Homemade Tamales: That aren’t Dry

Here’s how we spent our Friday, getting ready for holiday tamale season.

This tamale recipe was provided by a friend Sylvia.  She makes and sells dozens of this during Christmas.  They are the best tamales I have ever tasted.  They are really moist and not dry like all the other tamales out there.  Make the meat a day ahead so you are ready on assembly day.  If you plan on making these later be sure to freeze them before you steam them.  Since posting this recipe I have gotten I get a lot of questions about what makes tamales dry (stick with this recipe and they won’t be dry).  To answer this another tamale maker I know says that the using too much masa causes dry tamales.  This makes sense because they have to cook for longer.  So go easy when applying the masa to the ojas.

This was a really fun project for me and my mom.  It did take several hours but we had many interruptions, baby, dog, husband…  After we were finished and eating we agreed that it was well worth the effort.  We were also happy to know that our freezer is full of 4 dozen tamales that we can easily steam on Christmas Eve for a fast traditional meal.

Makes approximately 6 dozen. 

Beef Filling

1 3-3.5 lb roast (I used tri-tip because it was the cheapest)

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 Tbl dried minced onion (or onion powder)

1 tsp salt

Place roast in crock pot with enough water to cover.  Be generous with the water cause you will need a lot of the broth for making the masa.  Cook until tender, then shred really well using 2 forks.  I cut the meat after it was cooked so that the shreds wouldn’t be really long.  (Make sure to plug in the crock pot.  I forgot and had to toss my first batch of meat).

Chili Seasoning Paste

1 bag dried New Mexico Chilis (about 10-12 pods per bag)

1 handful dried Puya chilis

1 1/2 tsp salt

13 average sized garlic cloves (we wanted a good garlic punch so use less if you want less flavor)

1 cup of broth (maybe more)

Rinse the chilis, cut off the top and deseed and devein.  They will get pliable when wet and easier to work with.

Don’t be tempted to soak them though, this dilutes their flavor.  Add all ingredients to blender or food processor, then add broth to get a saucy, pastelike consistency.  Make sure all large chucks are gone.

Taste and adjust the amount of salt if needed.  it will be spicy but it is seasoning a lot of meat so don’t worry.  If you don’t like any heat at all then replace the puyas with more New Mexico chilis.  Add all to cooked shredded beef and mix well.


1/2 bag tamale flour (the one specifically made for tamales only) Our bag was 2 kg. or 4.4 lbs.

2 cups lard (warmed for about 15 seconds in the microwave)

Homemade beef broth (see recipe below)

Chicken broth (as needed to get the correct consistency)

Add half a bag of masa flour don’t worry about being specific.  Mix in the lard, and broth to the desired consistency.  If you don’t have enough broth or your broth needs more seasoning, add chicken bouillon.  Use a large spoon or the cool dough whisk shown below from King Arthur Flour.  Add enough broth to get a thick batter like consistency (kinda like muffin mix or thick brownies).  Remember it needs to be spreadable.  

Chili and Cheese

1 lb jalapenos, seeded, deveined

2 – 1 lb packages mozzarella

Wear disposable rubber gloves or you will regret it.  Cut jalapenos into 4 pieces lengthwise and then cut each segment into 2 or 3 pieces.  Cut mozzarella into pieces the size of your pinky finger. 

If jalapenos are too hot for you, although in the winter the jalapenos are really mild, these had no heat at all, you can use Anaheim (Poblano) chilies.  Roast them first in the broiler for about 10 minutes so that they are a little blackened and bubbly.  Let the cool and peel off the skin.  Then cut up like the jalapenos.  Remember though that even Anaheims can be hot.  I burned my eyes and lips really bad one time on some Anaheim chilies that weren’t supposed to be hot at all.

Ojas (dried corn husks)

1 package Ojas, soaked and cleaned of all silk threads.  There will be lots of different sizes and thus your tamales will be different sizes too.


Open corn husk and apply masa on the smooth side of the husk. 

Place the corn husk so that the tapered end is away from you, add the masa to the non-tapered side.  Apply it in a large square or rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.

I found that if you spread more on the left hand side of the masa (this is the side that will wrap around and cover the top of the tamale when it’s folded) then it covers the filling better.

Add about a heaping tablespoon of meat or 2 pieces of cheese and 2-3 pieces of jalapenos in the middle.











Now wrap the left side to the center and then the right side to the center.


Fold the entire side in half and place the tapered side down so it makes a package.

This was tricky but hopefully the pictures will help.

Steam tamales in a large pot fitted with a rack with holes on the bottom.  I used my canning pot and I put the rack in the bottom and then used the flat rack from my pressure can to set the tamales on.  This made a nice flat surface to place the tamales.  If you don’t have any of these things try using a pie tin with holes cut into it, place it upside down to keep the tamales out of the water.  Or just be creative.  Add water to the pot, remember you will need enough so that it can steam for 2 hours.  I didn’t steam all the ones I made so I used some jars to fill in the gaps.  Steam for about an hour, then check them. 

Set one on a plate and let it cool slightly, then check to see if the masa pulls away from the edges, if so it’s done.  We also made sure it wasn’t mushy still in the thickest part.  Ours took about 1 1/2 hours.  Don’t overcook or they will get dried out, especially those small ones.

Enjoy plain or with green or red salsa on top.  They are amazing.  Let me know how yours turned out.  I can’t wait to try more flavors.

A beautiful bouquet of beef tamales


11 responses to “Homemade Tamales: That aren’t Dry

  1. Thank you for posting this recipe. I can’t wait to try it! A few days ago I was feeling envious of a friend who was attending her annual family tamale making party. I decided to search for a great beginners recipe and your blog popped up! What a blessing, thank you for posting!

  2. These look delicious!!!! Yummmm. I noticed you were wearing gloves when chopping your chilies. I had a BAD experience not too long ago when I didn’t wear gloves while chopping jalapenos and boy did I suffer. I tried every home remedy I could find to relieve the pain. Finally figured out that mustard would do the trick. Gotta love learning the hard way! Thanks for sharing the recipe 🙂

  3. Oh I can relate. I had the same thing happen. It’s awful. I will try mustard in the future. I found a napkin soaked in milk worked pretty well too. Thanks for checking out my recipe.

  4. Thanks Sylvia @ PrincessTamales for this great recipe from your mom….we all loved these tamales and Courtney’s green sauce on top made them extra good.

  5. Dont the chiles have to be toasted first?

  6. My tamales came out “grainy” not smooth. I don’t know if the masa did not have enough liquid or not enough lard. They slid off the ojas, but they were gummy and grainy. What do I do with the rest of the masa? Add more liquid or more lard?

  7. Yes I would like an answer too to Dolores Fabian’s question. I’ve been searching for YEARS to find tamales that are not dry and GRAINY, I hate grainy. Could you please let us know what you would do in her case? And by lard, (don’t use it hardly ever) do you mean something like Crisco? I live in Georgia and a long time ago (20 years or so) I was living in Tucker, Georgia with a boyfriend from Honduras and in that apartment building some ladies made tamales all the time and sold them for $1 each. I could never get enough and haven’t stopped thinking about them even to this day, they were that good; very moist, great meat and thin slices of potato in them. Just heavenly. Tried and tried to replicate throughout the years and never came close. I’m hoping this recipe is the one. Hate to waste all that time, ingredients and $ and not get a good tamale, it’s such a bummer! Thanks so much!

  8. P.S.! I have a lot of banana trees with HUGE leaves that are also used in making tamales. Does it take longer to steam the tamales in banana leaves because they are so much more dense than the ojas?

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