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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. Vegan adaptable! Can be made ahead!

Butternut Tamales with Pepita Sauce

  • Author: Sylvia Fountaine
  • Prep Time: 60 mins
  • Cook Time: 60 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 12 tamales
  • Category: main, vegan, vegetarian
  • Method: steamed
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Diet: Vegetarian


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 huskssoaked (12 tamales plus 4-5 extra for lining the pot and breakage)

Butternut Filling:

  • one onion, diced
  • 2 poblano peppers, diced
  • 46 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

Tamale Dough:

 Pepita Sauce:

  • 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)

Serve over Seasoned Black Beans (see notes), garnish with radishes, toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) , pickled onions, cilantro, scallions, crumbled queso fresco.

Seasoned Black Beans:


  1. PRE -Cook the butternut squash. (See options in notes, it’s nice to do this ahead.)
  2. Soak corn husks in a large bowl of warm tap water. (30 minutes, or overnight in the fridge)
  3. 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.
  4. 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)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.


*Tamales take 10-15 minutes after pressure cooking to “firm up” if using the instant pot. If they seem undercooked, just let them sit in the instant pot on the warm setting for 10 mins.

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.

To roast the butternut– if using whole butternut, cut in half and roast flesh side down on a parchment lined sheet-pan in a 425F oven until tender about 30 minutes.

OR Roast cubes of peeled butternut on a parchment-lined sheet pan @ 400F until tender, about 25 minutes. Or steam them in a little water on the stovetop.

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