Meatless Monday – Bean and Cheese Tamales


When we lived in the Mission district of San Francisco, there were always ladies hawking tamales up and down Mission street. The sound of “Tamales, Tamales, Tamales” still rings in my ears.

Here in Colorado women come up to me in the parking lot of the grocery store with bags of tamales for sale. It feels so illicit to purchase large steaming bags of tamales this way. If you do not happen to live in a tamale-zone, they are not hard to make (there are just a lot of steps) and having leftover tamales in the refrigerator is a welcome snack.

Let me just state right up front that these tamales are nothing like traditional tamales. I consider them to be tamales for beginners. This recipe is not intended to replace or even fall into the category of authentic tamales. The absence of lard is noticeable to the tamale afficiado but it is that same absence of lard that makes these a perfect recipe for Meatless Monday.  This recipe could not be simpler (and fast).  These tamales won a kid’s thumbs up award chez Shafroth.

You could get fancy and throw all kinds of vegetables in vegetarian tamales.  In fact most of the store-bought ones try to over compensate for the lack of meat by stuffing them filled with corn, zucchini and other vegetables. We kept it simple and it paid off. To spice it up for the adults, I offered two salsas, green and red. One of my children loved mild enchilada sauce on his tamales.

I have to insist that you make a homemade vegetable stock. It only takes 30 minutes. Some celery stalks, 1 carrot, 1 large onion halved with thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. If you have mushroom stems, throw them in too.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes.  Drain stock, discard veggies.

Use the vegetarian bouillon over the carton vegetable stock if you really can’t fathom the idea of making your own.  Serve tamales with a salad dressed with  Sesame Cilantro Dressing and/or Spanish rice.

Tamales can assembled on Sunday so on Monday you just need to steam them.

A note on Mexican cheeses: I used a firm chesse called Queso Fresco. This cheese is firm and rather dry and as a result it has a wonderful firm texture when it is cooked in tamales. In some parts of Mexico my tamales would be considered breakfast tamales because of this type of cheese and the beans. You can use black beans or pintos.

Soaking Cornhusks

Filled and ready to roll.

Bean & Cheese Tamales

14 corn husks soaked in warm water to soften
3 cups Masa Harina (available in most grocery stores with the Latin/Hispanic foods)
3 cups homemade vegetable stock
1/2 cup corn or other vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 can pinto beans or black beans, drained
1 block Queso Fresco, cut into thick strips
1 can diced mild green chilies (optional)
1/2 cup shredded Monterery Jack cheese (for garmish)
Green & Red Salsa
Place the masa in harina in the bowl of a mixer.  With your mixer running, add the warm vegetable stock, oil or butter, salt and baking powder and mix until the dough forms into a solid mass.

Place a softened corn husk down on the counter or in the palm of your hand. Take about 1/4 cup of the prepared masa and spread it to cover the corn husk leaving about 12 inches all around the border.

Place some beans on top and place the slice of cheese on top of the beans. If using, add a few green chilies at this point.  Fold up the narrowest part of the corn husk then fold in the sides, rolling to close the package.

You can be fancy and pull small strips of corn husks into ribbons and tie the parcels up. Otherwise, place them seam side down into your steamer. If you are cooking them the next day then place them on a cookie sheet and refrigerate them.

To cook, place them into a steamer basket over a pan of fully boiling water. Cover and allow them to steam for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully take them out of the steamer and place closed side up on to your plate. Ladle some salsa on top and enjoy!

FMI on Meatless Monday, click here.

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