Bean and cheese tamales made with red masa, filled with refried beans and cheese, then steamed to tender perfection and served drizzled with your favorite salsa. These tamales are made with humble ingredients but are bursting with royal flavors!
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Authentic Bean Tamales
Bean tamales, or tamales de frijol, are an authentic Mexican food that has been enjoyed for generations in the Mexican states of Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz and the State of Mexico.
They have become an essential component of that regional Mexican cuisine, featuring prominently in family gatherings and special occasions. They are sometimes made using whole cooked beans and other times using refried beans. Some are wrapped in corn husks and others in banana leaves, it depends on the region.
The history of tamales dates back centuries, to the time of the Aztecs and Mayans. These civilizations would use tamales as a portable food source for traveling warriors and hunters. Over time, tamales became a staple food in Mexican households and were served during special days such as family celebrations, and holidays like Christmas, Dia de los Muertos, and Candlemas Day.
Today, tamales are still enjoyed as a delicious treat, showcasing the unique blend of flavors that make Mexican cuisine so beloved. There are countless variations that include traditional meat-based tamales as well as vegetarian and vegan tamales.
If you’d like to learn more about making vegan tamales and vegetarian tamales then do check out my tamales cookbook “Mexican Tamales Made Meatless”.
Vegetarian Bean and Cheese Tamales
To me, bean tamales are a delicious and authentic representation of Mexican food. Beans and legumes are a staple of Mexican cuisine, so a tamal filled with creamy beans is only natural.
Amigos, today I’ll be sharing my bean and cheese tamales or tamales de frijol con queso. In my family these are one of our favorite family recipes – my nieces and nephews devour them anytime they’re on offer. The meat eaters in the family love them as much as they do the meat filled ones. So you can say that these tamales are perfect for all diets.
Bean and cheese tamales are a perfect fusion of flavors and textures, with the smooth and creamy texture of the beans perfectly complementing the salty, gooey cheese.
The masa dough that encases the filling is soft and delicate, providing a satisfying mouthfeel. Then red chile sauce used to make the tamales masa just elevates the flavors of these tamale creating a truly unforgettable taste.
While there are many variations of tamales, the bean and cheese filling is a classic and beloved recipe. It is easy to prepare and perfect for any occasion, from a casual dinner to a formal celebration. The simple ingredients and preparation process make this dish accessible to anyone, regardless of their cooking experience.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Bean and cheese tamales are a tasty and easy-to-make dish.
- It’s a classic Mexican recipe that not many know, so you’ll likely be trying a new tamales flavor.
- Perfect for special occasions, family gatherings, Day of the Dead, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Using simple and inexpensive ingredients, you can create a delicious and filling meal.
- It’s tamales! What’s not to love about homemade vegan tamales, right?!
Are Bean and Cheese Tamales Vegan or Vegetarian?
This will only depend on whether you use vegan cheese or dairy cheese. All other ingredients are vegan – the only exception would be if you buy refried beans cooked in lard, but that’s not too common in canned refried beans.
I always make both vegan bean and cheese tamales as well as vegetarian bean and cheese tamales.
What I love most about the ingredients for these tamales is that they are staples in most kitchens. The only things you may need to run to the grocery store for are the corn husks and either fresh masa or masa harina.
- Refried Beans: I always suggest starting with homemade beans but you could also use store-bought. Either black beans or pinto beans work great.
- Cheese: Use your favorite vegan cheese – mine is Violife’s Just Like Chihuahua. For dairy-based cheese you can use queso fresco, Chihuahua cheese or in a pinch even Monterey Jack cheese will do.
- Masa Harina: I always use this in the recipes I test and share with you all because I know fresh masa isn’t available everywhere but dried masa harina is. My choice is the Maseca brand of Masa for Tamales.
- Red Chile Sauce: This is to use when making the tamale dough and to give it that delicious red color and flavor. We’ll be using Mexican dried chiles, I don’t suggest switching them for red chili powder and canned tomato sauce, the results won’t be the same.
- Vegetable Shortening: You could replace it with vegetable oil if desired.
- Vegetable Broth: Traditionally chicken broth is used but we’re making these vegan.
- Dried Corn Husks
Preparing the Corn Husks
Sort through the corn husks to remove any damaged ones as well as any dirt or debris.
Fill your sink with warm water then place corn husks inside it. You can use a heavy plate or deep skillet to weigh them down. (You could also use a very large bowl or pot instead.) Allow to sit and rehydrate until ready to use.
You could also do this step the day before by letting the corn husks sit overnight in your sink.
Preparing The Bean and Cheese Filling
I highly suggest starting with homemade frijoles de olla to make your refried beans. But if you don’t have time or don’t want the extra work then you can use store bought cooked whole beans or refried beans – just make sure they don’t have any animal products.
- You can find my recipe for homemade refried pinto beans here or homemade refried black beans here. You can leave them as smooth or creamy as desired.
- Cut the queso into small pieces or cheese stick shapes.
- Set aside until ready to use. The beans can be used at room temperature or cold right out of the fridge.
Preparing The Red Masa Dough for Tamales
- Place the rinsed and seeded chiles in a large pot, then add the tomato, onion and garlic and pour in enough water to cover the ingredients. Simmer until everything is soft.
- Reserve 1 cup of the cooking broth then place the chiles, vegetables, spices and boiling broth into the cup of a blender. Blend until completely smooth.
- Strain the red chile sauce into a bowl, taste and adjust seasoning if needed, then set aside.
- In a very large bowl whip the shortening until light and creamy. Then pour in half of the masa harina, baking powder, and salt and mix until well combined.
- Pour in 1 cup of the red chile sauce and mix until well combined. Scrape down sides of the mixing bowl as needed.
- Little by little add remaining masa harina and vegetable broth until you achieve a creamy, smooth and airy tamale masa dough.
- Drop a dollop of the masa into a small glass of water. It should float back to the top immediately, if not whip the masa a little more.
Assembling Bean and Cheese Tamales
- Drain the rehydrated and softened corn husks. Shake off and use a clean kitchen towel to dry off excess water.
- Check sides of the husk and find the smooth side, then use the back of a spoon or spatula to spread a few tablespoons of the masa onto the wide end of the corn husk.
- Place a heaping tablespoon of the refried beans onto the center of the dough. Then add a piece of cheese on top of the beans.
- Grab one side of the corn husk and fold it towards the center. Then grab the other side and fold towards the center. The long pointy bottom of the husk is then folded up. Continue until all of the tamales filling is used up.
Steaming Bean and Cheese Tamales
- First, fill the tamalera or steamer pot with a few inches of water to the indicated line. Then, place the steamer insert or basket inside the pot. Lay some softened corn husks on the bottom of the steamer insert.
- Arrange the wrapped tamales upright in the steamer basket, making sure they’re not too tightly packed and that the wider exposed side is point up.
- Cover the pot with aluminum foil, make a small incision then place the lid on the pot.
- Turn heat to medium low heat and steam for 60-90 minutes, depending on their size and thickness tamales.
- After 1 hour you can safely remove one tamal from the pot to check for doneness. Allow to sit for 10 minutes then unwrap, if done the tamal will easily peel away on its own from the corn husk.
Notes: If you don’t have a tamalera or a steaming pot you can cook tamales in a large deep pot. Learn how How to Steam Tamales Without a Steamer.
How to Serve Bean and Cheese Tamales
You can serve these just like any other savory tamales.
I love these delicious homemade tamales with a drizzle of homemade salsa. My personal choice for bean and cheese tamales is salsa verde made with tomatillos and green chiles. But you don’t have to add salsa if you don’t want. Another way to enjoy these tamales is with a drizzle of hot sauce and some homemade vegan crema or Mexican sour cream.
As for side dishes, these tamales don’t really need anything. But if you’re curious you can always check out my guide on What to Eat with Tamales.
What Do Bean and Cheese Tamales Taste Like
The combination of savory refried beans and gooey melted cheese, wrapped in the soft masa dough, is a true delight on the taste buds.
Amigos, I really hope you give these tamales a try because they are not to be missed!
How to Store and How to Reheat
Allow any leftovers to come to room temperature then place in an airtight container or thick plastic bags like Ziploc brand. To freeze wrap in aluminum foil then put inside freezer Ziploc bags. Bean and cheese tamales will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.
If you are taking tamales to a party you can place in a bowl and wrap the bowl with either aluminum foil or thick plastic wrap.
To reheat cooked tamales, fill your steamer pot with a couple cups of water, then place tamales inside it, cover and once the water is boiling steam for 10-15 minutes.
You could also reheat on a hot comal while still wrapped in the corn husk, or unwrap and place on a pan and cook until slightly golden and warmed through.
Lastly you could also reheat tamales in the microwave, either wrapped or unwrapped.
FAQ About Bean and Cheese Tamales
Can I make bean and cheese tamales without cheese?
Yes, you can! Simply omit the cheese from the filling and proceed with the recipe as usual.
How long do I need to steam the tamales?
Tamales cooking time will vary depending on the size of your tamales and the intensity of your steamer. Generally, it takes about 60-90 minutes to steam tamales until they are cooked through and the masa is firm.
Can I freeze leftover tamales?
Absolutely! Bean and cheese tamales freeze very well. Once they are completely cooled, wrap each tamale tightly in aluminum foil, place them in a freezer-safe bag or container, and store them in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Are bean and cheese tamales suitable for special occasions?
Yes, bean and cheese tamales are a wonderful addition to special occasions. They are a favorite for celebrations such as birthdays, holidays, and family gatherings. The delicious flavors and comforting nature of tamales make them a hit with everyone.
Can I make bean and cheese tamales in banana leaves?
Yes you could, it’ll give the tamales a different flavor than the corn husks. Just remember to properly prepare the banana leaf for your tamales.
More Vegan Tamales Recipes
- Vegan Birria Tamales
- Masa For Tamales (No Lard Recipe)
- How to Make Vegan Red Masa for Homemade Tamales
- Sweet Tamales (Pineapple Tamales Recipe)
- Cheese and Jalapeño Tamales Recipe | Tamales de Rajas
- Vegan Tamales Recipe | Tamales Rojos
- Easy Tamales Verdes Recipe | Jackfruit & Mushroom Vegan Tamales
The Best Bean and Cheese Tamales Recipe
Bean and cheese tamales are a delicious and one of the easier-to-make tamales because the filling doesn’t take as long to make.
Amigos, I think you’ll really enjoy them and I hope that they’ll become some of your family’s favorite tamales. Now that the holiday season and tamales season is fast approaching, this would look delicious on your family’s table.
Remember that if you make these, or any other of my recipes, to leave me a comment letting me know how you liked them.
Bean and Cheese Tamales
Red Chile Sauce for Tamales Dough
- 2 whole dried guajillos chiles wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
- 1 small dried pasilla chiles wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
- 2 whole dried arbol chiles wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
- 2 whole garlic cloves
- 1/4 small white onion quartered
- 1 medium-small roma tomato quartered
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt adjust to taste
- water for boiling
Bean and Cheese Tamale Filling
- 4 cups refried beans homemade is ideal
- 1/2 lb chihuahua cheese vegan or dairy, or queso fresco
Hydrated The Corn Husks
- Sort through the dried corn husks and removed any damaged ones. Thoroughly rinse. Place in a very large container or right in your kitchen sink. Pour enough warm water to cover by a few inches. Use a heavy pot or bowl to help push down the husks and help them hydrate.
Make The Red Chile Salsa
- Place clean and seeded chiles in a medium pot with the garlic, onion and tomatoes. Cover with enough water then simmer until everything is softened.
- Place the softened vegetables and chiles in a blender and add 1 cup of the boiling broth, the ground cumin and salt. Blend until you have a smooth salsa. Strain into a large bowl or container and set aside.
Make The Filling
- Slice the cheese into 24 slices – either matchsticks or wider slices.
Make The Masa
- In a very large mixing bowl, whip the vegetable shortening until light and creamy.
- Pour in half of the masa harina, baking powder and salt and mix until you have a well combined mixture.
- Pour in 1 cup of the red chile salsa into the masa mixture and mix until well combined. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed.
- Little by little begin adding the remaining masa harina and pouring in vegetable stock or broth. Mix until you have a creamy, smooth and airy corn masa dough.
Masa Float Test
- Take a little bit of the whipped masa and drop it into a cup of water. It should float back to the top if your masa is ready. Read this article to find out what to do if your masa doesn’t float.
Assemble The Tamales
- Drain the hydrated corn husks, dry off with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to remove any excess water.
- Grab a hydrated corn husks and inspect the side of the husk to find the smooth side. The long side of the husk should be pointed towards the bottom and the wide toward the top.
- Using the back of a spoon, or a spatula, spread a couple of Tablespoons of masa onto the corn husk and spread into a thin even layer. Then add a heaping Tablespoon of the refried beans, and a piece of cheese and place in the center of spread masa.
- Grab one side of the corn husk and fold it towards the center. Then grab the other side and fold towards the center. The long pointy end of the husk is folded up. Continue until all of the tamales filling is used up.
Steam The Tamales
- In a tamalera pot pour in enough water to the indicated line then place the steaming rack in place. (If you don’t have a tamalera you can use a large pot and steamer basket, or a pressure cooker or Instant Pot to steam tamales. Click here to learn how.)
- Place tamales in the tamalera, open end up, cover it with aluminum foil and make a small hole in the center. Place the lid on the steaming pot and steam 60 to 90 minutes or until cooked through.
- You can check tamales after one hour by carefully removing one tamale and set it it on a plate. Let it sit for 10 minutes then try to unwrap, if it's ready the masa will peel away from the corn husk easily. If not it sticks then the tamales need to steam longer. Allow to steam another 30 mintues before checking.
- Make sure to check your tamalera steamer pot for water and if needed add more so your pot doesn't burn!
Please note that the nutritonal information will depend greatly on whether you used vegan or dairy cheese and what type or brand. The numbers stated here are for a general idea.
Nancy Lopez is a food blogger and author of the cookbook Mexican Tamales Made Meatless. Born in Mexico, raised in the US, and currently living in Southern Mexico, she has followed a meatless diet for almost 10 years. It is her passion and mission to share all she has learned about vegan Mexican cooking and vegetarian Mexican recipes. Mexican Made Meatless is a blog dedicated to preserving the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine just without the meat. It’s a place to celebrate Mexican culture and all it’s delightfully delicious traditional foods. Read more…