Homemade Vegan Tamales

When we sat down to dinner, my little Jacob took one look at the dinner table and asked, “where are the Tamales?” He looked baffled.

The big brother pointed at our giant pan full of hand-rolled, green-chili-and-lentil stuffed tamales and said, “dude, they’re right here, duh.”

The mom pointed at the big brother and said, “we do not say ‘duh’ thankyouverymuchmylove.”

The little brother sighed, “oh man. I thought we were having those red tamales for dinner.”

The little sister giggled, “Hot tamales? You thought MOM was going to feed us Hot Tamales for dinner?”

The little brother said, “Well, yeah. Duh.”

The mom tried to avoid making the Sign of the Cross, seeing as how she’s not Catholic, but has many times wished she was for the sake of being able to access the Sign of the Cross.

“Oh gracious,” she tossed her head back, “Let us pray.”

So, you’ve heard that tamale making is:

1) Terribly time consuming

2) An all-day affair

3) The sort of recipe you attempt only if your kitchen is full of people willing to help

Pish, I say. Vegan tamales take all the time out of the prep steps because you don’t have to cook any meat.  Canned lentils and pre-made green chili mixes together for a super delish, super snappy filling that will make you wonder why you ever wasted your time on those meat-filled tamales in the first place.

The only other thing left to do with this recipe  is mixing up the masa. Traditional masa dough calls for lard.

Ewww. Icky.

We’re adding flavor and health value with coconut oil. Granted, coconut oil is still fatty, so you can’t go eating these tamales for every meal eight times a week. But, for tonight, you can know that your indulgence comes with the very finest ingredients for your heart and navel.

Once you’ve got your filling and dough ready, look how easy it is to make homemade tamales….

Just spread some of the dough over a corn husk. You want the dough about 1/4″ thick, and make sure you spread it as far across that corn husk as possible. It give you more room for the roll-up.

A little filling. We went for 2 tablespoons of filling, and that worked perfectly with our larger husk pieces. You’ll find the husks are all different sizes, so just play the filling amount by ear. Or by sight. Or by whatever you need to make sure it doesn’t come gooping out when you’re ready to roll your tamale.

Speaking of which…

The roll.

I like to gently roll the left side over the filling, then carefully pull back the husk, leaving a space on that left side to roll the right side of the husk all the way across the filling, and firmly tuck it all inside. Then, pull the left side of the husk over the top of it all, bend in bottom and top edges, and place your finished tamale upside down in a roaster pan which has been fitted with a rack.

Did none of that paragraph up there make any sense? I hear ya. Who WROTE that thing?

Don’t have a roaster pan that you can fit with a rack? No worries. Crockpot instructions below. Beware. They were written by the same loon who wrote that paragraph hanging up above us. Holy cow. Why do they let that person out in public?

A well wrapped tamale will have the filling and dough completely tucked in, hidden, and ready for steaming.

Once you’ve rolled all of your tamales and placed them on the rack of a roaster pan, fill the bottom part of your pan with a bit of water, cover it verrrry tightly with several layers of aluminum foil, then “steam bake” them for 34-45 minutes.

When they come out of the oven, they are gorgeous. The husks have browned slightly, the masa has set, all the flavors have cooked and melded together.

Oh you. You are going to freakingholypants love these tamales, duh.

And, yes. Thanks for the reminder.

We don’t say duh. Duh.


Green Chili & Lentil Tamales

Yield: 24 tamales

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Making tamales the vegan way is so easy, it's silly. The filling takes just minutes to prepare, the masa is a snap (and is NOT laden with lard, hurrah!) and the taste? Well, honey. The taste is just doggone purty. In a very rolled-up-in-corn-husks kind of a way. The perfect meal for a Saturday night, Sunday afternoon dinner, or meal to impress non-vegan guests. The wrapping of the tamales is definitely a two person job. Having a partner in crime makes the task quick and easy, while giving you time to talk & get caught up on all the latest gossip.


For the Filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 (15 ounce) can lentils, drained
1 vegan "beef" bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 (16 ounce) can green chili (I love the stuff from KingsChefDiner.com)
1/2 cup frozen sweet corn

For the Tamale Dough:
4 cups masa
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup coconut oil, melted
3 vegan "beef" bouillon cubes dissolved into 3 cups of water
1 (16 ounce) package dried corn husks


Soak the corn husks in a large bowl of warm water while preparing to cook the tamales. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Toss the garlic into the hot oil, then add the onion and cook for about a minute. Toss int he lentils, bouillon cube and cumin. Stir to mix well. Add the green chili and corn. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the masa, baking soda, and salt together. Add the coconut oil. Stir well. Add the bouillon flavored water to the mix. Add more water, if needed, to make the masa a soft, spongy dough.

Smooth the masa onto your largest corn husks until about 1/4"-1/2" thick. You want it to cover about a 3" square of the husk, if possible. Place 1-2 tablespoons of the lentil filling into the center of the masa dough. Fold the sides of the corn, then fold the top and bottom of each husk down. Set the tamale bottom-side-down in a large roaster pan, fitted with the rack on the bottom of the pan. (If you need to wrap the tamales rolled in smaller corn husks with a second or third husk, or even tie some of them together with a small piece of husk, go for it! This is an imperfect science!)

Once all of your tamales are ready, pour approximately 2 cups of water into the bottom of your roasting dish. Make sure the water doesn't touch the tamales, they should be propped safely on the rack. Cover the pan tightly with several sheets of aluminum foil, then place in your preheated oven and cook 35-45 minutes, or until the tamale dough appears to have cooked. Remove the tamales from the oven and allow them to set untouched for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serve with pan-sauteed zucchini and enjoy!

Crockpot instructions: Pile wrapped tamales in a crockpot, cover and cook on high 5-6 hours, or until the tamale dough is set. Remove the lid 15 minutes before serving, unplug the crockpot and allow them to cool and set before feeding your masses.

47 Responses to “Homemade Vegan Tamales”

  1. Skye on March 7, 2012 at 8:39 am Reply

    Can you believe I have never eaten a tamale? These look scrumptious!

  2. ErinCroutons on March 7, 2012 at 10:59 am Reply

    I always viewed tamales as really fattening. These look fresh and fab!

  3. Bev Weidner on March 7, 2012 at 11:16 am Reply

    GIIIIIIIIRL. All over this. Duh.

  4. Tiffany on March 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm Reply


  5. Amy Merrill on March 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm Reply

    These look really good. However, please give Jake a hot tamale and a piece of buttered popcorn to eat simultaneously. Alone it’s not a meal, but together — bliss.

    • Brooke on March 8, 2012 at 6:59 pm

      Oh this could not be more true!

  6. Rana on March 8, 2012 at 5:30 am Reply

    You were my inspiration for supper last night – tamale pie à la Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favourites. I just didn’t have extra hands (or even two of my own!) to prepare your tamales, though I really do want to. Thanks!

  7. Shannon on March 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm Reply

    This looks great! Could you substitute beans instead of corn?

  8. Gena on March 22, 2012 at 4:32 pm Reply

    I adore this vegan recipe!!! Thanks, friend :)

  9. sarah on April 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm Reply

    hi i tried these today and loved them. can you believe i am a mexican who has never made tamales before?? i loved eating the non-vegan ones when home visiting my family.
    i just have a few questions. first of all how did you get your tamales looking so neat and perfect? if i hadn’t asked my boyfriend to help i think i would have had a melt down. second, my maseca end up kind of dry after i cooked them. i did cook mine in crock pot so i am not sure if steaming them helps with them not drying out as much.
    i am going to try to make some for the step children with black beans and cheese.
    i did find that using the shorter and wider husks easier to roll the tamales. and tearing the longer thinner husks into strips to tie.

  10. Ashley on June 3, 2012 at 9:06 pm Reply

    Ahh thank you so much for this. I saw 6 vegan Tamales at Whole Foods for like $5! I was like “there has to be a better way.. an internet recipe!” and BAM! Along came cheekykitchen. Thank you! I am excited to try these.

  11. Gabriella on July 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm Reply

    Excellent! I made a different filler for this, but I was absolutely pleased with how the coconut oil mingled with the maseca. I had no idea what to expect with my first bite, but this surpassed all expectations. Thank you!!!

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  14. Jayme on September 26, 2012 at 7:56 pm Reply

    These tasted wonderful. Thanks!

  15. Carol on October 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm Reply

    I just made/ ate these. They were Awesome! It took me a long time to wrap all of them. I’ll have to enlist some hubby help for next time. We have plenty left over for some future meals. Thanks for the recipe!

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  17. AML on December 24, 2012 at 7:11 pm Reply

    They’re in the steamer now! Thanks.

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  19. Laura on January 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm Reply

    I’ve used this recipe several times now and each time, it came out AWESOME. The first few times, I just used the masa recipe (so easy) and mixed in (or filled with) (1) sun dried tomatoes, or (2) refried beans and Daiya, or (3) soy rizo/ potato/Daiya (really good), or (4) sweet corn (just added a little sugar and some corn kernels. These were all great (and I even forgot the baking powder).
    Last time, I followed your recipe exactly except I threw some Daiya into the filling. I think these were the best tamales I’ve ever had. Anyone interested in making these, I highly recommend getting a tamale steamer (you can get one at Target for $20) because they come out perfect and moist every time (steam for 45 min).
    Thanks for the great recipe!

  20. Jess on January 31, 2013 at 5:59 pm Reply

    Hi! First, I LOVE your writing style~ very cute and witty. 2nd, HOW do you wrap your tamales to look so dang pretty???? And lastly, I don’t suppose that masa you got is non-GMO, is it? I had a heck of a time going to 3 stores looking for non-GMO masa, with absolutely no luck. Instead, I decided to use coconut flour and a little corn meal, with lots of coconut oil and quite a bit of water (coconut flour soaks up water like it’s a desert). We shall see how it goes. A thousand-fold blessings to you and yours!

    • Alicia on March 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      Just wanted to let you know that Bob’s Red Mill has gone non-GMO on all of their products and they make a corn masa that is non-GMO. That’s what I use. I had the same frustration and was so happy to find a non-GMO masa flour. Hope that helps!

  21. Annie on March 6, 2013 at 12:41 am Reply

    Neither my husband nor I like capsicum / peppers, and so we made this with a diced fried eggplant/aubergine instead. We both thought it was really, REALLY good! (and he is a meat eater).

  22. Joanna Davis on August 7, 2013 at 6:13 pm Reply

    GORGEOUS! This looks positively fantastic, and your writing style is absolutely lovely! But, I’m sure you knew that already. Duh. ;-)

  23. Ruth on August 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm Reply

    Looks gooood! However you have baking powder listed but say baking soda in the recipe. Might want to edit that. ;-)

  24. Ruth on August 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm Reply

    Okayyyy, they are in the oven now. They look like pathetic tamales made by one handed apes. Not that I have an issue with apes and their manual dexterity…they would probably make tidier ones than my two daughters and I. And autocorrect did naughty things with manual when I missed out the m. And the u. Ooops.

    Had fun with the filling. I used some roasted corn, some leftover refried beans, some fried red pepper/onion/garlic, leftover roasted yams, Trader Joe’s spicy black bean dip and a few shakes of liquid smoke. So, the masa, then a little sprinkle of goat cheese, freshly toasted pepitas and then bean filling. I’ll be back in an hour to let y’all know how they taste.

  25. Ruth on August 10, 2013 at 8:33 pm Reply

    And SCORE! Very good with green salsa. Thanks for the idea about coconut oil. My vegetarian ape, I mean daughter, was very grateful. I didn’t bother using bouillon cubes either, mostly because my perimenopausal brain skipped over that part. DOH!

  26. Yvette on September 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm Reply

    If you are making these in a crockpot – do you need to still add the water?? Thanks!!! I’m excited to try these!! :-)

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  28. Heidi on December 16, 2013 at 8:30 pm Reply

    These were great. My entire family loved them. I used mushrooms instead of corn. Wouldn’t change a thing, thanks!

  29. Genny on January 1, 2014 at 6:15 pm Reply

    I am looking forward to giving these a try. But to stay fat free, I am substituting the oil for a cup of plain applesauce.

  30. Val Cooke on January 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm Reply

    This recipe was fantastic! I made a variety of tamales for Christmas dinner. Two meat versions and this one for vegan and vegetarian family members. Everyone agreed (meat eaters included) that these were the absolute tastiest! The coconut oil is so much more flavorful than the lard used in traditional tamales. I will never make them with anything other than coconut oil ever again! It also makes the consistency of the dough SO much easier to work with!

  31. A.J. on January 8, 2014 at 9:40 am Reply

    is green chili the same as salsa verde?

  32. Jen on January 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm Reply

    Question about the ingredient list vs. directions: on the ingredient list for the masa it says “baking powder” but on the directions it says “baking soda”. Which is correct? I made these for Christmas day (I think I used powder, but can’t remember) and they were wonderful. I’m making them again, this time with a sweet potato corn filling and a portobello poblano filling. Thanks!

  33. Corinna Velasco on January 20, 2014 at 9:08 am Reply

    These are delicious!!!! I’m gonna make some with soyrizo !!!

  34. Amanda on January 27, 2014 at 11:28 pm Reply

    “Duh is a product of fear!”

    I can’t wait to try these tamales!

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  44. sarah on November 5, 2014 at 11:19 pm Reply

    Do you have an estimate of how many tamales this will make? I am throwing a tamale party this weekend, and this is one of the recipes we will be making- thanks for sharing!

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