Plant-based and oil free tamales: Who knew fat free could be so tasty?

I never really thought much about eliminating all oils from the diet until last year. My in-laws embarked on a plant-based and oil free diet to combat severe heart disease. What diet is that? They eat essentially vegan, but eliminate all oils as well, so no coconut oil, avocado, or olive oil.They eat lots of beans, lentils, whole grains, vegetables and fruits and a few supplements. How are they doing? They are doing great! The diet change has really given them a new vitality. From their experience, however, I realize the challenge of eating this way. If you follow this diet, almost everything is cooking from scratch. I love to cook from scratch and make up my own recipes. This post details one of the recipes I put together just for them.


Tamales are a favorite food in our house. If you are unfamiliar with tamales, they are usually made of a masa dough wrapped around a meaty filling (traditionally pork). The dough and filling are held together by being wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf. The packages are then steamed to cook the dough and heat the filling. The result is pure delicious.

Tamale filling is always changing at our house. A few years ago we made lots of tomatillo salsa, both hot and mild. So our tamales that year were usually pork, beans or chicken with tomatillo salsa. (Maybe at harvest time I can share some of those salsa recipes.) An aquaintance of mine sells tamales as a business and she has been experimenting with dessert tamales. Apparently the ones filled with peaches are amazing. When I make tamales, I make a huge batch and we eat some and freeze a lot. Even so, tamales for lunches and snacks often run out pretty quickly. My most recent tamales were the vegan, oil-free tamales for my in laws.

The Challenge 

Tamales usually have lard and chicken broth in the dough. Vegan is an easy transition. In the past, I have made them with coconut oil and vegetable broth without a problem. But oil-free??? Fat is a main ingredient. Following is the recipe for vegan, oil-free tamales. Without the whipped lard in the dough, they are not quite as light as a traditional tamale, but they turned out quite delicious.

Vegan oilfree tamales

Makes about 20

* 1 bag dried corn husks

* 2 cups masa flour (Bobs Red Mill has gmo free)

* 1/2 tsp garlic powder

* 1/2 tsp chili powder or chipotle powder

* 1/2 tsp salt

* 3 small boiler onions diced and sauteed in 2 Tbsp vegetable broth

* 1 15 ounce can of corn or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn

* 1 med. size poblano pepper diced

* 1 small jalapeno (optional)

* 1 large baked sweet potato skin removed, diced and cooled.

* 1/2 bunch spinach chopped small

* 2 cups vegetable broth

1. Wash and soak corn husks in warm water. Keep submerged.

2. Measure corn. Dice poblano, seed and mince jalapeno. Peel and slice onion.

3. In high edge fry pan add onion and corn. Spread it out to cover bottom of pan in thin layer. Cover and let cook for 5 minutes without stirring. They should brown slightly. Add more vegetable broth if needed to prevent burning. Try to keep mixture fairly dry.

4. Add peppers. Cover and cook 5 more minutes. Chop sweet potato and spinach while waiting. After peppers are cooked, turn off heat and add sweet potato and spinach to mixture. Set aside to cool.

5. Measure 2 cups masa and the seasonings into large bowl. Mix.

6. Add vegetable mix to masa and mix well. Add vegetable broth a little at a time to make a soft pliable dough.

7. Place 1-2 Tbsp filling into center of corn husk. Wrap and steam in steamer for about 60 minutes.

8. Let cool slightly to allow tamale dough to firm up. Open the corn husk to get to the delicious treat inside. Serve with salsa, beans, and cilantro. Yummy!

Recipe can be doubled or tripled. To have more to freeze for later. 

If you love tamales like we do, share with us your favorite recipe. What do you put inside? Someone suggested dessert tamales with an apple raisin filling. Maybe try something more exotic – persimmon pear filling or a savory jackfruit filling (texture is just like shredded chicken). A tamale is like a sandwich, just about anything goes.

I have to drive to a bigger city to get more corn husks, maybe while I am there I can find something interesting and new to fill my tamales for next time. I’ll keep you posted.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I don’t understand your recipe, please separate out the dough from the filling.

    1. Laura says:

      They are not separate in this recipe. They are all mixed together. Sorry for the confusion.

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