The large leaves of Swiss chard make an ideal wrapper for tamales, and can also be found in the filling of tamalons (large tamales that serve multiple people). Here we’ve chopped up and sautéed the chard with onion and chiles, then mixed it into the tamale dough, to get the best of both worlds.
What to buy: Masa harina is dried, powdered masa (dried corn that has been cooked and soaked in limewater, then ground while wet); we like Maseca brand, an instant slaked cornmeal that is useful in making tamales. It’s widely available in Latin markets or the ethnic aisle of many grocery stores, and yields consistent results. You can also purchase freshly made masa dough at many Latin markets.
Corn husks can be found at Latin markets.
Queso fresco is a mild white cheese that doesn’t melt when heated. It can be found in the refrigerated cheese case of most grocery stores or at specialty cheese shops or Latin markets.
Game plan: The dough and filling can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated in a covered container. Alternatively, you can form the tamales up to 1 day ahead and keep them covered in the refrigerator until ready to steam and serve.
To help you make the perfect tamale, see our step-by-step guide to forming tamales.
This recipe was featured as part of our Tamales for the Holidays project.
- 1Place corn husks in a large bowl or baking dish, cover completely with hot water, and weigh down with a plate or bowl to fully submerge. Soak until husks are very pliable, at least 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain, squeeze out excess water, and wipe dry.
- 2Bring a large saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add chard and cook until just wilted, about 30 seconds. Drain (reserving 3 tablespoons of cooking liquid in a separate bowl) and squeeze out any excess liquid. Finely chop the chard; set aside.
- 3Place cilantro, onion, garlic, chiles, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and the reserved cooking liquid in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and blend until smooth, stopping frequently to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula; set aside.
- 4Combine masa harina and water in a large bowl and mix with your hands until ingredients are evenly incorporated and dough is moist throughout; set aside.
- 5Combine lard or shortening and remaining 1 tablespoon salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on high speed until shiny and white in color, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium high and add reserved dough in handfuls, letting it mix in before adding more, until all the dough has been added, about 2 minutes. Continue beating until ingredients are well combined and a smooth, soft dough has formed, about 1 minute more. Transfer dough to a large bowl, add reserved chard, cilantro mixture, and queso fresco and mix with your hands until all ingredients are just incorporated. Cover dough and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
- 6Place a steamer basket in a large pot and fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the steamer. Cover and bring the water to a simmer over low heat.
- 7Lay a corn husk on a clean work surface with the wide edge toward you (this is the bottom). Measure 1/3 cup dough and shape into a cylinder about 3 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Lay dough lengthwise in the center of the husk, leaving about a 1/2-inch border at the bottom.
- 8Tightly close the left side of the husk over the filling and roll to the right as if rolling a cigar. Fold the top of the husk (the empty, tapered edge) back over the filled husk to close. (If your husks are particularly small or they don’t want to stay closed, use a bit of butcher’s twine to tie them closed.) Repeat to make about 30 tamales.
- 9Arrange tamales upright in the steamer with the open ends facing up. If your steamer is too big to hold all of the tamales snugly together, place a small heatproof bowl upside down in the center to stabilize the tamales. Cover and steam until the dough is set, no longer raw-tasting, and pulls away easily from the husks when unwrapped, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Turn the heat off and let the tamales rest for 15 minutes before serving.