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Making Healthy Tamales Without Lard


Making Healthy Tamales Without Lard


My love for tamales started when I was 19 or 20. I happened to visit my friend, and his mom had just finished making her famous tamales and I got to try one. I had never seen or heard of tamales before being from Japan. I just remember it being AMAZING with a mouth full of flavors. It had meat, potatoes, olives, peppers and some type of green vegetable. Unfortunately, I can't remember if it was wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaves, but some people told me it was probably Salvadorian tamales because of the potatoes and olives. So, this recipe is inspired by my memory of the first tamales I ever tried (but made healthier).

Photography by Marie Gonzalez


INGREDIENTS: About 160 - 180 Tamales

2 BAGS OF CORN HUSKS (About 160 - 180)
Soak in the water for 2 hrs

  • 30 roasted green onions
  • 1 jar of green olives, sliced
  • 3 yellow onions, sliced
  • 10 potatoes, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
    Tomatillo Salsa:
  • 11 tomatillos
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 1 large bundle of cilantro
  • 3 limes
  • 1 white onion
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • salt & pepper
  • 8 lbs chicken (70% chicken breast & 30% chicken thighs)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 white onions
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 tsp himalayan salt
  • 10 cups water
  • 10 roasted poblano peppers
  • 4 roasted zucchinis

  • 20 cups of masa (maseca: corn flour)
  • 6 tbs olive oil
  • 6 tsp baking powder
  • 6 tsp cumin
  • 6 tsp paprika
  • 6 tsp garlic powder
  • 4 tsp himalayan salt
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water

I've always heard it's better to make tamales with many people since it's a lot of work. I was so lucky that some of my family members and friends were wanting to help to make this experimental tamales project!


Prepare Chicken

1) Put onions, garlic, salt and 10 cups of water in a large pot and boil. Add chicken and bay leaves and lower heat to a simmer for 2hrs. (I ended up doing this the night before.)

2) Take out the chicken from the broth and let them cool. Tear into bite size shreds.

Make Tomatillo Salsa

1) Put tomatillo and jalapeno into the same broth you cooked the chicken in. (remove bay leaves) Cook in medium heat until tomatillos are soft. (Some people like roasting them instead which I'm thinking to try next time. I also recommend doing this part the night before.)

2) Drain tomatillo mixture (save broth for making Masa)

3) Blend tomatillo mixture with chopped cilantro, white onions, garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper until smooth.

Make Masa
Luckily, my nephew Davey is a culinary student who has made tamales before. So, I sat back and watched him make the masa for us :-) But, prior to the date of cooking, I had done a lot of research for the recipes. Most masa recipes use a lot of lard (for 5 cups of maseca, we would have to add 2 cups of lard which meant 8 cups of lard for this recipe. That's a lot!!). If we were putting this much effort and time, I really wanted to make tamales that are worth every bite for our body instead of something we only should be enjoying occasionally. I was considering saving and using chicken fat for a while. Then I started finding a few different recipes online without using lard. I found out you need so much less oil (6 tbs instead of 8 cups) when working with liquid oil. Much better!!

1) Put masa in a large bowl, sift in baking powder and pour olive oil. Whisk in salt and all the spices for making "Masa".
2) With the mixture on low speed, drizzle in chicken broth (saved from making the chicken) and water beat for 10 to 15 mins till the texture is soft and fluffy.
3) Cover dough with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 10 min.

Prepare All The Vegetables
1) Roast green onions, poblano peppers, zucchini in the oven
2) Sauté all the ingredients from "A" until nice and soft with salt and pepper.

Time To Make Tamales

1) Spread about 1 tbs of Masa on dried corn husk.

2) Add all the ingredients you've prepared and fold.

3) Start steaming in large pot. It took us about 2 hours till the tamales were ready for consumption.

We ended up making 3 different kinds. Chicken, Vegetarian, and Combo tamales.

Thanks everyone for all your help! And special thanks to my sister-in-law, Marie for all the beautiful photography!!!

As result, you get a lot lighter tamale. We found out that the ones we added less masa with more fillings were a lot tastier. In the future, I want to start experimenting with different fillings and perhaps try a different style of maseca with more grains and texture.