Butternut Tamales with flavorful Pepita Sauce (Pumpkin Seed-Cilantro Sauce) over a bed of seasoned black beans, topped with cilantro, pickled onions and crunchy watermelon radishes! A flavorful vegetarian dinner. These can be made ahead and are lower-fat, GF and Vegan-adaptable!
Forgive me if I keep repeating myself, but just in case you missed it, my husband and I are spending the winter down in Santa Barbara, California this year- away from the Pacific Northwest and all the cold and snow. It has been glorious! (Ok I’ll stop bragging!) 😉
Seriously though, the reason I keep telling you this is because what I love most about this area is all the amazing Mexican food! Close to our place, there is a wonderful Mexican Market, and a few weeks ago, I met a lovely lady selling her tamales out in the parking lot. Well, I have to say, they were impossible to pass up… and were exquisite. So good, in fact, they didn’t make it out of the parking lot, we devoured them in the car!
Ever since then it got me on a Tamale fix, and for the last three weeks or so, we’ve been whipping them up at home. This version is intentionally lower in fat, filled with farmer’s market butternut squash & poblano peppers, onion, garlic and a little queso fresco (which you could substitute with vegan cheese).
The Butternut Tamales are served over a bed of seasoned black beans and topped with a silky Pepita (Pumpkin Seed) Sauce. This is topped with crunchy radishes, cilantro, pickled onions and a scattering of more pepitas. Dreamy! Such great textures and flavors here.
There are a few steps to the recipe so perhaps not a “weeknight dinner”, unless you make a few things ahead. You can absolutely meal prep the tamales ahead and store in the fridge for up to 4 days or even freeze!
If doing this, consider doubling the recipe.
Steps and Tips to making Tamales- the Simple Way!
- Cook the butternut ahead. You can place whole butternut squash in the steamer basket of your Instant Pot with a cup of water, and pressure cook on high for 20 minutes ( for a 2 1/2 lb butternut squash). I like to do this the night before and just cool it in the fridge. You can also roast it (see recipe notes).
- Soak the corn husks:When you are ready to make the tamales, soak the corn husks in water for 30 minutes. You can also pre-soak them the day before and store them in the fridge ( in the bowl of water) until ready to assemble.
- Make the Tamale Dough! In a medium bowl mix masa harina flour (Do NOT use corn meal) salt, cumin, and baking powder, mixing well. Add broth and oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon to mix until incorporated well, or use a clean hand to kneed for a couple of mintues. Set aside. You can also whip this in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. You can also do this ahead, and store it in the fridge!
- Make the butternut filling: It starts with sauteing onion, garlic and fresh poblano (or pasilla) chilies. Half will go into the filling and the other half into the Pepita sauce! Make the filling ahead!
How to make the filling: Scoop out two cups of your pre-cooked butternut squash into a bowl and mash.
Add half of the cooked onion/pepper mixture and the cheese. You can sub vegan cheese here! Or totally leave it out and add more butternut.
Mix it up! Taste and season! Remember you can use vegan cheese here, or leave it aout and sub one more cup of butternut.
How to Assemble your butternut tamales!
1.) Scoop out 1/4-1/3 cup tamale dough into the soaked corn husk leaving 2 inches at the bottom, pointy end.
2.) Spread the dough so it’s 5-inches x 5-inches. You can use a spoon or wet fingers (just dip into the corn husk water).
3.) Add 2-3 tablespoons of the filling, down the center vertically. You want the tamale dough to be wide enough and tall enough to encase it all.
4.) Roll, and test (unroll a little and make sure the tamale dough meets), then roll up, and fold the pointy end, over the seam side, placing seam side down. Press down lightly on the open end, to seal the tamale dough.
You will have enough filling to make 12-ish tamales.
Steam the Tamales: You can either do this on the stovetop or an Instant Pot ( Fastest and easiest!)
Start layering the tamales, open side up either against one side or towards the middle. If your pot is too big for the tamales to stand upright, an easy trick is to wad up a sheet of foil into a ball and place it in the middle. Layer tamales around the ball. Or use a metal cup (measuring cup) to lean them against, as I did this here.
- If using an Instant Pot, pressure cook on high for 35 minutes, and naturally release.
- If using a big pot on the stove, bring to a simmer, cover tightly (I like to use a thin dish towel under the lid, gathering the corners up and over the lid, for a better seal.) and steam on low heat 50-60 minutes.
While this is steaming, make the quick pumpkin seed sauce– just put everything into a blender and blend until silky smooth!
You will love this Pepita Sauce! So yummy!
Warm the sauce up gently on the stove- do not boil or simmer, just warm.
Warm-up some black beans and season them, which the tamales will be served over.
Then lastly prep any garnishes you like. I love adding crunchy radishes – these watermelon radishes are so pretty. This crunchy Mexican slaw would be nice too! Pickled onions, sprouts, some extra pumpkin seeds and cilantro or scallions… all good here. All add texture and flavor.
When the tamales are done, unwrap and either cut them in half or leave whole.
See how the masa dough completely wraps around the butternut filling?
Note: Now I know some of you prefer your masa dough thinner than this- more traditional in some areas of Mexico- and that is totally fine. I usually do too with chicken tamales – but for this version, with the soft butternut filling – I preferred it a little thicker. Do as you please. 🙂
Then top it with all your beautiful garnishes!
It’s quite a few steps, but if you work smart and make a few things ahead, it’s actually not too bad. You will love the flavor of these Butternut Tamales! ! Let me know how it goes in the comments below, super excited for you to try this one!
A delicious vegetarian ( or vegan!) meal highlighting butternut squash!
More Recipes you may like!
Butternut Tamales with flavorful Pumpkin Seed -Cilantro Sauce over a bed of seasoned black beans, topped with pickled onions and crunchy radishes! A flavorful vegetarian dinner. Gluten Free and Vegan adaptable! Can be made ahead!
17 corn husks, soaked (12 tamales plus 4-5 extra for lining the pot and breakage)
- one onion, diced
- 2 poblano peppers, diced
- 4–6 garlic cloves, rough chopped
- 2 cups cooked butternut squash, mashed with a fork (see notes)
- 4 ounces queso fresco cheese (about 1 cup crumbled, or sub vegan cheese or 1 more cup butternut)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin
- 3 cups masa harina
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 3/4 cups veggie or chicken stock or broth, more as needed
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 of the onion/poblano mixture
- 1 1/4 cup water or broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 cup packed cilantro, stems ok
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Seasoned Black Beans:
- PRE -Cook the butternut squash. (See options in notes, it’s nice to do this ahead.)
- Soak corn husks in a large bowl of warm tap water. (30 minutes, or overnight in the fridge)
- Make the Tamale Dough: In a medium bowl mix masa harina flour (do not use cornmeal) salt, cumin and baking powder well. Add 2 3/4 cups broth and oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon to mix until incorporated well. If the dough feels dry or crumbly add a little more broth or water, just a little at a time until the dough is soft and pliable. Use a clean hand to knead the dough for a couple of minutes. Set aside. If the dough feels overly wet or sticky, add a little more masa harina.
- Make the Butternut filling: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add onion and pasilla peppers, saute for 5-7 minutes. Add garlic. Cook until tender and golden. Place half of this mixture in a blender (for the Pepita sauce) and save the other half for the filling. In a medium bowl, mash the cooked butternut with a fork, then add 1 cup (or half) of the cooked onion/pasilla/ garlic mixture. Stir in the cheese, salt and cumin. Set aside. ( You could do this ahead and refrigerate)
- Assemble the tamales: Place a soaked corn husk on the counter, pat the inside dry with a towel, spread 1/4 cup masa dough using a spoon, or wet fingers (just dip your fingers into the warm corn husk water) pat into a 5 x 5 square, two inches from the pointy end. (See photos.) Place 2 rounded tablespoons of filling in the middle, vertically, (see photos). Roll the cornhusk from side to side- with the idea of joining the outer edges of the masa dough so it completely encloses the filling. Fold the pointy end towards the seam and place on the counter, seam side down. Repeat with all.
- Steam/PRESSURE COOK: In an Instant pot, large pot (with strainer) or double boiler, place the strainer basket in the bottom, and add 1-2 cups water (just to the bottom of the strainer). Lay the few remaining corn husks down as a barrier. Place tamales over the husks, vertically, open side up either leaning against the side or towards the middle (with a ball of foil in the middle – if your pot is too big.) If using an Instant Pot, pressure cook on high for 25 minutes, and naturally release. Open the pot and let stand 15 mins before opening the tamale- so they firm up. Important! ( Alternatively If using a pot on the stove, place in a steamer,with water in the bottom, bring to a simmer, cover tightly, and steam on low heat for 55-60 minutes.)
- Make the Peptita Sauce: while the tamales are steaming make the sauce by placing the remaining ingredients into the blender with the cooked onion/chili mixture. Blend until silky smooth. If sauce feels overly thick, add a little more water to thin. Place in a saucepan to heat up right before serving.
- Heat and season the black beans: Add everything to a pot or skillet and gently stir and warm. Season well with salt and pepper. If you like spicy, add ground a pinch of ground chipotle.
- To serve. Open the corn husks and place warm tamales over a bed of seasoned black beans. Top with 2-3 tablespoons of Pepita sauce. Garnish with radishes, cilantro, sprouts, scallions, toasted pumpkin seeds, and/or pickled red onions. Or top with Mexican Slaw. Sprinkle with more queso fresco cheese if you like.
Make in Stages: This is much simpler made in stages. Roast or cook the Butternut Squash ahead or make the filling ahead and refrigerate. Make the Tamale Dough ahead if you like, or even soak the husks ahead and keep in the fridge. Or make the steamed tamales ahead, store in the fridge for 4 days, or freeze.
Pressure Cook a whole butternut squash ( 2 1/2lbs) in an instant pot for 20 minutes, high pressure. Naturally release. If you cut it in half first, it will only take 8-9 minutes, high pressure.
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