(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

In Mexico, tamales of pork and chicken are most traditional, but vegetarian tamales made of beans, cheese with rajas (or chile strips), and mushrooms are becoming more popular.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

A couple things to consider when making vegetarian tamales: Lard is traditional when making the masa for tamales, but you can substitute vegetable shortening. I like to use the chicken cooking liquid from the chicken tamales to flavor this mole, but you can substitute vegetable stock instead.

Mole verde improves with flavor a day or two after making; try to plan ahead and make it a few days in advance. Mole will keep in the refrigerator for up a week or in the freezer for up to a month.

Testing Notes

These vegetarian tamales were a nice alternative to the usual heavier, meatier ones. By themselves, the tamales were mild enough that my toddler gobbled them up, but the mole verde added deeper, complex flavors that paired well with the mushrooms and goat cheese and made all the adults happy too.

- Christine, December 2015

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tamales with Mole Verde

Makes 20 tamales

For the mole verde:
1 medium onion, cut into eighths
5 cloves garlic
2 jalapeños peppers
2 poblano peppers
5 tomatillos, husks removed
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
Juice of 1 lime

For the filling:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds crimini mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 1/4 cups soft goat cheese

For the masa:
3 1/2 cups Maseca instant corn flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening or lard
5 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water

To assemble:
20 dried corn husks, at least 6 inches wide at the bottom

Make the mole verde: Heat broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place onions, garlic, jalapeños, poblanos, and tomatillos on the baking sheet and broil until charred, turning occasionally. Remove vegetables as they become charred.

Let peppers cool slightly, and then remove charred skin, stems, and seeds.

Toast pumpkin seeds and pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes.

Place onion, garlic, jalapeños, poblanos, tomatillos, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, cilantro, oregano, salt, and 1 cup stock in a blender. Purée until smooth.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once shimmering, carefully add mole, stirring constantly. Cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Then add remaining 1 cup of stock and cook, stirring frequently, another 5 minutes.

Stir in lime juice. Taste and add more salt as needed. Keep warm until ready to serve, or cool completely, cover, and refrigerate for up to a week.

Make the filling: Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Once oil is shimmering, add enough mushrooms to completely cover the bottom of the pan and let cook, undisturbed, until starting to brown. Add more mushrooms, about 1 cup at a time, letting the first ones brown before adding the next until all the mushrooms have been added to the pan.

Add the onions, garlic, and oregano, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are slightly browned and tender. Remove from heat and let cool.

Make the masa: In a large bowl, combine the Maseca, baking powder, and salt.

Heat vegetable shortening and stock in a large pot over medium heat until shortening is just melted.

Pour into Maseca mixture and mix until a soft dough forms (I start with a wooden spoon and then switch to my hands to make sure it is well-mixed). You want the masa to be very soft, but not runny, like the consistency of very fluffy mashed potatoes. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Make the tamales: Place dried corn husks in a large heatproof bowl. Cover with very hot water, weigh husks down with a heavy plate to fully submerge, and let soak at least 30 minutes or until soft and pliable.

Fill a large tamale steamer with enough water to reach the rack where the tamales will sit. If you don't have a tamale steamer, place a wire rack in the bottom of a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, and add enough water to just come up to the rack. Place the steamer over medium heat and cover. Once water is boiling, reduce heat to a vigorous simmer.

Dry one corn husk on both sides. Spread about 1/3 cup of masa on the wide end of the corn husk, using a spoon or your fingers to press into place. Leave about 1/2-inch border on both sides, but not the bottom.

Place about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mushroom filling in a line down the middle of the masa, then top with about 1 tablespoon goat cheese.

Fold one side of masa over the filling until the two edges of the corn husk meet, and holding onto one side of corn husk, pull the other side toward the middle to press the two edges of masa together. Fold the pointy end of the corn husk up over the large end and place on a clean baking sheet. Repeat with remaining corn husks.

Place tamales vertically, open-side up in the tamale steamer, keeping them snug in the pot so they don't unravel during cooking. Make sure water is at a steady simmer and producing lots of steam. Cover tightly and steam until masa is cooked through and not doughy in the middle, about 45 minutes. Check occasionally and add more water if the pot looks dry.

Remove from heat and let sit 5 to 10 minutes before removing from the pot. Tamales can also be left in the pot, covered with a clean towel (then covered with the steamer lid) for up to an hour before serving. They will stay warm and soft if you want to make them in advance.

Serve tamales with warm mole verde on the side.

Recipe Notes

  • Storing tamales: Tamales are best eaten the day they are made, but can be made, cooled, wrapped tightly, and refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to one month.
  • Reheating tamales: To reheat a few, place tamales (wrapped in the corn husks) in a frying pan with 1/4 cup of water. Cover and simmer until heated through. If you are reheating the entire batch, place them in the steamer and steam until heated through, about 20 to 30 minutes.