Making your own homemade tamales is incredibly easy – and you don’t have to use lard to make them! Try my tamales masa with oil recipe and give your Mexican tamales a healthier twist. You can also make the tamale dough with masa harina for even more convenience.
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Masa for Tamales
Tamales are scrumptious Mexican treat that takes a little patience and some time. They are a labor of love that’s worth every effort.
We Mexicans love our tamales – though many people around the world have now caught on too. In Mexican family recipes are passed down from one generation to another. That’s because delicious tamales are a great treat for special occasions, the holiday season and for anytime you want to enjoy this traditional dish.
The foundation of traditional Mexican tamales begins with the masa dough – before you can begin stuffing them, the tamale masa has to not only have the correct texture but also be packed of flavor. It’s really not difficult at all achieving a flavorful tamale. I promise that with my tips and recipes your tamales will always turn out full of delicious flavor.
Did you know that the original tamales going back to pre-Hispanic times did not include any type of fat or oil?
Fats and grease are a somewhat modern addition to the tamale masa or corn flour. The most traditional fat used for tamales masa is pork lard, and after that it’s vegetable shortening. Oil-based tamale masa is a more modern adaptation with many people choosing it as a healthier option for their traditional tamales.
Amigos if you’re worried that your tamales will be lacking flavor or tradition, please don’t be. This tamales masa with oil recipe is still quite flavorful and can easily adapt to both savory tamales and sweet tamales.
What is Masa Harina?
Masa harina is a flour made from dried and powdered nixtamalized corn. When mixed with a liquid it turns into a dough.
It’s a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine that is used for convenience when fresh corn masa isn’t available.
It’s used for crafting some of the most beloved traditional dishes, and the main ingredient, in foods like tamales and corn tortillas, to name a few.
Masa harina has a distinctive flavor, corn smell and it’s a wonderful ingredient due to it’s versatile uses.
Nixtamalized Masa Vs. Masa Harina
Nixtamalized masa, which is produced by soaking and cooking corn in an alkaline solution, stands out not only for its improved nutritional value but also its unique taste and texture.
Unlike nixtamalized masa, instant masa harina is a convenient, shelf-stable product that turns into a dough when mixed with water or broth.
There’s no doubt the choice between using fresh masa and masa harina can differ somewhat in your Mexican food creations. But for many people fresh masa is simply unavailable, so masa harina steps in as a readily accessible alternative while still allowing us to create our favorite traditional Mexican dishes like tamales.
Prepared Masa vs Unprepared Masa
For those lucky enough to live near a tortilleria or Mexican food store, you may be able to find fresh masa all year round or for sure during the holiday season.
Prepare masa is fresh masa that’s mixed with usually lard, animal-based stock, and salt to create a masa that’s ready to use for making tamales.
Unprepared masa is fresh masa that is ground nixtamalized corn with water and nothing else. This fresh masa dough is used for making corn tortillas, sopes, gorditas, and countless other corn dough based dishes.
Tamale Masa with Oil
Amigos, for this recipe we are going to be making tamale masa with oil and we’re going to use masa harina instead of fresh masa.
If you’d like to learn how to make tamales dough with fresh masa do check out the recipe in my tamales cookbook.
My personal preference is to use the Maseca masa for tamales. I know this brand can be controversial to some people, for me it’s just a matter of it yielding the best results for my tamales when fresh masa isn’t available.
Additionally, when combined with a healthier fat option like oil, the result is a rich tamales masa that’s brimming with great flavor and perfect for making my vegan tamales.
Why You’ll Love This Tamales Masa with Oil Recipe
- Oil makes a healthier option over lard or vegetable shortening.
- Using oil instead of lard in your tamales masa makes it perfect for plant-based diets but also meat eaters.
- Masa harina makes it more convenient than using fresh masa.
- You won’t have to worry about it going off too quickly, whereas fresh masa tends to go off in a day or so.
- This recipe can be used for savory tamales or with a couple of additions it’s perfect for sweet tamales.
This tamale masa with oil recipe uses just 5 ingredients and they are all quite easy to find.
- Masa Harina: As I mentioned I like to use Maseca masa for tamales.
- Vegetable Broth: This adds a depth of flavor to your masa dough – do not use water if you want a flavorful tamale masa.
- Salt: This simple ingredients helps bring out the delicious flavors.
- Baking Powder: Used to help make the dough light, airy and fluffy.
- Oil: This adds richness to the masa and helps it not be too dense.
What Oil To Use
You can really use just about any vegetable oil you’d like.
Some of my favorite options are canola oil, corn oil, and avocado oil.
I personally do not like to use coconut oil or olive oil. Coconut oil isn’t one I like to cook with for many reasons. Though I do mostly cook with olive oil, I feel that in tamales it adds a slight flavor that I personally don’t like. Additionally it can add a tinge of color to the tamale dough. So I generally stick with canola oil.
Is Tamale Masa with Oil Vegan Friendly?
Yes it is!
If you follow a plant-based diet, or are simply dabbling in healthier eating habits, this tamale dough recipe is perfect for you.
Traditionally even if someone uses oil instead of lard, they may add chicken broth to their tamale masa. So not only does this recipe skip the animal fat, it uses vegetable broth instead.
But don’t worry amigos because the this plant-based tamale dough is still perfect for a variety of tamale filling ideas no matter the diet you follow.
How to Make Tamale Masa with Oil and Masa Harina
You’ll find that making tamale dough is really not that difficult at all, you just need a little time and patience and I promise you’re always going to end up with perfect mas for tamales.
Before we begin, I’d like to point out that you can mix this tamale masa either by hand, with a hand mixer or with a KitchenAid type of stand mixer. It’s completely up to you. I personally like to use my handheld mixer just because it’s how I’ve been doing it for many years.
Step 1: Mix Dry Ingredients
To a very large mixing bowl add in the masa harina, salt, and baking powder. Use your hand to incorporate the ingredients as best as possible.
Step 2: Add Liquid Ingredients
Make a well in the center of the masa harina. Pour in the oil and about one cup of the vegetable broth into the masa mixture.
Step 3: Mix
Start on low speed and begin mixing the ingredients. Gradually increase to medium-high speed and add the vegetable broth as needed until you have a tender masa with a consistency like smooth peanut butter.
Remember to stop to scrape the bowl to ensure even mixing. The amount of broth you’ll need to add to achieve this texture will depend on the humidity in your kitchen and where in the World you live. I live in a very humid place so generally need to add from the lower end of what my recipe calls for.
Step 4: Ready
Now your masa is ready to spread on soaked dried corn husks and add your favorite filling then steam and lastly enjoy.
Tamales Masa with Oil FAQ
How can I tell the tamale masa dough is ready?
It should hold a smooth and creamy texture, akin to smooth peanut butter and it should be very easy to spread on the soaked husks evenly. Should your masa have a wet sand texture that doesn’t easily spread, you can continue incorporating tiny increments of broth and continual mixing until you get the correct consistency.
Should I do the masa float test?
I have personally found that when using oil, tamale masa isn’t as airy as when using whipped vegetable shortening. So you don’t really have to do the masa float test when using oil. If you want to read more about the tamales masa float test check this out, The Masa Float Test for Tamales.
Can I use any type of oil to make tamale masa?
My recommended types of oil are canola oil, corn oil, or vegetable oil for more neutral tamales masa dough. Olive oil and coconut oil will impart stronger flavors.
Is this tamale dough vegan?
This tamale masa recipe can be made vegan by using vegetable broth or water instead of chicken broth and by ensuring that the oil used is plant-based.
Can I use this masa to make tamales with sweet fillings?
Absolutely, tamales can be made with sweet fillings for a dessert option. You would just need to adjust the recipe to add a sweetener and swap the vegetable broth for a plant milk. You can also add spices, nuts or fruit to the masa to make your sweet tamales.
Can I use this masa the next day?
Yes you can absolutely prepare your tamale masa the nigh before and use the next day. The only drawback to this is that the masa harina will become a little bit more dense since it’s had time to properly hydrate the masa harina. You can always mix it with a little bit more broth the next day, if you’d like.
Filling Ideas for Tamales Masa with Oil
Tamales can be filled with a variety of ingredients, from the traditional options like pork in salsa roja to chicken in salsa verde and lots of creative ideas in between.
I have previously shared my plant based tamales recipes for Vegan Tamales Recipe (Tamales Rojos), Easy Tamales Verdes Recipe (Jackfruit & Mushroom Vegan Tamales), Bean and Cheese Tamales Recipe (made with refried beans), Cheese and Jalapeño Tamales Recipe (Tamales de Rajas), and my vegan Birria Tamales.
Don’t Miss These Essential Tamale Making Tips
- How to Prepare Corn Husks for Tamales
- How To Spread Masa for Tamales (remember to always spread on the smooth side of the corn husk)
- How to Fold Tamales
- How to Steam Tamales Without a Steamer (teaches you both on the stove using a steamer basket as well as the Instant Pot)
- How Long Does It Take to Cook Tamales on the Stove
- Can You Freeze Masa for Tamales
- How to Reheat Tamales: On a Comal and More Ways
How to Store Your Tamale Masa
If you find yourself with leftover masa after a tamale-making session, don’t let it go to waste. Proper storage is key to maintaining the freshness and quality of your masa for future use.
For short-term storage, the best way is in an airtight container with a lid. If you don’t have one large enough you can always wrap it securely with plastic wrap to prevent air from drying out your dough. Make sure your masa is at room temperature before refrigerating.
On the other hand, if you’re considering freezing masa, place it in a freezer-safe container that seals tightly to protect your masa from freezer burn and to help preserve its quality.
Follow my defrosting steps in my article titled, Can You Freeze Masa for Tamales.
Easy Recipe for Tamales Masa with Oil and Masa Harina
- 1 lb masa harina I used Maseca brand masa for tamales
- 1.25 teaspoons baking powder (one and a quarter teaspoons)
- 1.5 teaspoons salt (one and a half teaspoons)
- 3/4 cups vegetable oil* I used canola
- 3 to 5 cups vegetable stock** use your favorite brand or homemade
- To a very large mixing bowl add in the masa harina, salt, and baking powder. Use your hand to incorporate the ingredients as best as possible.
- Make a well in the center of the masa harina. Pour in the oil and about one cup of the vegetable broth into the masa mixture.
- Start on low speed and begin mixing the ingredients. Gradually increase to medium-high speed and add the vegetable broth as needed until you have a tender masa with a consistency like smooth peanut butter.
- Remember to stop to scrape the bowl to ensure even mixing. The amount of broth you’ll need to add to achieve this texture will depend on the humidity in your kitchen and where in the world you live. See notes.
- Now your masa is ready to spread on soaked dried corn husks and add your favorite filling then steam, and lastly enjoy.
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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…