Tamales For Christmas Eve

Getting together on Christmas Eve and making tamales is a beloved tradition of Mexican-American families.

In Latin America corn has been a staple since the Inca, and many recipes use corn in inventive ways. For tamales, corn dough is filled (with a variety of chicken, beef, pork, beans, cheese, green chilies), wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed.

Inspired by the children’s book May Your Life Be Deliciosa, we wanted to make tamales.

It was a perfect rainy afternoon activity, and the result – delicious!


Here’s a few tips:

To make things easy, after looking at different tamales recipes, we shopped for ingredients to make two fillings.

We did not make the masa corn dough from scratch. At Hispanic markets in December, fresh masa is readily available. Be sure to buy “masa for tamales” – not “masa for tortillas.”

Soak the dried corn husks at least two hours or overnight to soften. Make ties from the husk to tie around the tamales (helps keep tamale together while steaming).

We prepared two fillings – refried beans and Monterey Jack (or Queso Oxaca) white cheese, and shredded cooked chicken with enchilada sauce.

An ice cream scoop is handy to dish up 3 tbsp of masa dough, use back of spoon to spread masa ¼ inch on the corn husk, leaving room on sides and bottom to it fold up.

Time it takes to cook tamales is variable, depending on masa and how many tamales are in the steamer. Recipes we consulted suggested anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.

It took us 3 hours to cook 20 tamales in a tall stock pot, but we probably didn’t spread the masa thin enough, it so took longer.

You can find recipes and videos online to see how to assemble the tamales.


While the tamales are cooking, whip up a batch of Mexican hot chocolate.