An authentic and delicious recipe for Black Bean and Cheese Vegetarian Tamales. Make them for the holidays and serve with Charred Salsa Verde. These plant based tamales are gluten-free and easily vegan adaptable.
This post was first published on October 7, 2020. Last updated December 16, 2022.
For the fourth year in a row, my dear friend Aida Mollenkamp and I will be teaching a tamales-making class in November.
This year we wanted to keep it plant-based and so Aida will be making a sweet corn tamal recipe and I’ll be teaching everyone how to make these fluffy Black Bean and Cheese tamales. The flavor is fantastic with green chile black beans and milky cheese.
Keep reading for the step-by-step instructions!
What’s In Vegetarian Tamales?
Vegetarian tamales are very similar to meat-based ones with pillowy masa surrounding a savory filling then wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. The main difference is the masa for vegetarian tamales are made with butter, vegetable shortening, or coconut oil instead of lard and the filling does not include meat but instead delicious vegetables like poblano peppers, mushrooms, or even jackfruit. Or in this case, creamy black beans and Oaxaca cheese.
History Behind the Dish
Tamales have been enjoyed in Mexico and Central America for at least four and a half centuries, maybe even longer. Lard (the most commonly used fat) wasn’t added until after the Spanish brought pigs to the region so perhaps the first tamales were a bit harder and more dense. But then as is today, tamales were made for special occasions. Gifts we prepare with love and share with the ones we love the most.
- Masa Harina look for the bag labeled, “masa for tamales”
- Vegetable broth. The recipe calls for 8 cups, but buy an extra one just in case
- Vegetable shortening or butter or coconut oil
- Baking powder
- Kosher salt
- Chipotle chili powder
- Refried black beans use store-bought or try this recipe subbing black beans for the pinto beans
- Queso Oaxaca or queso fresco or queso panela
- Canned green chiles
- Charred tomatillo salsa, for serving
- Mexican crema, for serving
- Dried corn husks
Step-by-Step Instructions For Making Vegetarian Tamales
Soak the corn husks. The first step in making any tamales is to soak the dried corn husks. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, remove from the heat and add the corn husks, submerging them in the hot water. Let them sit at least 30 minutes.
Make the masa dough. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Place the masa flour in a large bowl. Add the hot broth and stir until the masa harina is evenly moist. This rehydrates the masa.
Beat the vegetable shortening, coconut oil, or vegetable oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the baking powder, salt, and chipotle chile powder and beat until fluffy.
Start adding the rehydrated masa a handful at a time while the machine is at medium speed. Keep adding until all the masa is used. The dough should be the consistency of slightly soupy mashed potatoes. It will get thicker as it sits, so air on the side of too wet versus too dry. Add more broth if needed.
Prepare the fillings. Warm the beans. I like to use this refried beans recipe but substitute black beans for the pinto beans. You could also use store bought. Stir in the can of chopped green chiles with the warm beans. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Slice the cheese if using. If you want to make vegan tamales, leave the cheese out.
Prepare the corn husks. Remove corn husks from the water and squeeze out any excess. Use corn husks that are a little wider than your hand when all your fingers are stretched out. If it is bigger, rip off some of the long side. If it is smaller set aside to use for lining the steamer. Dry the corn husks with a kitchen towel.
Fill and roll the tamales. Add about 1/3-1/2 cup masa to the corn husk. Using a large spoon, spread the corn dough in an even thin layer on the rectangle portion, leaving a inch border on all sides.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of beans in a line down the middle, then place a strip of cheese on top of the beans.
Roll all the way up and fold the top, triangle piece of corn husk down. You can use thin strips of corn husks to tie them closed if you’d like, but it’s not necessary.
Prepare the tamal steamer. Fill a tamal steamer about a third of the way up with hot water and place the steamer basket on top. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and fill the pot with the tamales, setting them in the pot, open-side-up.
Cover with the lid and steam until the masa is firm and cooked all the way through, about 40-50 minutes. Remove tamales from the pot and serve with Charred Tomatillo Salsa.
*Any leftover tamales will keep in the fridge for a week. Reheat in a skillet with a little bit of water, cover and steam until warm. I don’t recommend warming them in the microwave, the ends get weird and chewy.
Vegetarian Filling Variations
Now that you’ve got the technique down let’s chat about other vegetarian filling options.
- Roasted sweet potato and caramelized onion
- Green chile and cheese
- Cumin roasted winter squash and cheese
- Caramelized cherry tomato and goat cheese
Tips on Freezing
Because making tamales is a multi-step, somewhat involved process you may want to use your freezer as your Sous Chef. There are lots of different ways a freezer comes in handy when making tamales.
First of all, the easiest way to make tamales is in a group! Get together with several friends or family and have a Tamalada or Tamales-Making Party. After all the tamales are made you can freeze them in a couple different ways.
- Fill and wrap the tamales and freeze uncooked. When you are ready to cook them, steam from frozen adding an extra 20 minutes to the cook time.
- Freeze after steaming. These tamales you can let thaw in the refrigerator and steam to reheat. You can also reheat 3 or 4 by placing them in a frying pan, adding about 1/4 cup of water, covering and cooking until hot all the way through.
Another way the freezer comes in handy is:
You can freeze any rehydrated corn husks you have leftover. Just place in a freezer bag, seal tightly, and freeze. They are ready to use once thawed, you don’t need to soak them again.
You can also freeze any leftover masa dough. Just thaw before using again.
More Tamales Recipes You’ll Love
- Red Mole Pork Tamales
- Apple Braised Beef Tamales
- Chile Verde Chicken Tamales
- Tahini Potato and Kale Tamales
- Pork Tamales with Salsa Verde
- Strawberry Tamales with Horchata Sauce
- Sweet Lime Tamales
Love These Vegetarian Tamales?
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Here are the books I used for researching this post:
- Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless
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