Mary Ella Steck's Vegan Tamale Recipe

(Makes 16 small tamales)


  • 6 ounces guajillo chilies, rinsed
  • Hot water to cover chilies
  • 1/2 cup chunk-style textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup low salt soy sauce
  • Salt to taste

Put the chilies into a large bowl, and barely cover with hot tap water. Soak them for 30 minutes, or until soft. At the same time, soak the TVP in approximately 2 cups water. It will expand greatly.

After the chilies are soft, remove the tops and discard the stems. Slice the chilies open and swish out the seeds in the soaking water. It's not necessary to remove every seed, just most of them. Strain the seeds from the soaking water and reserve the soaking water.

In a blender or food processor, process the chilies until they become a sauce, adding as much of the soaking water as necessary. Sauce should be the consistency of thick gravy. Set aside.

Take a handful of TVP at a time, rinse it under the tap, and then squeeze out. You can also use a thin kitchen towel for this rinsing and squeezing process. Make sure the last step is squeezing out the water; it gets rid of the soy flavor and allows the TVP to absorb the chili sauce.

Heat oil in a large pan. Sauté the onions until transparent. Add garlic and stir. Add the TVP chunks and stir with the heat still on. Stir in the soy sauce until evenly mixed. Add the chili sauce to the mixture and allow to simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Add salt if needed.

Now the sauce is ready to be used in tamales. If there's any leftover, I freeze it for next time or use it to make chili sin carne (chili without meat).

Next, make the dough. This recipe is taken from the masa (or corn flour) package.


  • 2 cups masa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2/3 cup Earth Balance shortening or Crisco

Combine masa, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the water and work with a fork to make a soft, moist dough. Add shortening. Work together with hands. Dough should be soft and spreadable, not too thick. Add more water, if necessary.


Soak corn husks in water for approximately 10 minutes. Discard water and shake husks to remove excess water. (This is a good job for children because you don't need to worry too much about the assembly. The tamales usually look and taste great after steaming, no matter what.)

Spread approximately 2 Tablespoons of the dough in the middle of a corn husk but not to edges. Take a spoonful of the filling and make a line down the middle of the dough. Fold the husk in on the sides and then the top and bottom.

Although there are special pots for steaming tamales, I use a vegetable steamer that fits inside a big saucepan. Add enough water to steam but not touch the tamales. Place tamales in the pan on top of steamer or corn husks. Fill the pan with tamales, but make sure that the lid still fits securely. Turn the heat on high until the pan is fully steaming, and then lower to medium heat. It should still be steamy throughout, so don’t turn too low. Steam for 45 minutes, and then check one tamale for doneness. The dough should be completely firm and should have acquired the ridges of the corn husk.

Total calories per tamale: 186 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 19 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 293 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

If you want to learn more, go to Centro Latino's website at: and become a fan of them on Facebook, where you can even see the "Veggie Friendly Kids in the Kitchen" video: