Traditional Tamales from Scratch

If you've never made your own delicious tamales, now's as good a time as any to start! These delicious, individually packaged delights are an essential part of the holiday season in many kitchens across the world, and they are certainly one of the best things to unwrap as the year comes to a close. Feel free to double or triple this recipe so that you can share it with friends and family or freeze it for a fast future lunch or dinner! It takes a bit of effort to do, but once you've got 'em in your hands, it'll all be worth it.

"Photo by Stephen Rushmore"

Homemade Tamales

Makes about 16 tamales. (Feel free to double the recipe! Tamales freeze excellently).

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 lbs pork loin
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 dried California chile pods
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

Tamale Dough Ingredients

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 10.5 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) of reserved beef broth
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup lard
  • 1 (8 ounce) package dried corn husks


  1. FOR THE FILLING: Remove stems and seeds from the chiles. Place chiles in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, then remove from heat to cool. Transfer the chiles and water to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture (reserving the juice), stir in salt, and set aside.
  2. Place pork into a Dutch oven with onion and garlic, and add the reserved chile juice and water. (The meat should be completely covered). Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer until the meat is cooked through and crumbles at the touch, about 2 - 3 hours. Once it's done cooking, reserve the meat broth for the tamale dough, then shred the cooked meat, and mix it with one cup of the chile sauce!
  3. FOR THE DOUGH: Meanwhile, cut your husks to size (they should be about 4-5 inches across), and them in hot water for at least an hour.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the lard with a tablespoon of the reserved broth until fluffy. Stir in the masa harina, baking powder, and salt, adding more broth as necessary to form a spongy dough. (If the dough dries while working with it, just keep adding broth a teaspoon at a time and rework it).
  5. ASSEMBLY: Spread the dough out over the corn husks to 1/4 thickness. Place the meat filling along one of the edges of the dough and roll toward the other side, like a cigar. Fold the sides of the husks in and place your tamales upright in a steamer. Steam for 1 hour.
  6. To serve, remove tamales from husks and drizzle remaining chile sauce over! Accompany it with sour cream, guacamole, salsa, or cheese, if you like.

For more Yummly Tamale goodness, check out, "Wrap up 2011 with Tasty Homemade Tamales."

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