Black Bean Tamales

updated Feb 5, 2020
Black Bean Tamales

Authentic Mexican Tamales with a simple, vegetarian filling seasoned with Serrano peppers, onions & cilantro.

Makes12 large tamales

Prep1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes

Cook35 minutes to 40 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne; Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

This recipe is a part of our Ever-Evolving Southern Thanksgiving package. See all the recipes here.

Eddie Garza, Dallas, Texas

I grew up in far South Texas along the Mexican-American border. It’s a region plagued with childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases that are largely linked to poor dietary habits. We see this same epidemic taking hold in virtually every region with high Latinx populations. So what’s the commonality? The food system. We have very little access to healthy food. I, myself, was a victim of the poor food system in my region. At 21 years old, I maxed out at a body mass index of 49, which is on the higher side of “extremely obese,” and I was also diagnosed as pre-diabetic with a cholesterol level of 308. It was a much-needed wake-up call. 

I first started by cutting out the foods highest in fat and cholesterol, then eventually transitioned to a completely plant-based diet. It was a five-year process that resulted in a new and improved me. A healthy me — physically and emotionally. I felt reborn. And I’ve made it my life’s work to help make these same healthy plant-based foods accessible to all Latinx communities. I have worked with a host of public schools, hospitals, and food service providers throughout Latin America and Latinx communities in the United States to develop heart-healthy, plant-based menus to tackle the health issues plaguing our communities. I also wrote ¡Salud! Vegan Mexican Cookbook, which features 150 vegan Mexican recipes that represent the 150 pounds I lost during my journey to health.

Tamale-making is a food ritual that has been part of Mexican life since Mesoamerican times. They date as far back as 5000 BC and are perhaps the best example of Mexican communal cooking. Preparation is complex and time-consuming, so multiple people are usually tasked to make them together. In my grandma’s kitchen when I was growing up, making tamales was an all-day event. We made dozens upon dozens to give away as gifts for friends and family around the fall and winter holidays. These silky black bean tamales are a family favorite. They represent the harvest season in the yummiest and most economical way possible, featuring some of the most abundantly harvested foods since ancient times.

I certainly share some of the same beliefs and frustrations on issues related to colonization as other communities of color. The Thanksgiving holiday, while problematic at its core, has always been nothing but a food event for my family and me. These days, my family and I celebrate the holiday as more of a harvest celebration. We focus our menu around seasonal fruits and vegetables and give gratitude to the earth for providing all the nutrients we need to have healthy and happy lives.

Black Bean Tamales

Authentic Mexican Tamales with a simple, vegetarian filling seasoned with Serrano peppers, onions & cilantro.

Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes to 40 minutes

Makes 12 large tamales

Nutritional Info


For the corn husks and filling:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package

    dried corn husks

  • 2

    medium serrano peppers

  • 1 large clove


  • 1

    small yellow onion, diced

  • 1/2 cup

    fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

  • 2 tablespoons

    canola oil

  • 1 1/2 cups

    cooked black beans

  • 1 cup


  • Kosher salt

For the masa:

  • 3 cups

    corn masa flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil

  • 2 3/4 cups

    warm water

  • 1 tablespoon

    Mexican chile paste, such as Frontera adobo


  1. Soak the corn husks: Place the corn husks in a large pot and cover with hot water. Let sit until pliable. Meanwhile, prepare the filling and masa.

  2. Make the filling: Finely chop 2 serrano peppers (remove the seeds first if you want it less spicy) and 1 large garlic clove, and place both in a small bowl. Dice 1 small yellow onion and coarsely chop 1/2 cup cilantro.

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the serrano and garlic and sauté until the serrano turns bright green. Add the cilantro, 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, and 1 cup water. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until about half of the water has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

  4. Remove from the heat. Use a potato masher and mash the bean mixture, keeping some of the beans whole. Taste and season with salt as needed. Cover to keep warm.

  5. Prepare the masa: Place 3 cups corn masa flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil and knead it in with your hands to combine. Add 2 3/4 cups water and 1 tablespoon chile paste and stir until the masa batter is evenly colored.

  6. Form and steam the tamales: Select 12 of the largest and most pliable corn husks. Pat dry with towels.

  7. Fill a large tamale steamer with enough water to reach just under 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.

  8. Place 3 to 4 tablespoons of the masa in the center of a corn husk. Use the back of a large spoon to spread it evenly across the wide end of the husk, leaving about 1/2-inch border on both sides, but not the bottom. Place a line of the bean filling (3 to 4 tablespoons) down the center of the masa. 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.

  9. Repeat with the remaining corn husks. Gently tie the tamales together in groups of 3 or 4 with kitchen twine. Bring the water in the steamer to a boil over medium heat. Place the tamales vertically, open-side up in the tamale steamer, keeping them snug in the pot so they don't unravel during cooking. Cover and reduce the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer. Steam the tamales, adding more water to the pot as needed, for 35 to 40 minutes.

  10. Remove from the heat and uncover. Let the tamales sit until firm and the masa pulls away from the husk easily before serving, about 15 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Storage: 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.

Contributed by Eddie Garza, Dallas, TX.