How to Make Organic Tamales with Organic Cornmeal & Lard

Want to learn how to make tamales from scratch? It's not hard. And by making your own, you can avoid the GMO cornmeal and Crisco and use use real food ingredients instead: organic cornmeal and pastured lard.

How to Make Organic Tamales with Organic Cornmeal and Lard

It's Christmas time, and to me that means tamales. It is traditional to eat tamales on Christmas Eve in Mexico. Tamales are also traditional in Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, and many other Latin countries. We always go out to dinner at a restaurant on Christmas Eve, and then open our presents after dinner. I love having tamales all ready to eat on Christmas Day.

I grew up with fancy Christmas dinners with a turkey and stuffing… but with all the stress of Christmas, I love making my tamales ahead of time and freezing them, then having an easy, relaxing Christmas Day dinner of tamales served with sour cream, salsa, and fresh guacamole. My family loves Mexican food!

Why Organic Tamales with Organic Cornmeal and Lard?

Unfortunately, almost all the tamales that can be found in the United States today are made from genetically modified corn and they typically use modern industrial oils — either Crisco, soybean oil or margarine. These vegetable oils are not traditional and are very bad for you.

In this recipe, we are using lard instead of soybean oil or Crisco. Lard, or pig fat, is the traditional fat used for tamales. You can buy pastured lard online. Scroll down to the bottom for the recipe notes below on how to buy lard, as well as a substitute you can use for lard.

Our former housekeeper, Carla, is from Honduras. She taught me how to make tamales. In Honduras, they make a slightly larger tamale and they wrap them in plantain leaves. We're doing the Mexican version, which uses corn husks.

We soaked the corn first and made masa, which is a cornmeal dough used for tamales and tortillas. We used organic cornmeal instead of Maseca, which is made from GMO corn.

This tamale filling is made from ground beef or you can use shredded pork. This is the classic beef or pork tamale. You can also stuff the tamales with cheese, beans, or vegetables like corn or potatoes. Dessert tamales stuffed with chocolate or fruit are also delicious. I'll be posting more recipes soon, since this Christmas I'm making 4 kinds of tamales: ground beef; refried beans, cheese and potato; sweet corn and cheese; and chocolate tamales.

And stay tuned for an update on this recipe using the Instant Pot! You can make organic tamales using your Instant Pot in just 30-40 minutes. We are testing the recipe today. I will be posting soon!

How to Make Organic Tamales with Organic Cornmeal and Lard

How to Make Organic Tamales: Ingredients

Masa
Organic field or dent corn (1 1/2 pounds) or organic cornmeal (1 1/2 pounds)
Pickling lime — if making masa from dent corn (1 TBS)
Bone broth or organic chicken stock

Filling
Butter or lard (2 TBS) — how to render lard
Large yellow or white onion (1/2)
Ground beef, grass-fed (1 pound)

Tamales
A few packages dried corn husks (get a few packs because you will want to make this again & they don't go bad)
Fresh masa — see below (1 1/2 pounds)
Lard, pastured and/or organic or refined expeller-pressed coconut oil (3/4 cup or 6 ounces)
Sea salt (1/2 tsp)
Baking powder (1 1/2 tsp)
Sour cream, from grass-fed cows if possible (1 container)
Salsa, organic (1 container)
Fresh guacamole (avocados, garlic, onion, lemon or lime, sea salt)

How to Make Organic Tamales: Equipment

[easyazon-link asin=”B0000CF41U” locale=”us”]Large glass bowl[/easyazon-link] or enamelware Dutch oven (for soaking)
[easyazon-link asin=”B0038KPRG6″ locale=”us”]Food processor[/easyazon-link] (or better yet, a grain grinder — one that can handle grinding corn)
[easyazon-link asin=”B0000UV01S” locale=”us”]Large stockpot with steamer insert[/easyazon-link]
[easyazon-link asin=”B000Q9YVMS” locale=”us”]Tongs[/easyazon-link]

How to Make Organic Tamales: Directions

Soaking Dent Corn (For Making Masa from Organic Dent Corn)
1. Rinse 1 1/2 pounds corn in a colander.
2. Add 2 quarts of filtered water to a stock pot or saucepan.
3. Mix in 1 tablespoon pickling lime and turn heat on high.
4. Pour the rinsed corn in. Remove any kernels that float to the surface.
5. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer. Let it cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.
6. At this point, you can transfer it to a glass mixing bowl and cover it with a dish cloth to let it soak (I used an enamelware Dutch oven with a lid). It's best to soak in glass or enamelware — or stoneware. I don't think it's a good idea to ferment in stainless steel.
7. Mix well, cover, and let the corn soak for 24 hours.

Using Dent Corn to Make Masa
1. Rinse the soaked corn thoroughly in a colander.
2. Add the corn to the bowl of your food processor, 1 cup at a time.
3. Pulse a few times, then let it run.
4. Add anywhere from 1-4 tablespoons of bone broth per cup of corn. You just have to feel it out. Keep adding water 1 tablespoon at a time and blending until the dough is very soft and is no longer crumbly.
5. Keep pulsing and scraping down until the dough is done. You will know when it's done when the dough is very smooth and it forms a ball on one side of your food processor.
6. Be very conservative about adding broth. If you add too much broth, the dough will be overly sticky. That's OK though. Just add more corn and make it a little dryer, then mix it with the wetter one. If you need to, add a little dry cornmeal flour to get the right consistency.
7. Form the dough into a few large balls and wrap in plastic and store in the fridge until you are ready to make your tamales.

Using Organic Cornmeal to Make Masa
1. In a food processor, add anywhere from 1-4 tablespoons of bone broth per cup of cornmeal. You just have to feel it out. Keep adding water 1 tablespoon at a time and blending until the dough is very soft and is no longer crumbly.
2. Keep pulsing and scraping down until the dough is done. You will know when it's done when the dough is very smooth and it forms a ball on one side of your food processor.
3. Be very conservative about adding broth. If you add too much broth, the dough will be overly sticky. That's OK though. Just add more corn and make it a little dryer, then mix it with the wetter one. If you need to, add a little dry cornmeal flour to get the right consistency.
4. Form the dough into a few large balls and wrap in plastic and store in the fridge until you are ready to make your tamales.

Make the Tamale Filling
1. Chop the onion.
2. Add the butter or lard to a skillet and turn the heat on medium.
3. Add the onions and cook until soft.
4. Add the ground meat and cook until done.
5. Add sea salt to taste.
6. Set aside until ready to fill tamales.

Make the Tamales
1. Soften (not melt) the lard or coconut oil. A good way to do this is to put it in the dehydrator on very low heat.
2. In a food processor or by hand with a wooden spoon, mix together the masa dough, lard or coconut oil, sea salt and baking powder.
3. Tear one dried corn husk of into small strips to use as ties for the tamales. Set aside.
4. With the tapering end of the husk facing you, place a scant one-eighth cup of dough onto the husk, leaving at least a one and one- half-inch border of husk at the tapered end.
5. Make a divet with your fingers and add a small scoop of the meat filling.
6. Press the masa around the meat to cover it.
7. Fold the two long sides of the corn husk in over the corn mixture.
8. Fold the tapered end up, leaving the top open.
9. Secure the tamale by tying with a strip of the husk.
10. Do all the tamales in this manner and set aside. It's good to have a friend or family member helping.
11. Measure 1-2 inches of filtered water in a large stockpot. Set steamer insert into pot. Set on low to medium heat.
12. Stand tamales upright in prepared steamer. Cover and steam for 1-2 hours, checking water level occasionally and replenishing with boiling water as needed. Tamales are done when they pull away from the husk easily.
13. Serve with sour cream and/or salsa (ideally lacto-fermented salsa).

How to Make Organic Tamales: Recipe Notes

This recipe for tamales comes from Chef Rick Bayless. I revised it to use fresh organic corn or cornmeal instead of the GMO masa harina that you buy at the store.

You can either soak dent corn to make masa or you can use organic cornmeal (instructions for both methods are included above). The advantages of soaking your own corn instead of using cornmeal are: (1) it's cheaper and (2) it's much fresher, which means it tastes better and it's much more nutritious. But not everyone will have the time or inclination to find and soak field corn. If you do buy cornmeal instead of making masa from scratch, make sure it's organic.

This recipe produces about a pound and a half of fresh masa. It will be enough to make a lot of tamales (you need one pound), plus a little extra. You can use the extra masa dough to make more tamales (such as a dessert tamale or a vegetable). If you don't use it all, I recommend freezing the extra masa dough. You can use for tortillas (click here for my corn tortillas recipe). Or you can make extra tamales and freeze them. They make a delicious, easy-to-prepare dinner any night of the week. Just pop them in the oven or toaster oven!

You do need to find corn husks which can be purchased at most grocery stores or you can buy on Amazon.

It's cheaper to buy pig fat directly from a farmer (look for pig fat from pigs raised on pasture), and rendering it yourself). You can also use refined expeller pressed coconut oil. Expeller-pressed or refined coconut oil is very healthy and it works great in tamales (I don't recommend unrefined coconut oil, however — the coconut flavor is too strong).

Click the links below to read my recipes for making masa from scratch:

Part One: How to Soak Corn for Masa
Part Two: How to Make Masa

And here's my recipe for rendering lard:
How to Render Lard

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How to Make Organic Tamales with Organic Cornmeal and Lard

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Ann Marie Michaels

I have 25 years of experience in digital and online media & marketing. I started my career in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, working at some of the world’s top ad agencies. In 2007, after my first child was born, I started this little food blog which I grew to over 250K monthly unique website visitors and over 350K social media followers. For nearly 15 years, I've helped my audience of mostly moms and women 25-65 cook for their families and live a healthier lifestyle.

 The year after I started the blog, I founded a blog network in the health & wellness space called Village Green Network. I started the company on my coffee table and bootstrapped the business to over $1.3 million in annual revenue within 5 years. During that time, I helped a number of our bloggers become six figure earners. After being censored on almost every social media platform for telling the After being censored on almost every social media platform from Facebook and Instagram to Pinterest and Twitter, and being deplatformed on Google, I am now deployed as a digital soldier, writing almost exclusively about politics on my blog Cheeseslave.com. Because who can think about food when we are fighting the second revolutionary war and third world war? Don't worry, there will be more recipes one day. After the war is over.

31 thoughts on “How to Make Organic Tamales with Organic Cornmeal & Lard

  1. So we made tamales this weekend. We had a blast! Method is a bit different, but I am going to try making my own masa next time. Is the cornmeal fine enough just by itself to resemble the prepared masa or cornflour version? Should I try to grind it finer?

    Also, if you roast a pork shoulder, couldn’t you use that fat from that to make the dough? And then shred the meat and season with the traditional red chili/water?

    We made a variety of fillings, from chunked/shredded chicken with roasted hatch chiles (too spicy for me!), shredded pork with red chili, and cheese chunk filled as well a creative combinations of the above if people were so inclined. 🙂 We also used a cranberry compote as a filling and a frozen sliced and sweetened/seasoned apple fillling. Both were quite good!

    A friend told me that his favorite type, he can’t find anymore, and it was a very plain shredded chicken, flavorful, but not spicy, and with queso fresco in the dough. I may give that a try after I try my hand at the making the queso fresco from raw milk…

    Thanks for posting this!

  2. Oh, one thing I wanted to add about method: If you whip the lard/fat with a hand or stand mixer, you will get a lighter, less dense masa once it comes out of the steamer.

  3. @ Carla

    It depends on how you like your masa. You don’t need to grind it superfine. It’s up to you though.

    I would not use the fat from a pork shoulder to make masa. You could try it I guess, but I’m afraid it would change the color of the tamales. Lard and coconut oil are clear.

    Good tip about whipping the lard!

  4. Oh, all the wonders of true food. HOWEVER, our senators and representatives has PASSED a bill that will limit the freedoms of small farmers and respectively the people. Where were you? I know this is the season, but I must ask the season for whom. Baking good cookies, etc. won’t help. We should have united against an intrusive government that seems to be dedicated only to lining their own pockets at the expense of the health of the American citizens. At the rate they’re going, we will have no freedoms left. Wake Up! Please!

  5. Thanks for the directions! I wish I had a picture for how to place the masa and filling in the husk, I’m trying to picture it. It seems like such a small amount!
    It’s been on my agenda to try this for some time, just need to make the time.
    Wouldn’t beef tallow or butter work okay? I don’t use lard, but I could use coconut oil, I just wonder if tallow or butter might taste better.

    Does the sour, “limey” taste of the from scratch masa/tortillas bother you? I’ve made them a few times, and they are good, but that lime aftertaste is pretty apparent. I also wonder if the boiling and simmering with the lime is necessary. I wonder if just adding boiling lime water to the corn would be fine.
    I grind the soaked corn kernals in my juicer, it gets it pretty smooth.

  6. This looks amazing. I made tamales with a distant family member (that I haven’t seen since) several years ago before I had kids and before I knew lard was good for me. We used shortening, I remember because I was pretty grossed out. It was for the wrong reasons of course, that saturated fat was bad. Thank goodness I now know that saturated fat is good, it just has to be from whole, traditional sources. I still shudder whenever I see shortening, but now it’s for the right reasons: trans fat, heart disease, etc.

    Anyways, that’s beside the point. It was a lot of fun to make tamales. We took shortcuts like using cornmeal and shortening, so I’m excited to make them the REAL way. Thanks for the recipe! I won’t be trying them before Christmas, but I want to try these soon. I haven’t been able to find a good local source for lard, so that’s my first order of business.

  7. @K I agree — it is fun! Especially if you are making them together as a family or with friends. Put some music on, have a glass of wine or egg nog, and make tamales!

    If you can’t find lard (I can’t find it here, have to order it from other states), the refined expeller pressed coconut oil works wonderfully!

  8. @KR

    I wish I had a picture for how to place the masa and filling in the husk, I’m trying to picture it. It seems like such a small amount!

    It is a small amount. Depends on the size of the husk. Try it and you’ll get the hang of how much to use.

    Wouldn’t beef tallow or butter work okay?

    Beef tallow would probably work fine. Butter I don’t know about — might be too soft and drip too much. Might work though. The refined expeller coconut oil really works great.

    If you can get your hands on lard, it’s really a great fat to use. It’s one of the highest sources of vitamin D (right after cod liver oil).

    Does the sour, “limey” taste of the from scratch masa/tortillas bother you? I’ve made them a few times, and they are good, but that lime aftertaste is pretty apparent.

    It should not taste like lime. How long are you soaking the corn? Try soaking for less time. And make sure you rinse thoroughly.

    I also wonder if the boiling and simmering with the lime is necessary. I wonder if just adding boiling lime water to the corn would be fine.

    This is the way I was taught to do it by my housekeeper from Honduras. My former nanny from Guatemala grew up doing it the same way.

  9. Thanks! The times I’ve made it I have only soaked about 24 hours, and I do rinse very well, or so it seems. I guess I’ll keep messing with it and figure it out.

  10. It looks wonderful. I grew up in El Salvador and would love it if you (and Carla?) posted sometime how to make the tamales in the plantain leaves. I’m assuming they would be similar to Salvadoran tamales?? The masa I remember using came fresh from the mill and came home already wet. Then it was cooked in a big pot; the tamales were made; and it was cooked again. Of course that’s from my childhood memories when I wasn’t really paying attention :).

    1. i am currently soaking the cornmeal. i am wondering how i am going to rinse it without losing it down the drain?

  11. It’s the whole organic corn. I’m surprised you don’t taste the lime at all. I’ll try it again soon and be careful about how I do it. and see what happens again.

  12. Ann Marie,

    I love your site! Thank you so much for your willingness to help us cook more traditionally. Between you and Sarah (Healthy Home Economist) I have learn things that were not that clear in Sally’s book (Nourishing Traditions).

    I have a few questions:
    I was wondering if you soak the corn husks before you fill?

    This is a silly questions, but is corn meal just ground corn? I have a grain grinder (Family Grain Mill) that will take corn as long as it is dry. My corn is already soaking, so this time I will use my food processor, next time I will grind first then soak.

    Thanks for your help,

    Happy New Year,

    Debbie

      1. You cannot find organic corn husks out there

        And since most corn has been genetically modified it's probably not an organic tamale!!

  13. Thank you SO much for this recipe! I’ve been dying to make tamales the traditional way for ages, and now I can! I’m also planning on roasting a pig’s head in the near future. You have such a great blog and keep reminding me to question everything. Keep up the awesome work, it’s very much appreciated! 🙂 <3

  14. Hello,

    My husband believes that unless you use organic corn husks that it's still not going to be clean of GMOs.

    If the tamales are steamed, the husks will obviously put off toxins into the masa.

    I tend to side with my husband on this.

    Michelle

  15. How can you call these non-gmo and/or Organic when you use gmo corn husks? I have never seen organic corn husks unless you are able to get fresh organic corn cobs with the husks still on, shuck them and leave them out to dry… but that’s real extensive for a batch of tamales.

      1. I was excited to think wow NON-GMO Organic corn husks~:/ I knew it was to good to be true. I will however try the coconut oil as we do not eat park at all in any form or fashion..
        So did anyone try the beef tallow ? I’m sure the flavoring makes a big difference. Also I was wondering if you put any spices at all in the masa dough as they traditionally do when making tamales ?
        I’m desperate for a good (organic) tamale-all parts of it.

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