Vegan Sour Tamales – With Pumpkin-Seed, Tomatillo & Courgette Filling

Vegan Sour Tamales – Corn At Its Best!

The usual thing with tamal dough is to chill it, something which greatly helps it pass the float-test, a sure sign that the end result will be light and fluffy. Sour tamales, on the contrary, are allowed to rest in warm place to ferment.

Nixtamalization, or lime-treatment of corn has great nutritional benefits. The alkaline lime (calcium hydroxide) breaks down the indigestible outer husk releasing essential amino acids and vitamins. Enter fermentation to fully open the door to nutrients not otherwise available. This is maize at its very best.

I first tasted sour tamales in Pátzcuaro, Mexico. The dough is left all day by an open fire (“a flor de fuego“) then rolled roly-poly-style with bean paste and steamed in the traditional way in corn husks.

Our sour tamales are filled with chuncky courgette batons in a green tomatillo sauce with a good dusting of ground, toasted pumpkin seeds.

Health Tip:

in addition to providing plentiful protein pumpkin seeds are rich in seleium, a mineral essential for healthy prostate function.

While some studies have suggested a link between selenium and prostate cancer, this is due to high levels of selenium exclusive associated with taking supplements, illustrating that we should get our nutrition from food.


are not tomatoes but a relation of the cape-gooseberry or physallis. Readily available canned, tomatillos can be grown just like tomatoes. Seeds are plentifully available on-line. And to emphasize the point, here are some pics of our London crop:

Can’t get hold of tomatillos? No worries. Your tamales will be as delicious, albeit in a different way, using unripe green tomatoes.  And what, I ask you, is wrong with using proper red ones?

steamed corn tamales

Sour Tamales With Pumpkin-Seed And Tomatillo Mole & Courgette Batons

Cuisine Latin American, Mexican
Servings 16 tamales


  • 1 lb (dry weight) prepared tamal dough using vegetable shortening
  • 16+ corn husks You can buy these dry or sun-dry the outer leaves of any sweetcorn you happen to buy


  • 1 glug corn, canola or other neutral-flavoured oil
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 lb fresh tomatillos, husks removed or 2 tins of canned tomatillos, drained
  • 1/2 cup ground hulled pumpkin seeds dry toasted and ground
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1-2 large courgettes de-seeded and cut into short batons


Prepare The Basic Tamal Dough

  • preparing tamal dough
  • Leave the dough, covered, in a warm place for 8-24 hours depending on the season and your taste. An airing cupboard, sunny spot or, in the winter, close proximity to a radiator or fire will all work

Make The Filling

  • Top and tail the courgette(s) and cut in 4 lengthwise. Remove the seeds with a sharp knife and discard. Cut the courgettes into batons no longer than the intended lengths of your tamales. Set aside
  • Gently soften the onions in the oil for 5-10 minutes, add the garlic and fry for another couple of minutes. Add your fresh or canned chopped tomatillos or ripe red tomatoes
  • Make a simple reduction as you would with a classic tomato sauce. Near the end of cooking add the chopped corander and/or other fresh green herbs of your choice
  • Allow the sauce to cool, then refrigerate until ready to use
  • Meanwhile, toast the green, hulled pumpkin seeds to release their flavour, but without browning. Cool for a few minutes then grind them coarsely, either by hand in a rough mortar and pestle or with an electric coffee grinder / mini-chopper. Set aside.

Prepare The Corn Husks

  • Soak corn husks for an hour or longer until they are really soft and pliable. You'll need 2-3 husks per tamal.
    corn husks for tamales

Assemble Your Tamales

  • Lay a few husks on your work-top or table, pointed side towards you. Spread the dough to rather less than 1/2-inch thick over the top 2/3 of the husk, leaving a small margin at the sides. 
  • Spoon over some sauce, sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and top with courgette. Try not to overfill your tamales
  • Fold in the sides, making sure they overlap, then fold the lower part of the corn husk to seal the bottom. The blunt, top end of the tamal remains open to allow for expansion during steaming.  Tie your tamales with strips of spare corn-husk or some fine string
  • Place the tamales open side up in a steamer. Cover and cook for around an hour, topping up the water as necessary
    steamed corn tamales


For a truly exotic touch and extra Mexican authenticity try using strips of nopal cactus in place of courgettes.
Unlike the prickly pear to which they're related, nopales have edible paddles. They are available tinned or in jars from Mexican food suppliers. I have never seen fresh nopales in Europe. Please prove me wrong.  Or I'll be forced to grow my own - in a tub, on my roof terrace. . . ?
Keyword chilli, Corn, fermented, latin-Amerrican, Mexican, Nixtamal, pro-biotic, seeeds, Tamales, tomatillos, vegan, vegetable protein, vegetarian

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