Gluten free Tamales for Beginners

Never made a tamale? The process may seem a bit mystical and complicated, so our chef is sharing her recipe here today. First, however, we wanted to talk a little about masa.
Homemade tamales


What is the difference between cornmeal and masa harina (masa flour)? It is corn flour right? Technically, they’re both made from corn, but the way they’re processed is quite different, and they’re generally best used in various recipes, with some exceptions. Cornmeal is ground dried corn and is often reasonably coarse in consistency and usually is found for purchase in color varieties of yellow or white in color. The corn in masa harina is soaked in food-grade calcium hydroxide to make hominy. Masa harina is also available in types of yellow or white. It is a matter of flavor preference. Yellow has a more pronounced corn flavor. White is a more subtle corn flavor. It is made into masa dough for tortillas and tamales by adding liquid. One can also fold a small amount of masa harina into yeast-risen loaves of bread or rolls for a dose of nutty, buttery richness. Yes, Masa is gluten-free, and ours is made in a dedicated gluten-free facility!

There’s always that image of the sweet Hispanic grandma who spends hours and hours making tamales in one’s mind. Somehow it makes the process seem overwhelming. But, it just doesn’t need to be that way. Tamales can be one of the simple meals. It takes just a few minutes to put them together, and then they cook in the crockpot or steam. When thought of this way, they can become one of your family’s go-to meals.

That being said, let’s dive right into tamales. The directions are pretty straightforward. The secret is whipping the shortening or lard. The more air is in the fat, the better the tamale. The other secret is the freshness of the Masa. It has to be good without a hint of bitterness. That’s where our masa flour comes in. It is beautiful stuff! Grab your bag and follow the process below.

Make the tamale dough, directions below, and pick one meat or vegetarian fillings. 

For tamale dough:

2 cups panhandle milling masa flour

2 cups lukewarm chicken or vegetable broth

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup organic vegetable shortening

Spicy Chicken or Turkey Meat

1 lb. lean cooked Chicken or Turkey, shredded

1 ½ ounce pasilla-ancho chiles, ground

1 tsp each whole ground: cumin seed, coriander seed, black peppercorn,

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

2T lime juice

2T olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Vegetarian Corn Tamales

1 lb. corn

1 cup mild green chiles, chopped

1/2 cup onion, minced

6 ounces of sharp cheddar, shredded (optional for or go vegan cheese too)


16 dry corn husks

16 pieces 12×12 parchment paper

2 1/2 lb. prepared masa (tamale dough above)


  • First, cover corn husks in hot water.
  • Combine the fresh ground spices, garlic, lime juice, oil, and salt. Marinate cooked turkey covered in the fridge while you make the masa dough.
  • In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, vigorously beat the shortening. Add the Masa flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the broth, beating vigorously.
  • It should be spongy. Not soupy.
  • Take out the corn husks from the water, lay flat. Put about 1/2 cup masa dough in the middle of the corn husk and spread it out in a 2-inch circle.
  • Put a tablespoon of the seasoned turkey in the center of the masa circle.
  • Now roll up the corn husk, keeping the masa dough surrounding the meat. One roll, then fold the bottom “pointed end” of the corn husk toward the middle of the tamale.
  • If you choose vegetarian tamales, add the corn, cheese, and onion to the dough and mix well. Put a 2-inch circle of masa into the corn husk and roll the same way as the meat-filled tamales.
  • Hold the fold down with your thumb and roll again. The rolled corn husk will cover the fold.
  • Lay flat, roll side down. Wrap in parchment paper.
  • Nestle them in a steamer and cover with a clean wet washcloth. A crock-pot with a steam basket on the bottom (and an inch of water) works well for this on the high setting for 2 hours. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Heat is low, but water is boiling—approximately 2 hours.