Basic Tamales

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Editor's Note: If you've ever wanted to make tamales, then this recipe is for you! These Basic Tamales include your choice of fillings (sweet corn, curried shrimp, or chicken sofrito) for a truly unique (and tasty) approach. This recipe makes 12 tamales, so you can easily make these for your next get-together with friends and family. You'll love impressing family and friends with your new cooking skills when you share a plate piled high with this main dish recipe! Just remind everyone not to eat the husk. The recipe's chef has also included a tip below on where to find corn husks. 

When our friend, Elida Proenza, makes tamales, she scours Cuban markets for fresh ears of starchy yellow corn. White corn, she claims, is too sweet and watery. She grates the yellow corn to a milky paste on a hand grater. The process is laborious and time-consuming, but it produces a tamal of exceptional delicacy. One day, unable to find starchy yellow corn, she puréed canned corn kernels in the food processor and came up with tamales that were almost as delicious. Here’s a simplified version of her recipe that the purist can prepare with fresh corn and the convenience-minded cook can bake with canned or frozen. Dried corn husks can be found at Hispanic markets and in some supermarkets.


Cooking MethodSauteeing, Steaming


Total Timeunder 4 hours

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get Together

Recipe CourseMain Course, Side Dish


Taste and TextureButtery, Savory


  • 24 dried or fresh corn husks
  • 2 cups drained yellow corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons packing liquid from frozen or canned corn, or milky liquid from fresh grated
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 to 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • Your Choice of Filling:
  • Sweet Corn Filling - OR -
  • Curried Shrimp Filling - OR -
  • Chicken Sofrito Filling
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 sprigs of fresh cilantro
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Place the corn husks in a large bowl with cold water to coyer. Let soak until soft, about 2 hours.

  2. Purée the corn kernels, their, liquid, and the butter in a food processor. Work in enough of the cornmeal to obtain a firm but moist dough. Add salt and pepper and sugar, if desired to taste.

  3. Stir the chosen filling into the corn mixture.

  4. Lay one of the corn husks flat on a work surface, tapered end toward you. Mound 3 heaping tablespoonfuls of the corn mixture in the center of the top half of the corn husk. Fold the tapered half over the top to encase the filling.

  5. Lay another corn husk flat on the work surface, tapered end away from you. Place the filled husk in the center of the bottom half of the second husk. Fold the tapered end over the bottom to encase the tamal. Tie the bundle into a neat rectangle, using an 12-inch piece of string. Make sure you fold up the sides when you tie up the tamal. Continue forming the tamales in this fashion until all of the filling and corn husks are used.

  6. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan with the cumin, white pepper, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Add the tamales. Cover and gently simmer for 1 hour.

  7. To serve, remove the tamales from the pan and drain in a colander. Cut the strings. Let each guest open the tamal and eat the filling with a fork. Do not attempt to eat the husk!


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