These poblano, corn, and cheese tamales are just as delicious as the traditional chicken or pork tamales I grew up eating. Tamales don’t always have to be filled with meat! Even the masa can be vegetarian-friendly by using a plant-based oil or vegetable shortening and vegetable stock or water. These tamales are full of sweetness from the corn, spice from the peppers, and oozing with gooey cheese.
Ingredient Swaps I Recommend
- Canned or frozen yellow corn can be used for this recipe. I find the hint of sweetness from the yellow corn really compliments the spice and smokiness of the peppers. If you prefer a less sweet tamale, use white corn.
- Serrano and jalapeño peppers are spicy. If you prefer milder tamales, replace a few of each with more poblano peppers or only use poblano peppers.
- If Monterey cheese is not available, any melting cheese will work. Mozzarella, cheddar, asadero, or Oaxaca cheeses are all great options.
Make It Vegan
Make these tamales vegan, by replacing the cheese with a strip of peeled, raw gold or russet potato. The potato will soften and absorb the flavors of the filling as the tamale steams. Also, omit the sour cream or replace with a vegan sour cream for serving.
How to Plan Ahead
The filling can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 4 weeks. In fact, I recommend making the filling 1 day ahead and keeping it refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the tamales. Although not required, a cold filling is easier to work with and sticks firmly to the masa.
Need more advanced planning or making a large amount of tamales for a gathering? Assemble the tamales up to 3 months ahead, wrap them individually with parchment paper, and freeze them in zip top freezer bags, uncooked. Steam the tamales the day before you plan to serve them, cooked directly from the freezer with the parchment paper wrap still on. Simply add an extra hour of cooking time.
The Best Way to Reheat Tamales
Leftover tamales can be reheated in the microwave with or without the husk. My favorite way to reheat tamales is on the comal, a metal griddle, until the husk develops charred spots. The tamale gets crispy almost burned edges—the best, especially with a fried egg on top.
Poblano, Corn, and Cheese Tamales
Look for corn husks that appear clean and free of debris. You also want to make sure they aren’t torn or are full of holes.
For vegetarian tamales, use vegetable shortening or oil instead of lard in the masa.
1 (8-ounce) package corn husks (see Recipe Note)
9 poblano peppers
6 serrano peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 medium white onion, sliced (about 1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained, or 10 ounces frozen corn
6 cups masa for tamales (Recipe Note)
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, sliced in 24 (2-inch long) strips
Homemade or store-bought salsa verde
Soak the corn husks:
Rinse the corn husks thoroughly under warm running water to clean off any debris, being careful not to tear them. Place the rinsed husks in a large bowl with enough warm water to cover them. Use a heavy bowl or plate to weigh the husks down so that they stay submerged. I use the tejolote from my molcajete. Soak the husks for at least 2 hours so that they soften and become pliable.
You will need the entire package of corn husks. It will feel like there are too many! You’ll need some to assemble the tamales, to make strips to tie the tamales, and to line the steamer for cooking the tamales.
Char the peppers:
Preheat the broiler to high or 500°F. Rinse and pat the poblano, serrano, and jalapeño peppers dry with a kitchen towel. Lightly saturate a paper towel with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and rub the peppers with it. Place them on a large baking sheet. The serranos and jalapeños will give the tamales a spicy kick. If you prefer them to be milder, replace a few with another poblano pepper.
Place the peppers under the broiler for 20 minutes, turning them every 5 minutes with tongs. Char them evenly all around.
You can also roast the peppers directly on a gas stove burner. It’ll take more time and attention because the peppers will need to be constantly turned as direct contact with the flame roasts them unevenly and may cause the skins to turn to ash if not watched carefully. Plus, there will likely be a lot of smoke so open the windows!
Transfer the charred peppers into a clean plastic bag or glass container with a lid. Seal tightly and let them steam for 10 minutes.
Clean the peppers:
When the peppers are cool enough to handle, use the dull side of a paring knife or the back of a spoon to scrape the stem, skin, veins, and seeds off.
Do not run them under running water to rinse. This will remove the delicious smoky flavor these tamales are known for. The spice from the peppers may burn your hands, I recommend handling them with kitchen prep gloves or tongs.
Chop the peppers into 1/2-inch pieces. Set it aside.
Cook the filling:
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in the corn and chopped peppers, and cook for about 8 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
This is when I would make the masa.
Assemble the tamales:
Set up for assembling the tamales: You’ll need the soaked husks (keep them in the water), the masa, the poblano and corn filling, and the cheese.
Lay a husk on a flat surface, smooth-side up and the pointy side away from you. Scoop about 1/3 cup masa and use a spoon to spread it onto the wider bottom half of the husk, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the bottom and side edges. Place about 3 tablespoons of the vegetable filling and a strip of cheese on the center of the masa. If you have a small husk, you may need to use less filling.
There are two options for folding the tamale:
The first option is to fold the husk in half lengthwise. Then, fold it half again lengthwise. Fold the pointy end up towards the wider end, and fasten with a strip of corn husk by tying it around the tamale so that it stays folded.
The second option is to fold one of the long sides over the filling, but not all the way to the other side. Then fold the other long side over it and fold the pointy end up towards the wider end. Fasten with a strip of corn husk tied around the tamale.
I use torn or ugly-looking husks to make the strips that will be used to tie the tamales. Use your fingers to tear them along the fibers. If they are too short to wrap around the tamales, you can tie 2 strips together to create a longer one.
I prefer the first option because I find it easier. Plus, the cooked tamale unwraps with more ease. Both methods are acceptable—it’s a matter of preference.
Repeat until all the masa and filling are used. You will get about 24 tamales.
Prepare the steamer:
Add water to a large steamer pot to the fill line, or until it comes up about 3 inches up the sides. Place the steamer basket on top. This is the steamer I own, but you can use any large steamer pot you own.
Add two pennies to the water. They will notify you when the water begins to boil and when it has fully evaporated. When the pennies begin to lightly rattle, it means the water is boiling and you can set the timer. When the rattling becomes very loud, the water has fully evaporated, and you will need to add more. Keep a kettle of hot water next to the steamer. When adding water to the pot, make sure not to spill it on the tamales.
Line the steamer basket with a layer of husks. If your steamer is large like mine, place a heat-proof bowl upside down in the center. This will help keep tamales from tipping over. Place the tamales in the steamer basket upright, leaning against each other, the bowl (if using), and the pot. Cover the tamales with any remaining corn husks and then a clean kitchen towel. Cover the pot tightly with the lid.
Cook the tamales:
Cook the tamales over medium-high heat. When the water comes to a boil, set the timer for 90 minutes. Check the water periodically to make sure it hasn’t fully evaporated, every 15 minutes—you may need to add more hot water.
After 90 minutes, turn off the heat and let the tamales rest for 20 minutes in the steamer.
To check for doneness, carefully remove a tamale from the pot with tongs and unwrap it. Please be very careful! The pot will be filled with steam and the kitchen towel covering the tamales will be very hot. The husk should easily detach from masa. Right out of the steamer, the tamale will be soft and wet. It will firm up and dry out after it rests a bit.
Serve the tamales with a dollop of sour cream, salsa verde, and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.
Cooked tamales can last 3 to 4 days in the fridge and up to 6 months in the freezer. After cooking the tamales, let them cool completely. Then, pack them in zip top freezer bags for storing.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 18g||23%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||41%|
|Total Carbohydrate 57g||21%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||22%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 9mg||44%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|