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no-lard cactus and cheese tamales

these are not conventional tamales, so if you are a die hard tamale aficionado, then back away from this post slowly.

now that i've gotten rid of the haters, i have to say: holy lord, these are some delicious tamales. i love tamales, but can't stand the fact that they have lard/crisco in them. it puts them in the "only once in awhile" category, and that's criminal. tamales should be eaten all the time! in an effort to get them into regular rotation, i've swapped out the lard for coconut oil- there is a slight taste of coconut, but it works really well with the spicy cactus and cheese. speaking of which, these do require some special ingredients:

  • maseca (instant corn masa flour)
  • dried corn husks
  • nopalitos (pickled cactus)
  • queso blanco

half of our neighborhood is puerto rican, so the regular grocery store carries all these items. i'm guessing you can find these things in a large chain store that has a well stocked international aisle. much like making dumplings, or ravioli, tamales take a bit of prep work and planning in advance.

the first thing to do is soak the dried corn husks in hot water for about 2 hours. you also need a deep pot with a steamer basket.

the dough(masa) comes together quickly, and once the husks are pliable, it's just a matter of assembly:

a thin layer of masa, then filling in the middle, and roll it up (like sushi). folding the bottom tip up keeps all the guts in while they're steaming. i served them with some purchased tropical salsa:

pineapple salsa is easy to make, but i made the damn tamales, so let's cut some corners here. i'll post a pineapple salsa in the future, and you can decide how much effort you want to put into it. in the meantime, let's enjoy some delicious homemade tamales knowing (or at least thinking) that they're almost good for you.

no lard cactus and cheese tamales

  • 8 dried corn husks
  • 10oz bag frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 2 cups maseca
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup veg broth, + more to get the right consistency
  • 1 block queso blanco, cut into 8 strips
  • i jar nopalitos (with or without chili), drained
  • salsa, avocado, and cilantro for garnish


  • soak the dried husks in hot water until pliable, about 2 hours. fill a deep pot with with water, making sure that the water level is lower than the steamer basket.
  • in a blender, combine the thawed corn and 2Tbl water. blend until smooth.
  • combine the maseca and salt in a large bowl. add the blended corn, coconut oil and veg broth, mixing well to combine. depending on how liquidy the corn was, you will need to adjust the amount of veg broth. i start with 3/4 of a cup, and then add in a few Tablespoons at a time until the consistency is spreadable.
  • when the husks are ready, and the masa is mixed, turn the heat on under the pot and bring the water to a boil.
  • assemble the tamales: start by spreading masa on each husk. leave enough room on one side, and at the bottom so the filling doesn't burst out when rolling them up. keep the masa on the thin side, and add the drained cactus and cheese to the middle. roll up the husk so that the masa surrounds the filling completely. fold up the bottom edge to keep it all tucked in, and add to the steamer basket, standing upright. continue the same procedure for the rest of the tamales.
  • add the steamer basket to the pot when the water is boiling, and cover. let the tamales steam for 45-60 minutes, checking the water every so often to make sure it hasn't boiled away.
  • when the tamales are ready, the husk should pull away from the masa easily. remove them with tongs from the basket and let them sit for a minute to cool (if possible- they smell so good that i'm always willing to risk burning my mouth).
  • serve with salsa, cilantro and avocado.

makes 8 tamales.

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