Photo by Sonia Mendez Garcia

Roasted Cactus Salsa and Cheese Tamales

Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 15 to 20 people
Melted cheese and roasted nopales (cactus pads) make a delicious vegetarian tamal!

This was a recipe for cheese tamales that I prepared for some friends during the holidays who are vegetarian. After I tried them, I have to say that I almost liked them better than meat-filled tamales!

There’s something about that roasted salsa, combined with the melted cheese and warm tamal that made this so delicious. This recipe makes a great meal for Lent, but it's also a tasty option for your Meatless Monday menu! You can also try this recipe for black bean tamales

Serve these tamales with your favorite side of rice and beans. If you're fortunate enough to live in an area where you can purchase Oaxaca cheese, I highly suggest you use that for this recipe. There’s nothing like it… super delicioso!


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  1. Start by soaking the corn husk in really hot water, cover and set aside.
  2. Preheat the broiler to high for 3 to 4 minutes. Line a baking sheet with foil paper and place the tomatoes, onions, serrano peppers, poblano peppers, garlic, and fresh corn (if using) onto baking sheet. Drizzle with a little bit of oil. Cook under the broiler until the skins on the peppers and tomatoes blacken and blister, turning as needed. I like to keep the oven door slightly open when using the broiler. Never leave the broiler unattended. Remove from oven, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the masa harina, salt, and baking powder. Gradually add in the warm chicken broth and work in until dough forms. In another glass bowl, melt the manteca (lard), then work well into the masa mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  4. Remove the blistered skins and seeds from the poblano peppers, dice and transfer to a large bowl. Roughly chop the tomatoes, serranos (or jalapeño), garlic, and onion and transfer to a processor or blender. Pulse to blend until desired consistency, transfer to bowl with poblano peppers. Add the remaining ingredients for the salsa, season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Prepare a large steamer pot with water, set aside. Once everything is in place, shake of excess water from husk. Take one husk (about 5 inches across) and, using the back of a spoon, spread enough masa to cover the surface (not too thick). Add a strip of cheese and cover cheese with salsa. Fold in the sides, then fold down the flap and wrap tightly with deli or foil paper. Stand up in steamer pot with open side up. Reserve extra salsa to garnish cooked tamales.
  6. Once all tamales are done, bring to a quick boil in steamer, then reduce heat to medium. Steam for 1 hour, checking for water every 20 minutes. After 1 hour, pull out 1 tamale and let cool slightly. If the husk pulls away easily from masa, they are done. If not, steam for another 10 minutes.
  7. Let tamales cool slightly before eating. Garnish with extra salsa and serve!

Chef Notes

If you do not have a steamer, you can use a regular large pot. You want to insert a plate, bowl, or metal steamer upside down into pot. The idea is to keep the tamales up and out of the water on the bottom of pot. Steam as usual. Tamales are freezer friendly!

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