So good, non-vegans won’t be able to tell they’re meatless!
Whenever I prepare a dish that my non-vegan family says tastes as good as stuff with meat in it, I do a little happy dance. I love exposing them to new, healthy ways of consuming our favorite classics and reprogramming what they think about veganism. This holiday season, the recipe that knocked it out of the park was a vegan take on pork tamales. It garnered such overwhelmingly positive reviews with my crew, that I just had to share!
But before we dive into the recipe, here’s a little tamale 101 for beginners. If you’re a tamale pro, just skip ahead.
Tamales are comprised of two key things – “masa” (corn dough) and your choice of filling. Masa can be purchased at a tortilleria (a store that sells tortillas), a carniceria (meat market) or other Latin grocery store (like Fiesta or Mi Tienda, for those of you in south Texas). And while there’s a lot of different fillings you can make, perhaps the most popular one is pork in a red guajillo sauce.
In order to mimic pork for this recipe, we used jackfruit. Jackfruit is a large exotic fruit grown in tropical regions of the world. I like cooking with it because it looks like and has the consistency of shredded beef and pork. This makes it the perfect meat substitute for dishes that require a shredded, meaty texture, like pork tamales or pulled pork sandwiches.
Now that you know a little more about the key elements of our tamales, let’s get to the good stuff.
Makes 10 dozen tamales (4-8 tamales recommended per serving)
Ingredients for Vegan Tamales with Jackfruit “Pork” in Guajillo Sauce
- 15 guajillo chiles
- 3 ancho chiles
- 6 garlic cloves
- ½ onion
- 2 tsp salt
- 6 ½ cups of jackfruit (Recommended: The Jackfruit Company’s lightly seasoned frozen jackfruit)
- ¼ cup diced onion
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 3 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 cups guajillo sauce
- 5 lbs of masa (purchase one that is not already prepared; it should not contain lard!)
- 1 cup veggie broth
- 2 tsp veggie Better Than Buillon
- 1 ½ cup guajillo sauce
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 packs corn husks
Directions for Vegan Tamales with Jackfruit “Pork” in Guajillo Sauce
For the Guajillo Sauce
- Fill a large pot with water and set on high heat.
- While you wait for the water to boil, remove the stems from the guajillo and ancho chiles. Slice each chile in half and remove the seeds.
- Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the chiles, garlic and onion. Boil until the peppers are soft, about 30 minutes.
- Transfer peppers, garlic and onion to a blender and add salt. Blend until smooth and add salt to taste, as needed. The sauce should be well salted, smooth and not very thick. Add a bit of water and blend if too thick.
- Set aside for use in the jackfruit and masa.
For the Jackfruit “Pork”
- Set a large pan to medium heat. Once hot, add olive oil and diced onion. Sauté onions until they are a bit translucent, about 3 minutes. Lower heat slightly if onion begins to brown.
- Add jackfruit to the pan and mash it to break up the large pieces. Once fully mashed, the jackfruit should resemble shredded beef.
- Immediately add cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar and salt. Toss to coat the jackfruit. Add a bit more olive oil if jackfruit is sticking. Cover and let cook on low heat until spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add guajillo sauce and cover again. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
For the Masa
- Place a small sauce pan over high heat. Add veggie broth, Better than Bullion and salt. Stir thoroughly until salt dissolves. Allow the broth to come to a low boil, then set aside.
- Place the masa in a very large mixing bowl. Break up the dough with your hands until no large pieces remain.
- Add baking powder, olive oil, guajillo sauce and the hot veggie broth. Carefully fold all the ingredients into the masa using your hands and break up clumps. Continue to fold the masa until all ingredients are evenly mixed and clumps are mostly gone.
- Set aside for tamale assembly.
Assembly and Cooking
- DO THIS FIRST: You’ll need to prep your corn husks before you can begin assembling your tamales. You can do this step at the very beginning, even before you prepare your guajillo sauce. To prep the corn husks, remove them from packaging and rinse them with cold water. Then, place them in a large container or cooler with extremely hot water (boiling water works best). Place a heavy object on top of the husks to ensure they sink beneath the water. Cover the container and allow the leaves to soak until you’re ready to assemble the tamales. The longer they soak the better, as they will become more pliable.
- Once your husks, masa and jackfruit are prepped, set all three components on a large table for assembly.
- Grab a husk and find the smooth side, which will have slightly less-pronounced ridges. This will be the inside of the husk where you will spread the masa. If the husk is very large, rip it in half or rip a little off one side. The husk should be roughly the width of a tamale masa spreader, about 4 inches wide, but it doesn’t have to be an exact measurement. Pro tip: To speed up the process, have a buddy turn all the husks right side up for you so that you can just grab ‘em and spread!
- Using a tamale masa spreader, spread an even layer of masa over the bottom half of the husk. The masa layer shouldn’t be too thick. Leave the tail of the husk bare. If you don’t have a masa spreader, you can use a spoon.
- Add a small amount of jackfruit to the tamale, about ½-1 tsp. Place it slightly away from the edge of the husk and spread evenly. Roll the husk over the jackfruit and continue to roll the tamale away from you until it seals. Fold the tail of the husk down to hold the tamale in place. Set aside on a tray.
- Repeat steps 3-6 until all your masa is gone. Once all your tamales are prepped, it’s time to steam them.
- Fill the bottom of the steamer with water and place on high heat. Insert the steamer tray.
- Place your tamales one by one upright, with the open end facing up. The sealed end should be touching the bottom of the steamer tray.
- Cover the steamer and allow tamales to cook for 2 hours. IMPORTANT: Ensure that the steamer does not run out of water. If the water runs out, the bottom of the steamer burns, causing the tamales to taste burnt.
- To check if tamales are done, use tongs to take one out and set it on a plate. Allow it cool for a few minutes before unwrapping it. The masa should be firm, not mushy, yet easy to cut with a fork. If the masa is sticking to the husk, let the tamale cool a bit more before unwrapping it.
- Once ready, serve tamales with hot sauce or vegan crema. You can also serve it with Mexican rice and/or refried beans.