Easy Weeknight Better-For-You Tamales

    August 19, 2019

    This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ChooseMazola #CollectiveBias

    Did you know that September is National Cholesterol Awareness month? As someone who inherited bad cholesterol, healthy food choices and making the time for consistent physical activity are vital to my personal health. So, to help keep my numbers in a healthy range, I keep a keen eye on where I can make more cholesterol-friendly substitutions. One of these substitutions that has made the biggest difference is swapping out extra virgin olive oil with corn oil! In fact, a clinical study showed Mazola® Corn Oil reduces cholesterol 2x more than extra virgin olive oil (you can learn more about this claim here!). But first…

    What is cholesterol?

    According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is characterized as:
    a substance produced by your liver that aides in building cellsin your body.
    Not all cholesterol is bad, however, which is a popular misconception. Your body naturally creates all of the cholesterol you need in your liver, but food that is derived from animals adds extra cholesterol into our systems. Foods that are high in trans and saturated fats also cause our bodies to produce extra cholesterol, which, in combination with the diet we have, can cause some pretty gnarly health problems. In fact, the American Heart Association recently issued a new presidential advisory on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease (CVD) that strongly advised replacing saturated flat, like that found in coconut oil, with polyunsaturated fat, like corn oil, to reduce the risk of CVD by 30%. Replacing saturated fats that are known to contribute to heart disease with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, like those in Mazola Corn Oil, are ways we can all add “good fats” back into our diets. Furthermore, according to the USDA, corn oil has more than 5x the amount of polyunsaturated fats compared to olive oil.

    Why Mazola Corn Oil?

    Traditional Mexican tamales are made with lard, simply because that’s what was on hand at the time and culturally the use of the entire animal is common practice. Using lard in recipes has been passed down for generations, but our current generation is facing a much different health epidemic: high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, all of which can be prevented with a little education and simple recipe swaps.

    Simple swaps

    Mazola Corn Oil is an all-purpose, cholesterol free cooking oil that is a smart heart-healthy* choice for your family. *See Mazola.com for more information on the relationship between corn oil and heart health. It has a variety of uses including baking, grilling, sautéing, stir frying, or mixing up a marinade or dressing.​ It also allows your tamales to take center stage without the overpowering flavor that is commonly associated with olive oil and less saturated fat than lard. This way, you’re still able to enjoy everything there is to love about fresh tamales with a side of peace of mind. In addition to swapping out lard or olive oil for Mazola Corn Oil, I have the following two swaps. I’m sharing my recipe for vegetable, bean and cheese, and chicken tamales instead of fattier meats like pork. I also have a delicious and creamy soy-based crema recipe, which is a great cholesterol-friendly topping compared to sour cream or creme fraiche! So, let’s get cooking!

    Getting started

    Tamales are surprisingly easy to make, but it’s all about flavor and preparing your masa correctly. But before you start your masa, you are going to want to soak your corn husks for about 30 minutes. After a few minutes, I take a single corn husk that is soaked and slice it into ribbons, which I will use to tie my tamales. I set the husks to the side and begin to prep my masa.
    You can use any brand of masa harina, which is a traditional corn flour used to make a variety of Mexican dishes including fresh tortillas! This recipe calls for 6 cups, which will allow you to make quite a bit of masa that will lend itself to many tamales.

    Making the masa:

    Combine masa harina with your baking powder, salt, cumin, broth, and Mazola Corn Oil in a large mixer on low speed until fully incorporated. To get your masa nice and fluffy, switch it up to high speed for about 10 minutes. Once your masa is ready, place a damp cloth or paper towel over your bowl and set aside in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the tamales.

    Preparing your fillings:

    Your fillings are where you can have so much fun when making homemade tamales! I love trying new filling combinations, as well as the more traditional ones. For this heart-healthy recipe, I am using marinated chicken thighs with cheese instead of pork carnitas and black bean and cheese as a vegetarian option instead of more meat. Other filling choices include sautéed vegetables like onion and squash, lean meats like turkey, or even go vegan with your favorite plant-based meat alternatives!

    Chicken and Cheese

    I simply boil my chicken thighs in a medium soup pot with a variety of spices (chili powder, salt, whole black pepper, bay leaf, cumin, cayenne, etc.). Once cooked through, I pull the meat from the bone and place in a bowl. Next, I add some red enchilada sauce and toss to combine. Feel free to add additional seasoning to taste and set aside.

    Bean and Cheese

    For the beans, I simply place them in a bowl and microwave until warm, about 1 minute. I smush them slightly and add salt for flavor. At this point, continue preparing any other fillings you want, and get that cheese ready, because next, you’re ready to assemble your tamales for steaming!

    Assembling your tamales

    Bring your prepared masa back to the party, as well as all of your filling components and husks. Assembling the tamales will honestly take you the most time, but once you get a few done and get in your groove, you’ll be turning them out in no time. This is also a great time to call family members or children in to help with the assembly line.
    First, take your husk and shake any excess water off. Place flat on your cutting board or work station. Using your cookie scooper, scoop about 2 dollops of masa onto your husk. Just keep in mind, the amount of masa you use depends on the size of your husk. Also, keep a little water dish nearby and dabble your fingers in when spreading the masa – it’ll keep it from sticking to your hands.
    1. You’ll only need about 1-2 tablespoons of your filling because you’ll want to create a little pocket when it’s time to fold.
    2. To fold your tamales, you’ll want to first fold vertically kind of like a sushi roll. The goal is to get the masa to connect on both sides to create a seal, keeping your fillings nice and tucked in.
    3. Then, you’ll fold the bottom part of your tamale up and tie it together using a husk ribbon you prepped earlier. Yay! You did it!
    4. Now just follow this process 400 more times (okay, not really…but this part does take the longest) until all of your tamales are ready for steaming!

    Steaming your tamales

    When making at home, I personally love using my pressure cooker to steam my tamales just because it quickens the process and has yet to fail me. I get perfectly steamed tamales every time! However, you can easily steam your tamales using your stovetop (because, let’s be honest, when tamales were first made, there were no pressure cookers) by following essentially the same directions.
    Whether you’re using a pressure cooker or your stovetop, you’re going to want to assemble them so that they’re tucked in nice and evenly. This, along with assembling your tamales with similar amounts of masa and filling, ensures the cook time is evenly distributed. Simply fill your pot with 1 cup of water or enough to just cover the bottom. Place your steamer basket so that your tamales aren’t submerged or sitting in water when you place them inside. Begin assembling your prepared tamales inside your pot in a circular direction while nestling them in evenly. When they’re ready, simply close the lid on your pressure cooker and steam at high pressure for 20 minutes! If you’re using the stove, cover and steam for 30-40 minutes or until the masa easily separates from the husks.
    Tamales are best served and enjoyed right out of the steamer! Plate with your favorite sides like Mexican rice, salad, or beans, and don’t forget toppings like pico de gallo, guacamole, cheese, or extra sauce! Speaking of sauce…

    Vegan Crema

    I am a huge sauce fan, and these tamales go great with any traditional salsa or sauce. Unfortunately, though, cholesterol and sodium love to hide out in these kind of sauces. As someone who needs to be mindful of her cholesterol levels, enjoying sauce with my meals can sometimes be a challenge, but not anymore! Mayo is a pretty common base for any Mexican crema or aoli sauce (and one of my favorite condiments), but it’s also one that not only can be high in cholesterol but high in fat (and we learned earlier that fat causes our bodies to produce more cholesterol). Swapping regular mayo for soy-based mayo has been such a game changer for me because it allows me to create and enjoy delicious sauces without the worry of spiking my cholesterol numbers.

    A basic crema sauce:

    To create a flavorful and health-conscious crema for your tamales, you just need simple ingredients and a palate for adjusting the seasoning to your taste!
    • In a medium bowl, combine soy-based mayo and juice from half of a lemon and stir.
    • Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add any additional spices such as paprika, chili powder, or your other favorite seasonings to taste.
    • Store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve with your tamales!

    Easy Weeknight Better-for-you Tamales

    Make delicious tamales at home with this step-by-step recipe! They're easy to customize and health conscious without skimping on flavor!
    Prep Time1 hr 30 mins
    Cook Time30 mins
    Course: Main Course
    Cuisine: Mexican
    Keyword: Tamales
    Servings: 40 tamales


    • pressure cooker or stovetop
    • Stand mixer or large mixing bowls
    • Cookie scooper, rubber spatula


    • 1 package of corn husks, soaked 30 mins


    • 6 cups masa harina
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 2 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
    • 3/4 cup Mazola® Corn Oil

    Tamale Filling

    • 1-2 lb ground or shredded chicken
    • 1-2 cans pinto beans, drained
    • 2 cups shredded cheese
    • 2 cups fresh veggies (i.e. onions, peppers, etc., sliced


    • First, soak the corn husks in a large soup pot or bowl for 30 minutes until softened

    Preparing the Masa

    • In your stand mixer (or large mixing bowl) combine your dry ingredients of: masa harina, salt, and baking powder. While mixing on low speed, add your Mazola Corn Oil.
    • Gradually add your stock into the mixer and increase your mixing speed to medium to fully incorporate. Mix at this speed for 10 minutes until your masa becomes fluffy - scrape the sides periodically when needed.
    • When masa dough is fully prepared, place a wet paper towel over and place into the fridge until you're ready to assemble the tamales.

    Preparing the Filling

    • Choose any fillings you'd like! Cholesterol-friendly fillings include: chicken or turkey, veggies, or bean and cheese.
    • Choose your sauce: enchilada, red or green salsa, and mole are great options!

    Assembling Tamales

    • Tear small strips of prepared corn husks and set aside. You will use these to tie the tamales together before steaming them.
    • Using a clean surface, lay a corn husk flat and using a cookie scoop measure out about 1-2 scoops of masa. Prepare a little water dish to dip your fingers in when spreading the masa onto the corn husk. This helps the masa from sticking to your fingers. Spread in the shape of a rectangle on the husk and about 1-1.5 inches thick.
    • Add your filling and sauce to the center of your tamale. About 1-2 tablespoons will be perfect. The goal is to enclose your filling with masa when folding the husk to make a little pocket of goodness.
    • Fold the husk vertically to enclose the filling; using your fingers to slightly nudge the masa so the filling doesn't spill out. When folding your tamales you don't want the masa too close to the top because they will expand slightly during steaming. If you've packed too much masa you risk it spilling out.
    • Then, continue rolling the husk completely like a burrito. Fold the bottom part of the tamale up, leaving the top part exposed. Using the little strips of corn husk you set aside, tie a little knot to keep the tamales assembled.
    • Repeat this process until all tamales are prepared and you've used your masa and filling. Now you're ready to steam!

    Steaming your Tamales

    • Pressure cooker: fill the bottom of your pressure cooker with 1 cup water; just enough to fill the bottom without submerging your tamales. Place your basket inside and assemble your tamales in a circular direction (see photo in post) until all are tucked inside. Cover and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes and when finished flip the vent to release the steam/pressure.
      Stove top: Using a large stockpot, place your strainer inside and add 2 cups of water to the bottom. Assemble your tamales in a circuluar direction until all are tucked inside. Cover and steam on medium heat for 30-40 minutes or until the masa easily separates from the husks.
    • When ready, remove your tamales and serve right away with your favorite sides and toppings like guac, pico de gallo, cheese, or other goodies (you don't eat the husks!). I also recommend topping your fresh tamales with extra sauce 😉
    *See Mazola.com for more information on the relationship between corn oil and heart health. It has a variety of uses include baking, grilling, sautéing, stir frying, or mixing up a marinade or dressing.
    Get this recipe for my favorite tamales that are both cholesterol-friendly and an easy choice for a weeknight dinner. Sponsored by Mazola Corn Oil!
  • July Reflections

    As you can tell July got away from me. Hence this reflections post being shared in August. But, you know, whatever… July came and went…

    August 18, 2019
  • Friday Favorites

    This week was full of moments where I hinged between comfortable and anxiety-ridden. Overall it has been a pretty typical week – nothing too out…

    August 16, 2019
  • Friday Favorites

    Affiliate links are used within this post. All opinions are 100% mine and you can read more about my disclosure here. How is it already…

    August 2, 2019