Vegan Tamales Recipe | Tamales Rojos

This plant-based, or vegan tamales recipe is full of authentic Mexican flavors just made without the meat. Tamales rojos (or red tamales) made with red tamale dough are popular in Northern Mexico and here’s my vegan tribute to them.

Vegan Tamales Recipe for Traditional Tamales Rojos
Vegan Tamales Rojos

Vegan Tamales Recipe

When tamales season starts and you don’t eat meat, fret not because I’ve got the most delicious vegan tamale recipe for you!

These red tamales or tamales rojos are a staple of Northern Mexico tamale recipes — but without the meat of course.

You all know tamales are the Christmas meal chosen by many Mexicans, and don’t be intimated to make homemade tamales because though they take a bit of time to make, they’re not difficult at all.

Remember that I have other recipes for both vegan recipes and vegetarian tamales right here on the blog, as well as in my tamales cookbook.

Don’t forget the countless tips I’ve shared in previous posts. I’ve got you covered for everything you need to know about tamales, even if this is your first time making them.

Vegan Tamales Rojos with Salsa Verde
Vegan Tamales Rojos with Salsa Verde

Tamales Rojos

Tamales rojos, or red tamales, are one of the most common Mexican tamales. These tamales and ones made with poblano peppers were the first tamales I learned to make on my own after moving out.

The filling is traditionally made with shredded pork, but I’ve also seen shredded beef tamales rojos. The meat is boiled until tender then shredded then mixed with a red chile salsa.

In some parts of Northern Mexico the tamales rojos are made with red salsa added to the masa. They also tend to be very small compared to other regions.

But other parts of Mexico don’t add it, they just make the masa as they normally would with either fresh masa or masa harina, broth, salt and baking powder.

Whether you add the red salsa to the masa or not, the tamales are steamed and enjoyed just the same.

Vegan Tamales Rojos with Salsa Verde
Vegan Tamales Rojos with Salsa Verde

Vegan Tamales Rojos

Growing up, tamales rojos were one of my favorites so of course I had to veganize my tamales rojos recipe.

The results are and incredibly delicious recipe and all the omnivore/carnivores I’ve shared these with have been pleasantly surprised with the delicious results.

It takes them a minute to realize there’s no meat and they’re blown away by the fact that they are 100% vegan!

You all know that in my vegan tamales recipes I try to honor and stay as true to the authentic Mexican tamales recipes we all know and love. These tamales rojos are so close to the real thing, I’m so proud and happy to share them with you.

Making vegan versions of traditional tamales is one of my favorite things to do during the holiday season.

Let’s get started on talking about what’ you’ll need to make this vegan tamales recipe, how to cook them and other useful tips.

Ingredients for Vegan Red Chile Tamales
Ingredients for Vegan Tamales Rojos

Ingredients Needed for Vegan Tamales Rojos

The ingredients for these vegan tamales are pretty standard but there’s a bit other seasonings and red chiles involved. You can purchase ingredients at your local Hispanic food store, and of course there’s always Amazon too.

  • Masa Harina: You could also use fresh masa but for convenience sake I make my tamales with masa harina, which is dried nixtamalized corn flour. I use the Maseca brand labeled for tamales.
  • Vegetable Shortening: It’s not the healthiest fat around but it does resemble most the traditional lard or vegetable shortening in traditional tamales recipes with meat. In my cookbook I have masa recipes using vegetable oil and another using coconut oil.
  • Baking Powder: Helps to make a fluffy masa dough.
  • Salt: For seasoning the masa flour.
  • Red Chile Salsa: This is made with guajillo chiles as the main chile and some seasonings too.
  • Vegetable Broth: To hydrate the tamale masa dough.
  • Oyster Mushrooms: This will be our vegan meat for this tamales recipe. Some people like to use jackfruit instead. Or you could use a mixture of the two.
  • White Onion and Garlic
  • Soy Sauce: To give an extra umami flavor to the tamales.
  • Cumin: Ground cumin is added both to the salsa and the vegan filling. It’s a common spice used in making Mexican tamales rojos.
  • Corn Husks: We of course need these to wrap the tamales. You could also use banana leaves if you’d like.
Vegan Red Tamales Filling
Vegan Red Tamales Filling

Additional Ingredients and Variations:

To the red chile salsa I like to also add pasilla chiles as well as dried arbol chile peppers to add a little bit of heat.

Other options for the fat in these homemade vegan tamales recipe you could use refined coconut oil, or vegetable oil, or even vegan butter. Some people like to use olive oil instead, I’m not a big fan of olive oil for tamales but feel free to use what works best for you.

Instead of oyster mushrooms you could use a couple of cans of jackfruit. Or what I like to do, since jackfruit doesn’t have a lot of protein, I like to mix half jackfruit with half oyster mushrooms.

You could use king oyster mushrooms instead of regular oyster mushrooms if you’d like. You’ll also shred it the same.

By the way, I’ll have a different version vegan tamales rojos to share soon. Those are made stuffed with refried beans (either black beans or pinto beans), and vegan cheese. Check back soon.

Vegan Tamales Rojos Recipe
Vegan Tamales Rojos

How to Make Vegan Tamales Rojos

These vegan tamales have an extra step in them because we need to also add salsa to the masa dough. But don’t worry because this same red chile salsa is also added to the vegan filling.

Please note that I use a large bowl and a handled mixer to make tamales masa. But you can also use a stand mixer or even use a large bowl, a wooden spoon and your hands. It’s up to you. Just make sure to whip the masa enough so it floats and that all ingredients are well incorporated.

Hydrating corn husks in hot water in a sink.
How to Prep Corn Husks

Hydrated The Corn Husks

  1. The first step is to sort through the dried corn husks and removed any damaged ones. (You can find more info on the corn husks here.) 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.
Ingredients for Tamales Red Chiles Sauce
Ingredients for Tamales Red Chiles Sauce

Make The Red Chile Salsa

  1. Begin by wiping clean the dried chiles then seeding them. Place in a medium pot with the garlic, onion and tomatoes. Cover with enough water then simmer until everything is softened.
  2. 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.
  3. Strain into a large bowl or container and set aside.
Vegan Filling for Tamales
Vegan Filling for Tamales

Make The Filling

  1. Shred the oyster mushrooms by pulling them apart into thin shreds. Mince the garlic and slice the onion.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan and once hot add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Then add the mushrooms, sprinkle in the ground cumin, and drizzle in soy sauce. Sauté until mushrooms have softened and their liquid has evaporated.
  3. Pour in 1.5 cups of the red chile salsa and cook for 10 minutes under low heat. Set aside to cool.
Red Masa Dough for Tamales Rojos
Red Masa Dough for Tamales Rojos

Make The Masa

  1. In a very large mixing bowl, whip the vegetable shortening until light and creamy.
  2. Pour in half of the masa harina, baking powder and salt and mix until you have a well combined mixture.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
How to do the Tamales Masa Float Test
The Masa Float Test for Tamales

Do The 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.

Vegan Tamales Recipe for Tamales Rojos
Vegan Tamales Rojos

Assemble The Tamales

  1. Drain the hydrated corn husks, dry off with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to remove any excess water.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 or more of the filling into the center.
  4. 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.
Vegan Red Chile Tamales Steaming
Vegan Red Chile Tamales Steaming

Steam The Tamales

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
Vegan Tamales Rojos with Salsa Verde
Vegan Tamales Rojos with Salsa Verde

How to Serve Vegan Tamales Rojos

Now comes the best part of homemade vegan tamales. We eat!

My favorite way to serve this vegan tamales recipe is drizzled with a medium spicy salsa verde made with green chiles — you can do a mix of jalapeno and serrano, or serrano for spicier salsa or jalapeno for a milder one.

You could also serve with some refried beans if you’d like.

Drinks like a warm champurrado or hot chocolate or atole are delicious with tamales.

During special occasions or especially during the holiday season, a cup of Mexican Christmas punch makes a great drink to go with tamales too.

For more delicious ways to serve your homemade vegan tamales check out this article, What to Eat with Tamales | 24 Tamales Side Dishes.

Storing and Reheating Information

You can read all about How to Store Tamales by clicking that link. To find out How Long do Tamales Last click on that link to read the article and tips.

To find out how to reheat your tamales, I’ll be sharing a detailed article on that soon. But you can do it on the stove top, in the steamer basket, in the microwave or even air fryer.

Vegan Tamales Recipe for Traditional Tamales Rojos

Vegan Tamales Recipe | Vegan Tamales Recipe

Nancy Lopez & MexicanMadeMeatless.com
These vegan red chile tamales recipe tastes just like the traditional Mexican tamales rojos. It's delicious and a very easy to follow vegan tamales recipe.
5 from 6 votes
Save Recipe Pin Recipe Leave a Review
Prep Time 1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican, Vegan Mexican Recipe
Servings 30 servings
Calories 131 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 18 dried corn husks

Red Chile Salsa for Tamales

  • 4 whole dried guajillos chiles wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
  • 1 whole dried pasilla chiles wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
  • 4 whole dried arbol chiles wiped clean, seeded and stem removed
  • 3 whole garlic cloves
  • 1/2 small white onion quartered
  • 1 medium roma tomato quartered
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt adjust to taste
  • water for boiling

Masa Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable shortening 7oz or 200 grams
  • 1 lb. masa harina the kind for tamales (4 cups roughly)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup red salsa
  • 2 to 4 cups vegetable broth

Vegan Red Tamales Filling

  • 2 lb. oyster mushrooms shredded
  • 1 medium white onion halved then sliced into smaller pieces
  • 5 whole garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoon light soy sauce or Maggi Seasoning
  • 1.5 cups red salsa
  • salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin seed

Instructions
 

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.
    Hydrating corn husks in hot water in a sink.

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.
    Red Chile Salsa for Tamales

Make The Filling

  • Shred the oyster mushrooms by pulling them apart into thin shreds. Mince the garlic and slice the onion.
    Shredded oyster mushrooms to make vegan tamales.
  • Heat the oil in a large pan and once hot add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Then add the mushrooms, sprinkle in the ground cumin, and drizzle in soy sauce. Sauté until mushrooms have softened and their liquid has evaporated.
  • Pour in 1.5 cups of the red chile salsa and cook for 10 minutes under low heat. Set aside to cool.
    Vegan Filling for Tamales

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.
    Mixing Masa for Tamales
  • 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.
    Red Chile Salsa Tamales Rojos
  • 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.
    Red Masa Dough for Tamales Rojos

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.
    How to do the Tamales Masa Float Test

Assemble The Tamales

  • Drain the hydrated corn husks, dry off with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to remove any excess water.
    How to Prep Corn Husks for Tamales
  • 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.
    Right Side to Spread Masa of Corn Husk
  • 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 or more of the filling into the center.
    Vegan Tamales Recipe for Tamales Rojos
  • 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.
    Wrapping a Tamale

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.)
    Vegan Red Chile Tamales Steaming
  • 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.
    How to Steam Birria Tamales
  • 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!
    Vegan Tamales Recipe for Traditional Tamales Rojos

Video

Nutrition

Serving: 30servingsCalories: 131kcalCarbohydrates: 15gProtein: 3gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 1gSodium: 300mgPotassium: 188mgFiber: 2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 170IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 33mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Leave me a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and tag me on social media @MexicanMadeMeatless or tag #mexicamademeatless!

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4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    It’s never enough for me to try them!.. It’s a must in this season Nancy! I love your recipe.

  2. 5 stars
    Made the Vegan rojo tamales today. Couldn’t find oyster mushrooms so I used shiitake mushrooms. Followed the recipe exactly otherwise. Oh had to add a black olive to the tamal ‍♀️ They came out delicious! Ate them with some homemade red salsa. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

    1. Hi Rachel! What a great substitute for the oyster mushrooms, shiitake are a great idea. I’ve seen others add olives to tamales, I need to try it some time. Thanks so much.

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