Healthy Recipe: Holiday Tamales with Poblano Peppers, Spicy Cheese, & Tomatillo Avocado Salsa

These better-for-you tamales are prepared using vegetable oil, instead of the customary lard, and stuffed with a vegetarian filling of poblano peppers and cheese. The outcome is a dish bursting with tangy bright flavors that’s a welcome vacation from the often heavy and tame tastes of a traditional American holiday supper. 

Get the whole family involved in a tamales assembly line before you steam and serve them for dinner. Or, make them in advance, freeze them, and pull them out to wow your family on days when cooking fatigue has kicked in. Either way, they make a light and delicious dinner served alongside a fresh tomatillo avocado salsa. 


For the dough:

1 large package (16 oz) of dried corn husks 

3 cups masa harina 

2 cups vegetable broth 

¼ cup canola oil 

2 tsp salt 

½ tsp baking powder 

For the filling:

5 large poblano peppers

12 oz (375 g) spicy pepper jack cheese 

For the tomatillo avocado salsa:

12 tomatillo, husked, rinsed well

1 small onion, quartered

6 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 serrano peppers 

2 ripe avocados, peeled, diced

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


Submerge your corn husks in hot tap water and soak while you prepare the dough and filling. 

Mix the masa harina and 2 cups of broth by hand until the dough is soft and moist. Next add that dough to a mixer in small chunks at a time along with oil, salt, and baking powder. Mix on high for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is light and fluffy.   

Meanwhile, char your poblano peppers directly over the gas flame of your stove top using metal tongs, or under a broiler until blackened on all sides. Once charred, place them in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let them stand for 10 minutes and then peel, seed, and chop chilies.

Create your tamales: Remove 1 corn husk from the water and wipe off any extra water with a towel. Use a rubber spatula to spread about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dough (the amount depends on the size of the corn husk) in a large rectangle. Leave approximately 1” of space at the top so the dough doesn’t burst out once it’s cooking, and leave about 3 inches of space at the narrower end of the leaf so you have room to fold it.

Add 1 tablespoon of cheese and 1 tablespoon of your charred poblano pepper filling in a line down the center of the tamale. Don’t add too much or it will make it hard to fold. 

Fold your tamale closed like a taco and press lightly to seal. Then tuck the leaves of the husk over each other into a tube shape. Press down on the narrower end to seal, then fold up toward the wider end. Set aside, folded side down, and repeat with the remaining tamales.

Add enough water to a large pot containing a steamer to reach bottom of insert. Line the insert with a layer of extra unfilled corn husks. Layer your tamales in the steamer basket. Bring water to a soft boil and cover pot. Steam until tamales are firm, about 35 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the size of your tamales). If needed, remove insert and add boiling water to pot to maintain water level. 

While your tamales are steaming add all your salsa ingredients into a food processor and blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Makes about 20 small tamales

Serving size: 2 tamales


Calories 400

Protein 12 g

Total fat 22 g

Saturated fat 7 g

Cholesterol 30 mg

Carbs 40 g

Fiber 6 g

Total sugars 4 g

Added sugars 0 g

Sodium 860 mg

Powered by ESHA Nutrient Data, © 2020 ESHA Research, Inc.

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