Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tamales with refried beans, mushrooms and corn

Last Saturday was perfect weather to stay indoors as it was an extremely rainy old day in Melbourne. This wasn't to be the case as the man and I had several errands to run which included a visit to USA Foods in Moorabbin. The main reason for our visit to USA Foods was to purchase some more liquid smoke but I was also delighted to find some Maseca flour for making tamales. As soon as I had this wonderful flour in my hands, I knew we would be having tamales for dinner that night.

Tamales have been intriguing me since I purchased Viva Vegan. They are parcels of masa dough filled with savoury or sweet items which are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. As I had no idea where to buy corn husks, I decided to forgo this part and wrap my tamales in foil instead. The man loves his refried beans so to please him I made up a refried bean filling and added some mushrooms and corn rather than following one of the tamale recipes from Viva Vegan.

When it was time to make the masa dough, I let out a big sigh. I didn't have any vegetable shortening! The rain was still bucketing down and I couldn't bear the thought of going out in the weather again. Instead I spent of bit of time reading about masa dough recipes for tamales and discovered that any type of fat can really be used so I settled upon using some olive oil in it's place.  

After the filling and masa dough were prepared, I set up an assembly line of sheets of aluminium foil. The dough was placed onto each sheet and shaped by hand, then spoonfuls of the filling were placed down the middle of the dough. The trickiest part was the rolling. There's a lot of great tamale making advice and tips in Viva Vegan but it is centred around using corn husks so I just did what felt right and hoped for the best. Next time I would use slightly smaller sheets of foil as they were a bit cumbersome to roll.

The refried bean filling on it's own was rather spicy although the heat level dropped considerably when it was combined with the masa dough. Never mind, a few splashes of hot sauce took the spiciness back up to how we like it. I really enjoyed the soft but hearty texture of the tamales and the flavour of the corn in the masa dough was delicious. The tamales were served with a simple side salad drizzled with Creamy Ancho Chile dressing which is also from Viva Vegan. I'm looking forward to trying out some other tamale recipes now that there is a big bag of Maseca flour in my pantry.

Tamales with refried beans, mushrooms and corn
Makes 10 tamales

Refried beans with mushrooms and corn

1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, finely diced
2 teaspoons finely chopped pickled jalapenos
100g mushrooms, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon ancho chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

Heat the peanut oil in a large saucepan over medium. Fry the garlic for about 10 seconds, then add the onion and jalapeno and cook for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the mushrooms and fry for another 5 minutes or until soft. Stir through the cumin, oregano, ancho chilli powder, salt and bay leaf. Place the kidney beans and water in the pot, bring to the boil then reduce the heat slightly.

Cook uncovered for 20 minutes, then remove the bay leaf. Break the beans up with a potato masher and then cook for another 5 minutes. Stir through the frozen corn kernels 2 or 3 minutes before the filling is ready. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before filling the tamales.

Masa Dough (Adapted from Viva Vegan)

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups Maseca flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm vegetable stock

Place the margarine and olive oil in a bowl and use a hand-held mixer to combine the ingredients together. Add the maseca flour, baking powder, garlic powder and salt and beat for a few minutes until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Pour in the vegetable stock and beat until the liquid has been absorbed.

The dough should have a consistency that is comparable to thick mashed potatoes. If it appears too wet, mix through a couple of tablespoons of extra flour. If it's too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water and stir thoroughly.

Tamale assembly

Tear off sheets of aluminium foil or baking paper and spray lightly with olive oil. Place about 1/4 cup of the masa dough on the centre of each sheet and use your hands or a spatula to mould the dough into a rectangular    shape of approximately 12 x 8 cm. Place a couple of spoonfuls of the filling down the centre of the masa dough leaving 1 cm at each end without any filling.

Prepare each tamale by pinching the sheets of foil/baking paper together along the outsides of the masa dough, then roll up the foil and secure the ends. The parcel should be fairly tight but needs to allow a bit of room for the masa dough to expand whilst steaming.

Place the tamale parcels into a steamer basket and allow to steam for 55 minutes. To check whether the tamales are ready, remove one from the steamer and carefully peel back the wrapper. If the dough appears to be sticky, continue steaming for another 10-15 minutes.


  1. These look great although a little daunting to make!

  2. not a dish I am familiar with but I like the sound of it - perfect project for a rainy day like saturday - i was out at the shops and it wasn't nice weather for it - but now you have inspired me to go to moorabin for some liquid smoke for more coconut bacon and I just know there will be fancy choc chips I can't resist!

  3. I love the look of these tamales - not something I am familiar with either, but I do enjoy similar fillings with the commercially available burritos / tortillas. This looks considerably more sophisticated!

  4. Awesome tamales! I had such a hard time making my own, but I should give it a try again soon. Your filling looks perfect for the rainy day blues!

  5. Wow, you did an incredible job! I love eating the savoury tamales at Trippy Taco but have not plucked up the courage to make them myself. The TT ones aren't even stuffed like yours!

  6. Thanks K, they were a bit time consuming to make but not as tricky as I thought they would be to hold together. I wouldn't recommend this for a weeknight meal though!

    Thanks Johanna, it was a great project for a rainy day! The amount of junk food at USA Foods is truly mind boggling, it probably makes up about 75% of the stock. I do love the variety of sauces, spices and chillies there though and it's actually not that far from my house.

    Thanks Kari, I hadn't heard of tamales either before purchasing Viva Vegan. The masa dough has a lot more flavour and is a lot more filling than a commercial tortilla.

    Thanks Jes, you should definitely give tamale making another try. Perhaps I got lucky with my first attempt and next time around it will be a struggle.

    Thanks Cindy, I didn't know that TT made tamales. It was such a long time ago when I went there and I can't remember the menu well at all. Must be time for a visit to their new location. I must admit to being a bit nervous when I first started rolling the tamales until I got the hang of it.

  7. These look amazing, and kudos to you for taking on such a daunting-seeming project.