Breakfast / Brunch / Side Dish / Uncategorized

Black Bean and Cheese Tamales


This is going to sound crazy coming from a native Californian, but the first time I had a tamale was at a family Thanksgiving celebration in Falfurias, Texas in the mid 1980’s. I appreciated every aspect of this traditional dish: the organic corn husk “package”: its portability, the act of unwrapping it, the slightly sweet cornmeal shell, the variety of savory, spicy, sweet fillings, and the sides: guacamole, sour cream, salsas, cheese….  Happily we were permitted to return home with a box of Mrs. Santos’ tamales – frozen for the trip back to Maine.

I’ve experimented with a lot of tamale recipes;  the one below is a current favorite.  The process may appear difficult and time consuming, but I encourage you to be bold – have fun. You can get good at this and the results will be delicious!   Dried corn husks are available at Whole Foods and most well stocked grocery stores (although Hannafords in Maine stopped stocking them for little while, hmmm.)  My sister once substituted fresh corn husks when she either couldn’t find dried, or face going to the market for one more thing: brilliant!

Experiment with fillings. Use pulled pork, grilled chicken, squash, three cheeses with beans…. Try a dessert tamale with  ginger peach filling!

Black Bean and Cheese Tamales – makes about 2 dozen 5″ long tamales

Dough ingredients:

2 cups (15 oz.) corn “masa” flour or finely ground corn meal. (Coarsely ground corn meal won’t work as well.)

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or onion powder, or 1/8 teaspoon each

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (more to taste)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/4 cups warm chicken broth

2/3 cup fresh corn off the cob (use thawed frozen organic corn kernels if corn’s not in season.)

1 package dried corn husks


1. Soften 30 husks by soaking in a large bowl of water for two hours (you’ll need to weight them) or in a large pot of boiling water for 30 minutes.

2.  Dough: combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.

3.  Add the olive oil; stir to blend.  Add the warm chicken stock; stir to blend and let rest

Filling Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped fine

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon tomato paste (OK, OK, if you don’t want to open a fresh can, squeeze in a little ketchup; having a tube of tomato paste in the ‘fridge prevents this cheat!)

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder (more to taste)

2 cups cooked black beans (washed canned organic black beans are fine)

1 can (15.4 oz.) refried beans (I like Annie’s Organic

2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (more if you like)

Optional: 2/3 cup raisins (Mrs. Santos added raisins for Christmas Tamales!)


1.  Sautee the onions in a large pan over a medium heat until they being to soften.

2.  Add the cumin seeds, oregano, and cilantro, stir, then add the minced garlic (the moisture of the fresh cilantro will help prevent the garlic from scorching.)

3.  Add the black beans, tomato paste, refried beans, and cumin powder, stir to blend and heat through.  Season with salt  and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool slightly whilst you grate the cheese.

To assemble:

1. Separate, flatten (to the extent you can) and line up the corn husks (you may have to do this in 2-3 waves.) Pull the extra husks lengthwise into 1/4 ” strips that you’ll use to tie up the tamales. (If they’re thinner, you can twist two together. Thicker ones are more difficult to tie.)

2.  Measure 1.5 – 2 oz. dollops of dough onto the middle of each husk.  Dipping your fingers into warm water to help avoid sticking, gently pat the dough to 1/8 inch thickness, moving to the left or right (you’ll want the dough to be close to one edge) forming a rectangle about 5″ long and 4″ wide.  This is NOT science – be flexible!

3.  Evenly divide the black bean mixture onto the dough (about 1/4 cup portions), pulling it length wise.  Follow with the cheese.

4.  Roll the tamale, starting with the edge that has the dough closest to it.  The goal is to have the edges of the dough meet with enough husk (1-2 inches) left to continue to wrap around (see photos below.)  They’ll stay rolled as you tie the ends.

5. Using the strips tie the husks at the point where the dough ends.  This is going to be easiest at the thinner “top” of the husk.  If a little dough and filling squeezes out, just pop it into the next tamale in line.

5.  Stack the tamales in a large pot fitted with a steamer, filling the water just up to the steamer platform. Bring the water to a boil and cook for 40 minutes.  Check about 20 minutes into the cook time to add more water if necessary. Remove the tamales with tongs and serve asap.  These can be steamed to reheat, or unwrapped and sauteed (in a little broth, thinned salsa or chili).

6.  Serve with salsa,, guacamole, sour cream, mole sauce, and/or extra cheese.  Enjoy!


5 thoughts on “Black Bean and Cheese Tamales

  1. I’ve never had tamales, (which might not be so odd with me being Norwegian and all..) but it sounds and looks really exciting! It does seem to be a bit of work, but your pictures are super helpful. For someone who has never even seen the dish, these photos are in fact quite instrumental..

    I look forward to trying this!


  2. Pingback: Black Bean and Cheese Tamales | Sweet Christine's Bakery

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