Black Bean Tamales

I kind of group tamales with cupcakes in my own personal Food Taxonomy. They’re both a little time consuming because each one needs individual attention, but when you’ve turned out a batch or two, your mind fills with possibilities and you know you’ll be making dozens more.

The first time I made tamales was for a project for my high school Spanish class. I had to cook a Mexican recipe on video, narrating the whole process in Spanish. I’m not sure why I chose to make tamales, because they are pretty labor intensive and require all kinds of verbs you don’t use in every day conversation, but it all worked out, I got an A, and my Spanish teacher said they were as good as her grandmother’s. That definitely boosted my confidence in both my culinary and Spanish-speaking abilities!

Although they do take some time, these are actually fairly simple; you just have to plan ahead. I cook the beans and put the corn husks in a bowl of water to soak the night before, then set aside a few hours during the day for preparing the masa (I just use masa harina because it’s easy), making the tomatillo sauce, and assembling the tamales. They only steam for about 15 minutes, so once they’re all prepared, you don’t have to wait long to eat. They freeze beautifully, too.

This batch happens to be made with black beans and jack cheese. Perfect for vegetarians, but hearty enough for meat-eaters too. Mike made some awesome-looking chicken tamales, so I’ll try and get him to post his recipe sometime soon!


1 8 ounce package of corn husks

1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chile powder
1 cup dried black beans
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups water
1/2 cup diced or shredded jack cheese (cut into 1/4″ cubes)

Tomatillo Sauce:
4 large tomatillos
2 cloves garlic
1 poblano pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt

3 1/2 cups masa harina
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup shortening
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chile powder

Completely submerge the corn husks in water and soak for 12 hours (you can reduce the soaking time to 3-4 hours by starting with boiling water).

Combine the garlic, onion, oregano, chile powder, black beans, salt, and water in a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours, or until the beans are tender (you may need to add a little extra water if they begin to look too dry). Alternatively, drain a can of black beans and saute it with the onion, garlic, chile powder, black beans, and salt. When the beans are cooked, transfer them to a bowl to cool, then stir in the cheese.

To make the tomatillo sauce, spray a shallow broiler-safe pan with nonstick spray. Remove the husks from the tomatillos, and place them in the pan with the peeled garlic and poblano. Cook under the broiler, turning occasionally, until the poblano is blackened and blistered and the tomatillos are soft. Set the pan aside with a clean kitchen towel over it for about 10 minutes, then scrape the skin off the poblano, remove the seeds, and transfer everything to the food processor, along with cilantro and some salt. Puree, taste and add more salt if needed, then stir 1 cup of tomatillo sauce into the beans. Keep the remaining sauce for spooning over the finished tamales.

To make the masa: Combine the masa harina, shortening, 2 cups of broth, chile powder and salt and mix well. Add more broth a few tablespoons at a time as needed. You want the masa to have the consistency of soft play-dough, so if it’s too crumbly, add warm water a few tablespoons at a time until you have a soft, but not overly sticky dough.

To prepare the tamales: Tear a few corn husks into thin strips. Remove one of the large, intact corn husks from the soaking bowl, rinse it under the tap, and pat dry. Put it on your work surface with the narrow end towards you. Pat 1/4 cup tablespoons of masa into a 3-4″ square in the center of the corn husk. Spoon 1-2 tbsp of bean mixture in a line down the middle of the square. Fold the sides of the husk in, then fold the bottom up and secure with one of the thin strips.

When you’re ready to steam the tamales, open a steamer basket and place it in a large pot over an inch or so of water. Bring the water to a boil, then stand the tamales up vertically on the steamer basket. Cover the pan with a lid and steam for 15-20 minutes, or until the masa no longer feels sticky. Make sure you have extra simmering water handy to add to the pot if it gets dry before the tamales are done. Serve with sour cream and the remaining tomatillo sauce.


12 Responses to “Black Bean Tamales”

  1. 1 arugulove February 1, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Oh wow. Tamales are my favorite kind of Mexican food. I looooove them. I get pumpkin and white cheddar tamales at my farmers market and have been wanting to make them. This has totally inspired me to give them a try!

  2. 2 Wizzy February 1, 2010 at 8:50 am

    These remind me of pastelles. A local variation of this which we wrap in banana leaves. Also very labour intensive , hence the reason I haven’t yet blogged about it. The flavour of this must be out of this world.

  3. 3 Nicole, RD February 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I love tamales, I need to brave up and attempt them! The whole process is so intimidating, but I know the juice would be worth the squeeze, so to speak! Thanks for the recipe, they look WONDERFUL!!!!!

  4. 4 Kate at Serendipity February 2, 2010 at 1:36 am

    I’m laughing at your Spanish video! Those verbs are different–I did something similar in Italian.

    These look very good. I’ve never made Tamales, but I really like them. I think that if I want to eat tamales here in Belgium, I’m going to have to MAKE them! Now I have the recipe. THANKS.

  5. 5 Kristen at Le Petit Pierogi February 2, 2010 at 7:00 am

    Tamales are by far my favorite Mexican food but I’ve never made them myself! Now I totally think that I have to…these look great!

  6. 6 ashley February 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

    yum!! i haven’t tried making tamales yet, but its on my to do list! i should have made them over christmas! looks good!

  7. 7 ErinsFoodFiles February 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Wow! I love tamales, especiallly black bean ones!

  8. 8 Cara February 3, 2010 at 5:22 am

    Cate, I am really tempted to give these a shot as I just recently noticed corn husks in one of my nearby grocery stores. A few questions though – how many does this make? (I am trying to get an idea of how many times that 1/2 cup shortening gets divided up!) And if you are going to freeze tamales, do you steam them and then freeze, or freeze after assembling and then steam straight from the freezer? Thanks!

  9. 9 Cate February 3, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Cara – It depends how much filling you put in. The first time I made them, I didn’t put very much masa or beans and got close to 40. This time I filled them a little more and I think I got around 25. I freeze them after I steam them. I just steam, let cool, wrap in foil, then put in a freezer bag. Then when you’re ready to eat them, you steam them (again) straight from the freezer to warm them up.

  10. 10 elly February 3, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    These look so delicious! I’m always so impressed when people make their own tamales. I really should put them on my “to do” list because I love them so much and imagine they are delicious homemade!

  11. 11 tammy March 24, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    hi Cate,
    do you think these can be made without shortening? Can you recommend some sort of substitute so they are vegan?

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