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Tamales: An old Spanish holiday tradition

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POSTED December 19, 2012 5:24 p.m.

Making tamales is an old Spanish holiday tradition.

A tamale is a Mexican dish which, in its basic form, consists of seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough and then cooked – either steamed or baked in corn husks.

Most families only make this tasty dish on holidays, said Perry & Sons marketing specialist Marlene Champlin who has learned “a new twist” on the age-old scrumptious holiday feast.

That “new twist” comes in the form of a butternut squash, black bean and goat cheese combination, a vegetarian answer to the meaty Mexican traditional recipe.

“Ron Perry gave it to me. He found it somewhere and sent it over to me,” Champlin said of the Perry & Sons recipe. Ron, the oldest son of Art and Diane Perry, is the CSO of the family-owned and –operated George Perry & Sons in Manteca.

Once Champlin got a hold of the new tamales recipe, she went into action. “Here’s my chance to learn how to make tamales,” she thought.

“I’ve never made them in my life,” she said with a small laugh during the telephone interview.

She relied on the Internet for instructions on the tricky part of the preparation process.

Using the recipe passed along by Ron Perry, “I used YouTube to figure out how to stuff and roll the tamales,” Champlin said laughing even more at this point.

She learned how to do it so well, “You think I’ve been making tamales all my life,” she said, laughing even more.

“They’re yummy; they’re so amazing,” she said of the tamales made of butternut squash, black beans and goat cheese – sans meat.

Below is this holiday tamales with a new twist, plus a couple more recipes for the holidays courtesy of Perry & Sons.

Bon appétit!

Butternut Squash, Black Bean & Goat Cheese Tamales

Tamales are a sign of celebration at holiday gatherings in Mexican households on both sides of the border, especially for occasions like Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve dinner. Here we stuff them with creamy winter squash, black beans and tangy goat cheese.

Active Time: 1 hr 30 min.

Total Time: 2 hrs 30 mins  16 tamales (doubles or triples well)

Make Ahead Tip: The batter (Step 2) and filling (Step 3) will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  Steamed tamales will keep, covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.  Reheat tamales in a steamer or microwave on Medium power.


4 ounces dried cornhusks, See note


1 3/4 cups masa, See note

1 1/4 cups hot water

2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese

1/4 cup canola oil

3 teaspoons baking powder

3 teaspoons salt

2 cups quick-cooking grits, or cornmeal

1/2-3/4 cup vegetable broth, or reduced-sodium chicken broth


20 ounces frozen winter squash, thawed (about 2 cups; see Tip)

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed

1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained ( I also like to substitute 6 jalapenos, roasted & chopped)

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese


To prepare wrappers: Place cornhusks in a large bowl, cover with hot water and weight with a heavy plate or pan to completely submerge them. Let soak for 30 minutes.

To prepare batter: Put masa and 1 1/4 cups hot water in a large bowl; stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Beat ricotta, oil, baking powder and salt in another large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add grits (or cornmeal) and mix until combined. Add the ricotta mixture to the masa mixture and stir until smooth. Stir in broth 1/4 cup at a time until the batter is very moist and spreadable, but not runny.

To prepare filling: Place squash puree in a fine-mesh sieve and gently press on it to extract excess liquid. Transfer to a medium bowl and add beans, chiles and salt; stir until combined.

To assemble tamales: Drain the cornhusks and pat dry. Sort through and pick out 16 large, unblemished husks to use as wrappers. Cut about 2 dozen thin, long strips from the remaining husks to use as ties (or use kitchen string instead). Cover the husks and ties with a damp towel to keep moist.

Working on a clean surface, unfold one of the large cornhusks so it’s completely flat. Spread 1/3 cup of the batter in the center of the husk in a 4-inch square, leaving a wide border at the top and the bottom. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling in a thin strip down the length of the batter. Top the filling with 1 rounded teaspoon goat cheese.

Bring the two long sides of the cornhusk together, causing the batter to completely surround the filling; but don’t fold the sides over the tamale yet. Fold the cornhusk ends in, then fold the sides around the tamale. If a cornhusk splits while you’re folding the tamale, just wrap a second husk right over the first and finish rolling. Tie the tamale closed using a thin strip of cornhusk. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 15 more tamales. (You may have a little batter and/or filling left over.)

To steam tamales: Fill a large Dutch oven with 1 inch of water. Place a steamer basket in the pot and loosely place the tamales upright in the basket. Cover and steam over medium heat for 1 hour. Check the water level periodically and add more boiling water if necessary. The tamales are done when the batter is firm and easily pulls away from the wrapper.

Notes: Cornhusks are traditionally used as tamale wrappers. They are sold dried and need to be reconstituted in water to make them pliable enough for tamales.

Masa is ground dried corn treated with lime, sometimes called masa harina or instant masa mix; it is used for making tamales and tortillas. Masa can be found near the cornmeal or flour and dried cornhusks in the produce department of most well-stocked supermarkets or Mexican grocers; both can be found on

Per tamale: 232 calories; 7 g fat ( 3 g sat , 3 g mono ); 10 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrates; 8 g protein;4 g fiber; 612 mg sodium; 130 mg potassium.

• • •


from George Perry & Sons


3 eggs

3 c. cooked butternut squash, mashed

1 1/2 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. vanilla (or spice-see Note below)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. soft butter

Beat eggs until lemon colored. Put all ingredients in bowl and mix. Place mixture in buttered baking dish and bake at 400 degrees until set (about 20 minutes). Remove from oven and cover with topping.


1/2 stick butter

3 c. crushed cornflakes

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. chopped pecans

Mix all ingredients well. Cover butternut squash with topping and return to oven. Continue baking another 10 to 15 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.


For a wonderful holiday twist, add 2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice to this dish.

Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

3 1/2 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium), peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes (8 cups)

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• Coarse kosher salt

• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided

• 3 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)

• 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

• 1 5.5-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese

• 1 cup heavy whipping cream

• 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place butternut squash cubes and olive oil in large bowl; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and ground pepper and toss to coat. Spread out squash cubes on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until just tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add sliced leeks and chopped sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender but not brown, about 15 minutes. Coat 11x7-inch baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Spread half of leek mixture over bottom of prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with half of squash and half of cheese. Repeat layering with leeks, squash, and cheese. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour cream evenly over gratin. Sprinkle with toasted chopped hazelnuts. Bake uncovered until gratin is heated through and cream is bubbling, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if previously chilled).

TO GO: This gratin is a good choice for transporting because it travels well. Either complete the dish at home (wrap it tightly to keep warm) or wait until you get to your destination to add the cream and nuts and then bake.

TO FREEZE: As per above for travel; wrap tightly freeze.  Thaw overnight in refrigerator, add the cream and nuts then bake.

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