Let’s get one thing straight right away: Tamal is the singular form. Not *tamale. ¿Comprende?

Here’s what the finished product should look like (thanks Enrique!):

vegetarian tamal with squash flower sauce

Banana Leaf

banana leaf, smeared smeared and filled delectable packages, tied up with string these are a few of my favorite things

Corn Husk

steamed, still wrapped unwrapped sauced

The Recipe

This recipe is only barely adapted by Yours Truly. It’s mostly a straight lift from Cookin’ Vallarta.


  • 3 cups (415 g) masa harina1
  • 3 cups (710 ml) soup stock (we used vegetarian in the course but chicken at home)
  • 1 cup lard or vegetable shortening (we had shortening on hand; I still gotta get around to weighing out a cup of shortening the next time we make these)
  • 1/2 tbsp. baking power 2
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • corn husks, banana leaves, or aluminum foil if nothing else
  • cheesy and/or saucy filling of your choice – pulled pork worked great for us, and we’re sure some shredded rotisserie chicken would also do nicely


  1. Wrapper prep
    1. Soak the corn husks (if using) for an hour until soft. Tear a couple strips off of each husk off to use as ties after soaking.
    2. Wash the banana leaves and trim them down to 6-inch pieces, then dry-fry them to improve flexibility. They’ll change color (to a lighter shade of green) and make your kitchen smell tropical.
    3. If you opt for aluminum foil wrappers, you’re on your own. We’ve never tried those. Will they let the steam permeate properly?
  2. Mix the masa harina, stock, fat, baking powder, and salt thorougly until lump-free.
  3. Fill each wrapper with 2 tbsp. of the dough, leaving empty space at the top and bottom of the wrapper Make an impression with a spoon for your filling. Fold over the sides of the wrapper, trapping your delicious filling inside. Consider rolling them up to ensure a good coverage — nobody wants a leaky tamal. Fold the empty space you left at the top and bottom towards the middle, and tie the wrapper shut, making a neat little package. Do that until you are out of dough or filling.
  4. Steam ‘em for an hour, and then serve. Don’t let anyone eat your wrappers.

The Backstory

We took a cooking course in January 2018 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We highly recommend it for anyone with

  • most of a day to kill in Puerto Vallarta, and
  • a tendency to explore markets while on vacation, and
  • an interest in hands-on, labor-intensive cooking

Hit up Cookin’ Vallarta to book your course if you like. We’re not getting any kickbacks from Enrique; we just genuinely enjoyed his cooking class.

We’ve had tamales before, in the USA, in a Tex-Mex kind of setting. The ones we made in the Cookin’ Vallarta class were steamed in and tied shut with cornhusks, and, owing to their vegetarian nature and pumpkin sauce, these struck a much more elegant tone.

Some of the pictures you see above are from our own (successful!) attempt at making tamales at home with banana leaves. Those are easier for us to get our hands in Germany than corn husks – our Asian grocer stocks them frozen, imported from Southeast Asia. We have since located an online Mexican grocer who ships them inside Germany and are looking forward to reverting back to the corn husk method for three reasons:

  1. the banana leaves are frozen, but unwashed. Indeed, they’re not intended for human consumption, although they are going to touch your food. And they’re big. And thus a pain to wash, especially in our little German sink.

  2. And then you have to cut them and dry-fry them to get them to loosen up; else they’re too brittle to wrap them around your little nuggets of yum.

  3. Perhaps the biggest reason to use corn instead of banana leaves: they impart kind of a jungly smell and flavor to the finished product that we just don’t recall from the corn husk method.3


[1]  A common brand name for this product is "Maseca." The scientific term for it "nixtamalized corn flour." Whatever you call it, make sure you've got the right stuff. Plain ground corn or polenta won't work without the chemical alteration of the cellulose in the corn kernels as part of the alkali treatment brought on by...oh, just go read about it yourself on Wikipedia.
[2]  Note well: that means the double-acting kind you so rarely find in Germany, not just Backpulver, which is equivalent to baking soda.
[3]  OTOH, some local natives in Mexico claim the most authentic tamales must be steamed in banana leaves and the corn-husk-steamers are all amateur hacks. Source: my mom, who heard it from a cab driver.