5 Tips for Making Amazing Vegan Tamales with Recipes!

Some of the best memories of my  childhood come from being at my grandmother’s house, playing with my cousins and smelling delicious food aromas wafting through the cool fall air. One of my grandmother’s favorite foods to make around the holidays (and one of my favorites to eat) was tamales. 

When I became plant-based, there were several foods I thought I would have to give up. Tamales was one of them. Until, that is, I discovered the awesomeness of vegan tamales! 

While our tips will focus on vegan tamales, if you’re a vegetarian who consumes cheese, feel free to include it in the fillings for your vegetarian tamales. 

You can listen to our podcast where we discuss some tips for making amazing vegan tamales or read on for a summary of everything we discuss. 

Affiliate Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links on this page may be affiliate links.  That means at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase through one of our links. 

Table of Contents

What is a Tamale?

A tamale (or “tamal”) is a Mesoamerican food that consists of a variety of different sweet or savory fillings inside of masa dough and wrapped in a corn husk.

Tamales have been around for a long time! They can be dated back to as early as 8000 – 5000 BC.

vegan tamales

Is Making Tamales Hard?

A few years ago, we took a tamale class at one of our favorite local vegan restaurants, Viva Vegeria (Side Note: They also catered our wedding!). 

Much to my surprise, making tamales isn’t that difficult! There are tips, however, that can help ensure that your venture into tamale-making is a successful one.

What to Use Instead of Lard in Vegan Tamales

Tamales recipes typically call for lard, which is obviously not to be used for vegan or vegetarian tamales.

The good news is, you don’t need lard to make a fabulous tamale! If you’re a vegetarian, unsalted butter can be used in place of lard.

If you’re a vegan, you can use:

  • olive oil
  • avocado oil
  • vegetable oil
  • coconut oil (this wouldn’t be my first choice)

5 Tips for Making Awesome Vegan Tamales

1. Using Masa Harina is key!

Masa harina (or dough flour) is flour that is made from corn. It’s dried, cooked in lime water, ground up, and dried again. 

Masa harina is not the same as cornmeal. The taste and consistency are different so it’s important to use masa harina for your tamales.

2. Mix the dough well and spread it correctly

So much of your tamale rides on the flavor and consistency of the dough so be sure to mix it well. Thorough mixing will help prevent the masa from crumbling and falling apart. 

In addition to making sure that your masa is mixed well, you also want to spread it on the husk correctly. Don’t spread the masa all the way to the end of the husk as it will hinder folding. Also, don’t spread too thick of a layer. Aim for an evenly spread layer as demonstrated here by The Minimalist Baker.

3. Hydrate those husks

Soaking the husks well is another important part of making the best vegan tamales. I would recommend soaking the corn husks in hot water as opposed to warm water. This will help kill any bacteria on the husks.

Additionally, the husks will need to soak for a few hours so be sure to factor this into your prep time. 

4. Make sure they are cooked well

My first attempt at cooking tamales wasn’t my best but that’s ok! We learn by doing. The lesson I learned is that you want to be sure that the tamales are cooked well. Mine were undercooked and raw masa doesn’t taste great, so be sure to be patient and let them cook the right amount of time as indicated by the recipe. 

5. experiment with flavorful fillings

Before I became a vegetarian, I wasn’t very creative in the kitchen. That all changed as I learned about cooking plant-based.

Traditional tamales are often filled with meat but the fillings are limited only by your own creativity! 

Do you enjoy sweet foods? Savory? A combination of both? You’re the chef…it’s up to you!  Let’s get into some recipes to give you some ideas.

5 Vegan Tamale Recipes

These 5 vegan tamale recipes were chosen to give you some ideas for fillings and also to provide you with some prepping and cooking guidance. 

1. Vegan Tamales by The Gentle Chef

Back in episode 382 we interviewed Chef Skye Michael Conroy (aka The Gentle Chef) about his book, Crafting Seitan. 

I reached out to Chef Skye Michael about his recipe for vegan tamales and he shared this delicious recipe. He uses shredded “beaf” brisket from his Crafting Seitan book, but you can also use refried beans and/or mixed veggies. 

vegan tamales by the gentle chef
Used with Permission of Chef Skye Michael Conroy

2. Grandma's Traditional Vegan Tamales by Nate Craves

I recently found Nate Craves and LOVE his videos! He takes a lot of the Mexican recipes I grew up with and makes them vegan. In his video below, you’ll find the recipe along with a bonus recipe for simple homemade salsa (although he loses nearly half of it when he turns his blender on too high!). 

If oil isn’t your thing, this recipe isn’t for you as he uses a generous amount (as encouraged by his mom and grandma) but that’s what gives them the traditional texture of tamales. If having that texture is your goal, this recipe is for you! 

3. Vegan Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales by Dora's Table

This vegan tamales recipe from Dora’s Table brings some heat! Spicy foods are my favorite…the hotter the better! You can control the heat with the amount of jalapenos you add. My default is “more please!” 

4. Sweet Potato Black Bean Tamales by Minimalist Baker

I’m more of a “savory and spicy tamale” person myself but there are plenty of sweet filling options too. This recipe from Minimalist Baker is both sweet and savory, with the savory black beans countering the sweet potato. 

5. Vegan Tamales by Broke Bank Vegan

Broke Bank Vegan is a great website for finding plant-based meals on a budget. They provide some great ideas for fillings for the spicy and the sweet tooth alike.

How to Eat Tamales

This may sound like a trick question but it’s not! Those of us who grew up eating tamales may not realize that not everyone knows how to eat tamales! 

The main point to remember is always remove the husk! After that, you’re free to eat your vegan tamale with your hand or a fork. 

Toppings can be essentially anything you like. I prefer green salsa, pico de gallo, or guacamole

Storing and Reheating Your Vegan Tamales

The awesome thing about tamales is that they can be frozen and stored to eat later. You can store them in a freezer-safe container such as our favorite and very often used Pyrex containers

 

To reheat, cover them in a dampened paper towel and microwave. This helps add moisture back to the tamale. You can also use a steamer to reheat them but for me, they tend to do better in the microwave. 

 

Pyrex Simply Store Meal Prep Glass Food Storage Containers (24-Piece Set, BPA Free Lids, Oven Safe)
  • Durable high-quality tempered glass is dishwasher, freezer, microwave and preheated oven safe
  • Nonporous glass won’t absorb food odors, flavors, or stains
  • BPA free secure-fit plastic lids are freezer, microwave, and top-rack dishwasher safe


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We hope we’ve given you some great tips and ideas for making the best vegan tamales for you and your family this year. Happy Holidays! 

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