Tamales are a popular traditional dish in Hispanic culture. While very tasty, traditional tamales often incorporate a savory meat such as pork, which is higher in fat content. Taylor Wilson, MS, RD, LDN, at VIDA Logan Circle recommends the following recipe with a few healthy swaps to the traditional tamale.
Wilson recommends trying shredded chicken as a lean protein source instead of pork. A traditional tamale dish also uses lard to create the masa dough. The recipe below calls for unsalted or low sodium chicken broth instead of lard because it is a great low-calorie and low-fat alternative that still provides the same moisture needed. Finally, top the dish with fresh chopped tomato and avocado for that color on your plate!
- 1 clove garlic, peeled, plus 2 cloves, minced
- 1 450-gram package corn husks
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/4 cups corn oil or other neutral cooking oil, divided
- 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 2 canned chipotles in adobo, minced, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- 1-3 1/2 cups unsalted chicken broth, divided
- 2 pounds freshly ground corn masa or 3 cups masa harina
- Salsa, Mexican crema (or sour cream) & sliced avocado for serving
Place chicken (or turkey), 1 onion wedge and whole garlic clove in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 165°F, about 12 minutes. Transfer the meat to a clean cutting board to cool. Shred the meat.
Meanwhile, soak cornhusks in a large pot or bowl of hot water. Weigh the husks down so they stay submerged.
Chop the remaining onion wedge. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add minced garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they soften into a thick, chunky paste, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the shredded meat, chipotles, adobo sauce, oregano, pepper and 1/2 cup broth. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
If using fresh masa, put it in a large bowl and add 1/2 cup broth. Knead with your hands until a wet dough forms. (If using masa harina, place it in a large bowl and add 2 1/4 cups broth. Mix until evenly moist and soft.)
Pour the remaining 1 1/4 cups oil into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the oil while mixing on low speed and working up to medium speed once the dough comes together.
Add baking powder and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. (If using masa harina, add an additional 1/2 to 3/4 cup broth if the dough seems stiff.) Mix on high speed for 10 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until the dough is smooth and fluffy.
To assemble tamales: Remove a husk from the water and pat dry. Choose the largest, thickest husks that don’t have any holes. Peel off and discard any dried corn silk.
Use a rubber spatula to spread about 1/2 cup of dough (or less: the amount will depend on the size of your husk) in a rectangle on the husk, leaving about 3 inches of space on the narrower end of the husk, where you’ll fold it closed, and 2 inches of space on the other end. Using a slotted spoon, add about 1 tablespoon of the reserved filling down the middle of the dough. Bring one end of the husk toward the other and press together lightly to seal the dough inside the husk. (If the filling spills out, you’ve added too much, but you can spoon a little more masa on top of any leaks.) Tuck the edges of the husk under each other to form a long tube. Hold the tube vertically and press firmly on the bottom edge of the tamale to seal. Fold the husk back in the place where you’ve sealed it. Place on a baking sheet and repeat to make the remaining tamales.
Add 1 inch of water to a large pot fitted with a steamer basket. Line the basket with a layer of husks. Bring the water to a light boil. Add the tamales carefully in a vertical position. Steam, adding more water if necessary, until the husk just starts to pull away from the dough, 35 to 40 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer the tamales to a baking sheet; let cool for 15 minutes. Serve the tamales with salsa, crema (or sour cream) and avocado, if desired.