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!

Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales Recipe
Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales Recipe

Mexican Tamales

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!

Mexican Tamales Made Meatless
Mexican Tamales Made Meatless

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.

Ingredients for Making #Vegetarian #Tamales

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
  • salt
  • vegetable shortening or oil
  • vegetable broth

Ingredients for The Vegetarian Tamales Filling

  • raw jalapeno peppers
  • onion
  • garlic
  • tomato
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • cheese

Ingredient Substitutions

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

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.

Soaking corn husks for tamales
Corn Husks Soaking for Tamales

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.

Jalapeno Cheese Tamales Filling
Jalapeno Cheese Tamales Filling

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.

How to Make Masa for Tamales without Lard
Masa for Tamales

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.

How to know if tamales masa is ready
The Tamales Masa Float Test

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.

Assembling Tamales
Stuffing The Tamales

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.

Jalapeno and Chihuahua Cheese Tamales by @MexicanMadeMeatless | #vegetariantamales #tamales #vegetarian #mexicanmademeatless

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.

Jalapeno and Chihuahua Cheese Tamales by @MexicanMadeMeatless | #vegetariantamales #tamales #vegetarian #mexicanmademeatless

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!

Jalapeno and Chihuahua Cheese Tamales by @MexicanMadeMeatless | #vegetariantamales #tamales #vegetarian #mexicanmademeatless
Jalapeno and Chihuahua Cheese Tamales by @MexicanMadeMeatless | #vegetariantamales #tamales #vegetarian #mexicanmademeatless

Jalapeño and Cheese Tamales Recipe

Nancy Lopez & MexicanMadeMeatless.com
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!
5 from 51 votes
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Print Recipe
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours
Course dinner, entree, lunch, main
Cuisine Mexican, vegetarian
Servings 25 servings
Calories 207 kcal

Ingredients
  

Filling Ingredients:

  • 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

Masa Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions
 

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.
    Soaking corn husks for tamales

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.
    Jalapeno Cheese Tamales Filling

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.
    How to Make Tamales Dough

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.
    How to know if tamales masa is ready

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.
    Assembling Tamales
  • 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.
    Homemade jalapeno and Chihuahua cheese tamales ready to be steamed.

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.
    Mexican tamalera or tamale steamer pot.
  • 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.
    Jalapeno and Chihuahua Cheese Tamales by @MexicanMadeMeatless | #vegetariantamales #tamales #vegetarian #mexicanmademeatless

Serve

  • Now your tamales are ready to enjoy!
    Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales Recipe

Notes

•• Yes, tamales require some work. But they are not only worth it, they really aren’t that difficult to make. Just give yourself plenty of time and if needed get some help to make the process go quicker.
••• For a vegan version use vegan cheese or simply omit the cheese!

Nutrition

Serving: 25servingsCalories: 207kcalCarbohydrates: 18gProtein: 5gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 11mgSodium: 415mgPotassium: 176mgFiber: 2gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 632IUVitamin C: 45mgCalcium: 130mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Leave me a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and tag me on social media @MexicanMadeMeatless or tag #mexicanmademeatless!
Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales Recipe
Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales Recipe

*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!*

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54 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    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…!

    1. 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 🙂

  2. 5 stars
    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!! 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    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!

    1. A very Happy New Year to you MJ! Enjoy the tamales, I think you’ll love the simple yet delicious flavour. Thank you, amiga!

  4. 5 stars
    Hello,
    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?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Darla!

      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.

      1. 5 stars
        Hi Nancy,
        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.
        Thank you!

        1. 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.

  5. 5 stars
    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!

  6. 5 stars
    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 🙂

  7. 5 stars
    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

    1. Thank you Marta, so happy to hear that you enjoyed them. I’ll need to try butter instead of shortening next time, sounds yummy!

  8. 5 stars
    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!

  9. 5 stars
    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!

  10. 5 stars
    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!

  11. 5 stars
    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.

  12. 5 stars
    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.

  13. 5 stars
    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!