Cheese and Jalapeño Tamales Recipe | Tamales de Rajas
Cheese and jalapeno tamales or tamales de rajas con queso are one the most popular tamal recipes from Mexico. Learn how to make them with this easy to follow simple recipe. Can be made vegetarian or vegan!
Tamales (for plural and tamal in singular form) are made in so many variations. Their fillings range from meat, vegan meats or vegetable ingredients to the different color and flavors of the salsas used.
If the savory choices aren’t enough, there’s also a huge selection of sweet flavored tamales.
Yet another variation is found in the individual family or Mexican region that is preparing the tamal.
For example in the Yucatan Peninsula the traditional tamales made by the Maya favored banana leaves instead of the corn husks that are more commonly used in other regions of Mexico.
(Some countries from Central America also make tamales and also use both these types of wrapping to steam tamales. The tamales may be called by another name though.)
Both the corn husk and banana leaf versions are delicious and each give the tamales a unique look and touch of scent and flavor.
Tamales are one of the most delicious traditions of Latin America and Mexico.
Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales
My family, like every other Mexican familia, makes tamales every year for Christmas, holidays and for some special occasions.
In the years since following a meatless lifestyle, I’ve recreated the traditional tamales and made vegetarian or vegan versions. I even wrote a tamales cookbook!
One vegetarian tamales I grew up eating were my mom’s jalapeño and cheese tamales. Sometimes also called tamales de rajas.
So needless to say they were absolutely one of the vegetarian recipes to be included both here on my blog as well as my tamales cookbook.
These cheese and jalapeno tamales are ones that I make every year for the holiday season. Trust me even though they don’t have meat, even meat eaters will devour these. Honestly these are the favorites of lots of tamale-lovers.
One of the best parts is that you can use either milk cheese or vegan cheese and no one will notice.
Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales Ingredients
The ingredients you’ll need a very easy to find just about everywhere. The only exception to this may be the masa harina or corn flour, and the dried corn husks. But you can purchase both in Mexican and Hispanic grocery stores as well as Amazon. I’ll link to both at the bottom of the post.
Ingredients for The Tamales Masa
- masa harina (is instant corn masa)
- baking powder
- vegetable shortening or oil
- vegetable broth
Ingredients for The Vegetarian Tamales Filling
- raw jalapeno peppers
- olive oil
If instead of shortening you’d like to use oil, you can use regular vegetable oil or coconut oil. A bland tasting olive would work as well. You can use 2/3 cups oil instead of 1 cup of shortening.
To make the jalapeño chiles less spicy you can remove all of the seeds and the veins from the chile.
Cheese you can use either dairy cheese to make vegetarian tamales, or vegan cheese to make vegan tamales.
What Type of Cheese to Use
Below are all the different types of Mexican cheese that you could use in my jalapeno and cheese tamales recipe.
- Chihuahua cheese
- Mexican Manchego cheese
- queso fresco
- queso panela
- Oaxaca cheese
- Monterey Jack cheese
Vegan Cheese and Jalapeño Tamales
The masa recipe is vegan and the filling is also with the only exception being the cheese.
You can simply use your favorite vegan cheese for these tamales. Use something that you can slice. If it melts a bit then that’s even better.
I’ve only ever used the Heartbest vegan cheese brand for my tamales, but not sure if it’s available everywhere. I also like Daiya and Violife brands.
Tamales Making Tips
I know many people hear tamales and feel too intimidated by the work involved in making them. They are a delicious labor of love, for sure!
I used to feel that way too, but there are many ways to try to make it go smoother and faster. One such way is making a small batch, like this one with can make up to 2 dozen tamales — which is still a good amount.
You can also break up the process into two days. So one day you can make the fillings, maybe soak the corn husks overnight. Then on the second day you make the masa and then just assemble and steam the tamales.
If you want to take it a step further you can always volunteer your family or invite friends over to help make tamales. This is commonly done in Mexican families.
Once you make tamales for the first time you’ll see that it really isn’t such a big deal. Also after you assemble a few you’ll get the hand of it.
Also don’t stress it if the first few don’t look as “pretty”, it doesn’t matter because you’ll see that they still taste AMAZING!
More Tamale Making Tips
- Masa For Tamales | No Lard Recipe
- How Long Does It Take to Cook Tamales on the Stove?
- What to Eat with Tamales | 24 Tamales Side Dishes
- How Long do Tamales Last
- How to Store Tamales
How to Make Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales
As I previously said, just make sure you’re well organized and the process will go by quickly. If you have helpers you could assign each person to do one task, then when you’re ready to fill the tamales build an assembly station where each person does one step.
Soak The Corn Husks
The first step is to soak sort the corn husks and get them soaking so they’re ready to go.
Sort through the husks, remove any dirt and debris. Rinse thoroughly then leave to soak in warm or hot water, either in a large container or a clean kitchen sink.
Make The Filling
Next you’ll want to make the filling. This way it can cool down before you fill the tamales.
Heat the oil in a very large pan then sauté onions with a little salt, until soft. Next add the garlic then add the jalapeno pieces and sauté until they begin to soft. Then add the tomatoes, more salt and cook until they break down.
Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Make The Masa
You can either use a stand mixer for this, or a very large bowl with a handheld mixer or the bowl with a spoon. Your choice.
Whip the shortening until light and fluffy. Add half of the masa harina, the baking powder and the salt and whip until well combined and you have coarse crumbs. Add a little bit more of the masa harina and some of the vegetable broth and whip.
You want to combine masa harina into the masa dough little by little. The same with the remaining broth.
Make sure to stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl so you can assure the ingredients are all well combined.
Whip until the masa is well combined, smooth and airy.
The Float Test
Once all of your ingredients are well combined you want to do “The Masa Float Test”.
You do so by dropping a small dollop of the mixed masa dough into a glass of water.
The dough should float back to the top. If it doesn’t you need to continue whipping and test again. This ensures that your masa is airy and you end up with light and not dense tamales.
Not everyone does this, but I like to. It’s up to you.
Assemble The Tamales
Drain corn husks and place then on a colander to drain off excess water. If they’re still too wet when you’re getting ready to spread the masa on them, then pat dry with some paper towels.
For this step it helps to have a large work surface.
Grab one softened corn husk, place the smooth side facing up and the wide end should be toward the top.
Use a spatula or the back of a spoon and spread some masa on it. Make it a thin layer, not too thick.
In the center of dough, place two tablespoons of the filling then a slice of cheese.
For the first fold, grab one side of the husk and fold it towards the center. Grab the other side and fold towards the center. Then lastly fold up the thin pointy long side of the corn husk.
Place tamales on a tray and repeat until you have used up all of the masa and filling.
Steam The Tamales
Once all of the tamales are made you can steam them.
You can use the traditional tamalera steamer pot, or a large pot with a steamer basket or even the pressure cooker or Instant Pot.
Add warm water to the pot then secure the steaming basket insert an then arrange the raw tamales inside the pot. Cover with extra hydrated corn husks or a clean kitchen towel. Set to medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling you can lower the heat to low and steam for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes you can carefully take out one tamal to check for doneness. Leave the tamal to sit for 5 minutes then unwrap it. If the corn husks pulls away easily the tamales are done, if not they need to steam longer.
Steam for another 15 minutes then check again for doneness.
How to Serve Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales
You can enjoy these delicious tamales with some salsa verde or your favorite salsa.
Refried beans are a great side dish also. You can check out my tips for more serving ideas here, What to Eat with Tamales | 24 Tamales Side Dishes.
Tamales de Rajas Recipe
Okay amigos, below is the printable recipe. If this is your first time making tamales, please read through the whole article and recipe card before you begging the process.
Remember this is a small batch but you can easily double the ingredients to make a large batch of tamales.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out!
Jalapeño and Cheese Tamales Recipe
- 1 large white onion cut in half then thingy sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic peeled and roughly minced
- 2 lbs. jalapeño peppers sliced into slivers
- 3 medium roma tomatoes chopped
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt to taste, I added about 1.5 teaspoons
- 10.5 oz. chihuahua cheese 25 small pieces
- 1 lb. masa harina 4 cups, I use the tamale specific flour by Maseca brand
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1.5 teaspoons of fine sea salt to start
- 7 oz vegetable shortening 1 cup
- 20 oz vegetable broth add a pinch of ground turmeric for colour, if desired
Additional Ingredients and Tools needed:
- 1 large pack dried corn husks you’ll need anywhere from 25 for tamales plus extra for steaming
Soak The Corn Husks
- Sort through the husks, remove any dirt and debris. Rinse thoroughly then leave to soak in warm or hot water, either in a large container or a clean kitchen sink.
Make The Filling
- Heat the oil in a very large pan then sauté onions with a little salt, until soft. Next add the garlic then add the jalapeno pieces and sauté until they begin to soft. Then add the tomatoes, more salt and cook until they break down.Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Make The Masa
- You can either use a stand mixer for this, or a very large bowl with a handheld mixer or the bowl with a spoon. Your choice.Whip the shortening until light and fluffy. Add half of the masa harina, the baking powder and the salt and whip until well combined and you have coarse crumbs. Add a little bit more of the masa harina and some of the vegetable broth and whip.You want to combine masa harina into the masa dough little by little. The same with the remaining broth.Make sure to stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl so you can assure the ingredients are all well combined.Whip until the masa is well combined, smooth and airy.
The Float Test
- Once all of your ingredients are well combined you want to do “The Masa Float Test”.You do so by dropping a small dollop of the mixed masa dough into a glass of water.The dough should float back to the top. If it doesn’t you need to continue whipping and test again. This ensures that your masa is airy and you end up with light and not dense tamales.Not everyone does this, but I like to. It’s up to you.
Assemble The Tamales
- Drain corn husks and place then on a colander to drain off excess water. If they’re still too wet when you’re getting ready to spread the masa on them, then pat dry with some paper towels.For this step it helps to have a large work surface.Grab one softened corn husk, place the smooth side facing up and the wide end should be toward the top.Use a spatula or the back of a spoon and spread some masa on it. Make it a thin layer, not too thick.
- In the center of dough, place two tablespoons of the filling then a slice of cheese.For the first fold, grab one side of the husk and fold it towards the center. Grab the other side and fold towards the center. Then lastly fold up the thin pointy long side of the corn husk.Place tamales on a tray and repeat until you have used up all of the masa and filling.
Steam The Tamales
- Once all of the tamales are made you can steam them.You can use the traditional tamalera steamer pot, or a large pot with a steamer basket or even the pressure cooker or Instant Pot.Add warm water to the pot then secure the steaming basket insert an then arrange the raw tamales inside the pot. Cover with extra hydrated corn husks or a clean kitchen towel. Set to medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling you can lower the heat to low and steam for 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes you can carefully take out one tamal to check for doneness. Leave the tamal to sit for 5 minutes then unwrap it. If the corn husks pulls away easily the tamales are done, if not they need to steam longer.Steam for another 15 minutes then check again for doneness.
- Now your tamales are ready to enjoy!
*I make a small commission from Amazon when you purchase through the links below. The commissions help fund new and free recipes for you. Gracias!*
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…
Love the video! It really does take the mystery out of what could seem like an intimidating recipe. I may try my hand at tamales over the Xmas break. But first I have to find one of those steamers…!
Thank you Frank! I’m glad it does, because so many miss out on tamales. I don’t think you’ll have a problem finding the steamer, you can try Hispanic markets and if not there’s always Mexgrocer.com and Amazon!
Merry Christmas 🙂
What a fantastic recipe!! They would be a big hit at my house!! Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, my friend!! Enjoy the lovely weather in paradise!! 🙂
Thanks so much Ramona! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. 🙂
Nanci, love the new blog name and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
I’ve been looking for the perfect tamales, we love it so much. Will try this for sure soon.
Happy New Year to you too! Thank you and I hope you get a chance to make some tamales soon. xoxo
Happy New Year Nancy!!!!
I’m in heaven!!! Always looking for more ideas for tamales and these look fabulous! Bobby and I love tales so much that we make them year round and these just went on my 2017 tamales list. Thanks!
A very Happy New Year to you MJ! Enjoy the tamales, I think you’ll love the simple yet delicious flavour. Thank you, amiga!
This looks wonderful! I am going to try this recipe tonight but am wondering if you have made it with butter in place of shortening? I can’t eat shortening and am going to try it with butter. Any advice on that? Would oil be better?
I have yet to try oil but have read some recipes that do use it. I have only made tamales with butter once, but have to admit that I wasn’t a big fan. I find that the flavour of the butter is too strong for the other ingredients. But one of my sisters does use butter and likes it, so it’s really a matter of personal preference. Enjoy your tamales.
I finally made these today and I agree with you, replacing the shortening with butter is too strong. My family loved them and they were super fun to make. I think it will be fun to experiment with coconut oil.
Hi Darla! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the process of making tamales and that you loved the flavour. Thank you for trying the recipe and for your comment. Enjoy all your future experiments and tamales.
Amazing!! I added some corn and pepperjack vegan cheese in the stuffing. Also, a sprinkle of my favorite Goya seasoning…so good, we’re making another batch tonight!
Thank you Maria, I’m so happy you enjoyed them and yumms to the vegan pepperjack cheese!
I made these today and they are the best tamales I’ve ever made. So good. Great recipe, well written and easy to follow. Thank you so much and Merry Christmas 🙂
Wow, Camille thank you so much! So happy you enjoyed the tamales and recipe. Happy New Year to you!
I wish I could give you ten stars. I made this recipe last night and it is delicious, Reminded me of the tamales my mom makes for us. The only change I made was replace the shortening with butter. my batch yield 25 medium size tamales, some are smaller than others. Can’t wait to make them again
Thank you Marta, so happy to hear that you enjoyed them. I’ll need to try butter instead of shortening next time, sounds yummy!
I have never made tamales so I was really happy to find your easy to follow recipe. My family loved them and we didn’t miss the meat at all. They were such a treat!
Thank you Bernice, happy to hear it.
I remember getting the best tamales from my daughter-in-law’s Mexican family. So I knew I had to try these. I had jalapenos from my garden so this made the tamales so much more rewarding. Delicious!
Yes homegrown and homemade always makes for a delicious reward. Thank you Linda!
These tamales are so, so good! The masa dough had the best corn flavor, and it was nice and tender. Really loved the kick of spice the jalapeños added too!
So happy to hear you enjoyed them. Thank you Amanda!
I always order tamales from a local place, but I wanted to give it a go myself. Your instructions made the recipe easy and the flavor of these jalapeño and cheese tamales was better than any store-bought version.
Thank you Marta, glad you made them.
I love rajas, I love tamales its getting close to tamal season so I guess I need to get in the kitchen and give these a try.
I hope you do try them, thanks James!
I’ve never had tamales before but these cheese and jalapeno ones are so good. I would never have attempted to make them myself as I would presume they would be too complicated but your instructions make it so easy, thank you.
So happy you gave them a try. Thank you Lucy!
I’ve always found the idea of making tamales intimidating but these don’t look outrageously difficult and they sound delicious. Also I was happy to read they can be made in the IP as I don’t have the tamalera steamer pot. On my to try list!
I hope you give them a try soon. Thank you Jacqueline!
The first time I made tamales, it was a complete disaster. Lol. Your recipe has inspired me to try it again. Thank you!
I hope you do give them a try again. Enjoy!
These were great and I loved making them with the entire family.
Happy to hear it, thank you Sean!
I could eat these every single day. Simply delicious!
Thank you so much Megane!
Tamales are definitely a labor of love, but they are so worth it when you use queso fresco cheese ~ I love that you suggested that variation!
Queso fresco in tamales is amazing, enjoy!
Ahh this made me so hungry now! Looks so delicious! I haven’t had tamales in years and I’ve never made my own before. I definitely need to try it 😀
I hope you give them a try, these are good starter ones. Enjoy!
Cheese and jalapeno are a great combination for these tamales! So delicious looking, and the recipe is very detailed that we feel confident to make them ourselves. Thank you!
Thank you and hope you make them again soon.
So much flavor in these tamales. And I love that they are vegetarian!
Thank you Lisa!