Look What I Made: Pumpkin Tamales

Pumpkin tamales (photos by Travis Awalt)

Tamales seem to me a rather odd Christmas tradition, if only because I would happily eat one (or more) on any other day, any time of the year. The same can’t be said for the palatability of some of the other trappings of Christmastime. It goes beyond palatability, even – there’s a safety concern here. If you hand somebody egg nog in April, you might get punched in the face. If you jam out to Mannheim Steamroller in July*, you’ll likely be institutionalized – and for good reason.

But tamales are good all the time, and Christmas is as good an excuse as any to indulge. This recipe is about as uncomplicated (and probably gringo-y) as tamale making gets, so if you’re an experienced tamale maker…. well, why are you reading a recipe for tamales? You should really spend your time more wisely. But for the novice, this is a good place to start. These also freeze well, so if you don’t have anything to do a couple of weeks before Christmas (hint, hint)…

Pumpkin Tamales
(makes 8-10)

Corn husks
1 cup canned pumpkin mixed with cumin, cinnamon, chili powder & mexican oregano
1 3/4 cup instant masa
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup lard
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup chicken broth

1. Soak the corn husks in water for at least two hours before you start your dough, then play the waiting game. Or better yet, a game of Yahtzee!

2. Pour the water in the masa in a bowl & mix it together until it reaches the consistency of moist brown sugar. In another bowl, beat together the lard, baking powder and pumpkin. Add the masa mixture, a bit at a time, to the pumpkin mixture.

Beat together pumpkin and lard, then add in masa mixture

3. When the masa is fully incorporated with the pumpkin mixture, add in the chicken stock and BEAT. Go to town. The objective is to make the dough light by beating air into it. Test the readiness by pinching some off and dropping it into a glass of water – if it floats, it’s ready.

4. Spoon about 2 tbsp of the mixture onto a corn husk roll up the husk, folding in one end. Repeat until dough is used up. Stack the tamales on end in a steamer**. Steam for 2.5  hours with the lid on. Check every 15 minutes and add more water when needed. It will be needed.

roll up tamales, then into the steamer

After two hours, take one out and check it. If it looks like canned pumpkin, put it back in and check in 15 minutes. Repeat until you have a firmer texture that resembles, oh I don’t know, a tamale. It usually takes mine in the neighborhood of 3 hours.

* Although I think the records of the dogs barking – especially the original lineup – sound good year ’round.

** You really need a tamale steamer for this, so that you can stand the tamales on end. Although, I don’t have a tamale steamer, so I make due by stacking them as vertically as possible (call it leaning) in a basket steamer.


  • ellensm

    These look so good, we will have to try them. Also wanted to take the opportunity to let people who read your post know that if they are interested in other kinds of tamales, and don’t want to make their own, Brisket Heaven has brisket tamales (flavorful, moist and lard-free) available from now thru the first of the year. Contact info at brisketheaven.com or (non-flash) brisketheaven.wordpress.com. (Not sure if this is a kosher reply post, but trust you will remove it if it isn’t!).