently asked questions we hear at Masienda is, "can I make tamales with masa harina?"

The answer is yes, absolutely. And they're delicious. Making tamales using masa harina is a good way to make your tamalada (tamal-making party) just a bit easier. Our masa harina is a fine grind, so the texture of your finished tamales will be especially delicate and lovely. And good news: You can now score it at Whole Foods Market locations nationwide.

Check out our video tutorial, the recipe at the bottom of the post,and read on for more helpful tips.


Tips & Tricks

Plan Ahead

Divide the project into two days. On day one, make a filling (or two). On day two, make your masa, then assemble and cook your tamales.

Whip It Good

Be sure to whip your fat (traditionally lard) until it's light and airy, almost like cake frosting, before sprinkling on the baking powder and adding your masa.


Make a Vegan Option

For plant-based tamales, swap the lard for vegan butter or coconut oil (refined if you prefer no coconut flavor), and use vegetable broth as your liquid.


Smooth Like Hummus

The texture of your masa for tamales is a personal preference, but we like it super smooth and spreadable — think hummus or cake batter.


The Penny Trick

To check your water level and avoid a scorched pot, place a penny below the steamer basket and fill with water. It should rattle while the tamales are cooking. If the sound stops, add more water.


FAQs About Tamales

How Will I Know My Tamales Are Done?

After steaming your tamales for about an hour, take one out of the steamer basket and let it cool for a minute or two. Unwrap it carefully. Does the masa separate from the husk? That's a good sign! The masa should also be slightly firm to the touch and not mushy. If the masa is still soft, you may want to cook them longer. Also, remember: the tamales will firm up once they cool down, especially after a day in the refrigerator.

What Color Masa Should I Use For Tamales?

At Masienda, we offer four colors of Heirloom Corn Masa Harina (white, yellow, blue and red), all of which are suitable for making tamales. White is the most traditional choice, because it is a nice blank canvas for really getting to see the colors of the fillings inside, but there are really no rules here. We like to select a masa color that will make the choice of filling pop (red chile chicken against yellow masa, or green poblano peppers and white cheese against red masa), or flavors that pair nicely (the earthiness of blue masa with sauteed mushrooms, drizzled with some crema for contrast).

Change the Texture of Your Masa for Tamales

To mimic the coarser textured masa typically used in fresh-ground tamal masa, our Hospitality Manager Rachel has tested a home-cook DIY hack. Her method uses mostly masa harina with a bit of nixtamalized corn ground in a food processor for some added texture (about 10 parts masa harina to 2 parts nixtamalized corn). For the recipe below, she suggests lowering the quantity of masa harina from 9 cups to 7.5, and then cooking 1 cup of whole kernel corn with a pinch of cal. After nixtamalizing the corn, grind it in your food processor and blend that coarse masa with the masa harina to incorporate before adding the masa mixture to your whipped lard. Follow the rest of the instructions as written.

How to Make Sweet Tamales

Want to make tamales for dessert? Feel free to sub the lard for coconut oil, butter, or your favorite fat, and fill them with fruit, nuts or chocolate (or mix any fruit or flavoring directly into the dough!). We especially love thisBlackberry Cheesecake Tamal recipe.

Tamales from Masa Harina (2024)
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