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homemade tamales with caramelized onion filling recipe (gringo style)

July 9, 2009

When I get a craving for tamales I have four options:

  1. Ignore it.  Well, that’s just not possible.  Next option.
  2. Microwave up some frozen tamales (sadly available).  Nope, I’ll pass.  In fact, I’d rather go hungry.  To an extent.
  3. Go to the Mexican restaurant up the street.  Okay…now we’re getting somewhere.  However, Mexican food’s not supposed to cost $20 per plate (even though it is pretty tasty).  Nor am I going to swing by each time I get a hankering for tamales.
  4. Make my own tamales.  Gringo style.  Winner.


1 cup masa harina (a traditional Mexican corn flour used to make tortillas and tamales)

5 TBS vegetable oil

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

2 large or 3 medium onions, cut into thin strips

2 cloves of minced garlic

1 TBS red pepper flakes

1 tsp cumin powder

Salt to taste

Cilantro (optional)

1 cup water


Add the extra virgin olive oil, 1 TBS vegetable oil, the pepper flakes, cumin, a tsp of salt, and onions to a skillet over low heat.  The goal here is not to burn the onions (duh) but to caramelize them.  This will require frequent stirring and about 30-45 minutes.  It’s well worth it…trust me.

While cooking the onions, mix together the masa harina, water, 1 tsp salt, and remaining vegetable oil.  The goal here is a dough that’s a bit sticky but not wet.  If not the right consistency adjust accordingly.  Being a gringo recipe I’m not using lard.

When the onions are just about done add the garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.  Then remove from the heat.  OPTIONAL:  mix in a handful of cilantro.

Filling for tamales.  Fine by themselves as a meal.

Filling for tamales. Also works well as a meal.

Being a gringo recipe, I’m not using corn husks, which is traditional used for steaming the tamales.  Instead….:  over saran wrap spread a half inch thick layer of the masa harina dough into a 6 inch diameter.  Add some of the onion mixture to the center and roll the tamale together into a cigar.  Seal the seams well.  Repeat.

Cuban cigar tamale

Cuban cigar tamale

Get your steamer going and spray with non-stick spray.  Add the tamales, cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for 30-40 minutes.


Done tamales

Tamales, gringo style.

Serve with:

Lime, cilantro, healthy refried beans, homemade salsa, and negro modello.

Tamale, gringo style.

Hungry yet?

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 11:13 pm

    I am loving that caramelized onion filling! It sounds so so so good.

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