Friday, June 18, 2010

Black Bean-Sweet Potato Tamales

I've never made tamales before and honestly never cared to because the ones I've eaten were always dry and didn't appeal to me. But my boyfriend loves them and my Viva Vegan cookbook has several recipes for tamales. I figured I'd try to make them, even if I didn't like them, just to gain more experience in the kitchen. But to my surprise, these tamales were nothing like the ones I've eaten in the past! They were moist, a little spicy and sweet.

The only bad thing about them was that they are a lot of work to make. I wouldn't suggest making these alone and if you can, make the beans and potatoes ahead of time. I couldn't imagine doing it all at once but then again, I was only working with a two person team. Maybe if you have a bigger family, it will go a lot smoother.

Another problem that I had was with the steaming. I couldn't find a pot big enough to hold the steamer and tamales and be able to put the lid on. I watched a video on Youtube and found that you can put a wet towel in the center on a large pot, pour about 2 to 3 inches of water in and put your tamales in there to steam, without the steamer. Make sure to lean all your tamales against each other, making a sort of spiral. The tamales that I made, standing straight up didn't cook as well as the ones I had leaning a little to the side. I learned a lot from making these and I can't wait to make them again, ( but not anytime soon haha ) because I know they will turn out a lot better the second time around.

Printer Friendly Recipe Here

Makes 2 dozen tamales

* 24 large dried husks, plus 6 to 8 more for tying the tamales and lining the steamer basket
* 1 pound sweet potatoes ( 2 small to medium-size are better than a large one )
* 1/2 tsp ground cumin
* 1/4 tsp salt
* Freshly ground pepper
* 2 Tb olive or peanut oil
* 4 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 pound yellow onion, diced
* 2 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, minced, plus 2 Tb sauce or more to taste
* 1/4 cup vegetable broth or white wine
* 2 cups cooked black beans
* 1 recipe Savory Vegan Masa Dough ( See Below )

1. Soak the corn husks in warm water. When you're ready to assemble the tamales, tear two or three long husks into 1/4 inch wide strips. Keep the strips in water until ready to use.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Pierce the sweet potatoes several times with a fork, wrap in foil, and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are soft enough to be easily pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven, unwrap, slice the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, and let cool.
When cool enough to handle, remove the skins, place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl, add the ground cumin, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Use a fork, or potato masher to mash the potatoes to a chunky puree.

3. Prepare the black beans; In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, combine the olive oil and garlic. Allow the garlic to sizzle for 30 seconds, stirring occasionally. Add the onion and fry until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chipotles and their sauce and the vegetable broth , stir and simmer for 1 minute. Add the black beans, bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed but beans are still moist, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow beans to cool.

4. For each tamale; Spread a generous 1/4 cup of dough down the center of a pliable soaked corn husk, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches on either end. This will form an oblong shape 4 to 5 inches wide and 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick. Spoon 1 generous Tb of sweet potato down the center of the tamale dough, then top with 1 Tb of black beans.

5. Now grab both edges of the corn husk that are not covered with dough. Bring the edges toward each other and push the sides of the masa dough together to encase the filling. Gently press the tamale to form a firm, solid tube shape. Tightly twist each end of the tamale wrapper ( so it looks a little like a wrapped piece of candy ) and tightly tie each end with a soaked corn-husk strip. Some sauce may leak out of the dough into the interior of the corn husk wrap, but it will not have any effect on the steamed tamales. Repeat with the remaining dough, filling, and husks. When you're finally tired of making tamales, it's time to get the steamer basket ready.

6. To steam the tamales; Remove the steamer basket from the pot. Fill the pot with 2 to 3 inches of water, or whatever level will stay below the steamer basket. Cover and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, line the bottom of the steamer basket with some soaked corn husks. Set the tamales, unwrapped end upright, into the steamer basket, first layering them around the sides of the basket and working inward. Top the tamales with any leftover soaked husks, if you have them, place the steamer basket in the pot, and cover.

7. Steam the tamales for at least 55 minutes, up to 1 hour 5 minutes. Check the pot occasionally to make sure the water has not evaporated; add more hot water as needed. Test to see if the tamales are ready by removing a tamale and peeling back some corn husk. Fully cooked tamale dough will be tender but solid, not wet. Remove the entire basket from the pot, place in a dinner plate, and let stand, covered, for at least 15 minutes to cool. Handle the tamales carefully ( tongs are handy ) as they will be hot and steaming.

** Serve these tamales hot with any chile sauce plus beans, rice, or salad, if desired. To serve tamales, you can unwrap them for your guests or let them do the honors.

Savory Vegan Masa Dough

Makes 2 dozen tamales

* 1/2 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shorting
* 1/2 cup non-hydrogenated vegan margarine
* 3 1/2 cups Mexican masa harina
* 2 tsp baking powder
* 1 tsp garlic powder
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 3 cups warm light-colored vegetable stock or "chicken" flavored vegetable stock

1. In a large bowl, use a handheld mixer to cream together the shortening and margarine until creamy and light. If using a stand mixer, be sure to frequently scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Sift in the masa harina, baking powder, garlic powder, and salt then continue to beat for about 3 minutes, until a sandy-looking mixture forms. Pour the vegetable stock into the masa mixture and continue to beat until all the liquid is absorbed and a fluffy dough forms, about 5 minutes.

2. The tamale dough should have a moist but not overly wet consistency, similar to mashed potatoes, and be easily spread with a rubber spatula. If the mixture seems too wet, sprinkle in another Tb or two of masa harina. If too dry, drizzle a Tb of vegetable broth until the desired consistency is reached. Use this dough right away for making tamales.


  1. Hey Jacklyn, this looks great. I always love the combination of sweet potato and black bean, but I never see dry corn husks anywhere. I don't know where I could get something like that???

  2. I got mine at a Hispanic supermarket. If you don't have any near you, I would look at the international aisle at your local market. If that still doesn't result in you finding them, I would resort to ordering them online. I found some at Amazon for $4.95, the same price that I bought mine for at the supermarket. I hope I helped, here's the link.....

  3. Nice job! These look wonderful. You did well, girl!

  4. Those look really nice! I've never made tamales, but this is encouraging. We recently made some black bean/sweet potato burritos from Vegan A-go go and the combination is fantastic!

  5. Thank you Vegan Aide. The salsa verde worked out really well with them. Thank you for your advice again! : ]

    You should try and make them Cassie, if you have the extra time. They're were worth the extra work, very yummy!

  6. love this recipes! made it for the second time with my hubby! thanx for posting!

  7. that's so good to hear : ]
    glad you like them

  8. These are awesome and worth the time and effort!! Thanks for the recipe!

  9. My husband loves tamales. I will surprise him with this recipe!