Tamales de Rajas con Queso is a Mexican recipe consisting of a tamal made with corn masa stuffed with roasted peppers and melty cheese, wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed. Naturally gluten-free, those tamales will become one of your favorite Mexican recipes!
Tamales are a staple in Mexican cuisine and symbolic street food. They are also very popular during special events and national celebrations like Christmas, Independence Day, and Candlemas Day.
Rajas are strips of roasted poblano peppers that are used to make many traditional and modern recipes such as rajas con crema or elote soup. In this recipe, rajas are combined with cheese and salsa to stuff in the dough and make tamales.
Those tasty rajas tamales have a soft texture and a slightly smoky taste and are perfect to serve paired with atole or champurrado.
- Masa Harina. This type of corn flour is the same used to make tortillas, look for brands such as Naturelo, Maseca, or Maza Real at Mexican grocery stores or on Amazon.
- Chiles Poblanos. Rajas tamales are traditionally made with poblano peppers, but although the flavor of that Mexican pepper is delicious and unique, it can be very difficult to find it outside of Mexico. Read below for options to replace poblano peppers.
- Cheese. Any type of melty cheese will work fine for this recipe, I used Oaxaca cheese. Read below for more options on cheese.
- Salsa. I used my molcajete salsa recipe, but feel free to use any type of salsa you prefer.
- Lard. Pork lard adds an amazing flavor to tamales, but you can also substitute it with olive oil, butter, or shortening.
- Baking powder & soda. To add some fluffiness.
- Water or chicken stock. To make the masa.
- Corn husks. You can find dried corn husks at Mexican grocery stores or on Amazon, or you can also substitute them with parchment paper as wraps.
- Asadero (Mexican melty cheese)
- Queso fresco (Mexican cheese, it doesn’t melt).
- Queso panela (same as above).
- Monterey jack (or Pepper jack).
- Primo Sale (Italian cheese, doesn’t melt).
- Fontina (Italian cheese, melty)
- Mozzarella Filante (not the one that comes in water)
- Feta (Greek cheese, a little bit salty).
Substitutes for poblano peppers
- Green bell peppers.
- Friggitelli peppers (Italian peppers).
- Anaheim green peppers.
- Moroccan green bell peppers.
- Tiger skin peppers (Chinese peppers).
How To Make Tamales de Rajas y Queso
- Place the corn husks into a large bowl and cover them with warm water.
- Let them soak while you continue with the recipe.
- Prepare a steamer or large stock pot with a steamer basket. Fill the pot with water just before it touches the basket.
Make the rajas con queso filling
- Roast the green poblano peppers using your favorite method (on the stove, grill, or oven).
- Place them in a bowl and cover them with a kitchen towel.
- Rest for 15 minutes then peel them, discard the stem, open them and discard the seeds.
- Cut peppers into thin strips.
- Cut the cheese and place the salsa in a bowl.
Make the dough
Melt the lard in a pan and allow it to cool down without solidifying again.
Place corn masa harina in a large bowl and add salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Pour in the water or chicken stock little by little, while mixing with your hands.
Mix to combine until you will have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.
Add lard to the dough and mix well to combine. You will end with a slightly sticky dough. You can now taste your dough and adjust it with salt if needed.
Assemble the rajas tamales
Drain the corn husks and pat them dry with kitchen paper towels.
Place 2 spoonfuls of tamales dough in the middle of a husk and, using the back of a spoon, spread it on the surface as in the photo below.
Add one tablespoon of molcajete salsa (optional) in the middle, then a few strips of roasted peppers and finish with some cheese.
Now, fold the right side of the corn husk to the center of the tamal, trying to cover a little bit more than half the piece.
And then repeat with the left side, making some sort of burrito.
Take the narrow end of the husk and fold it towards the center.
Place the tamal in the steamer standing up with the open side up, use some aluminum foil to fill some gaps and help the tamales to stand up.
Repeat the steps until all ingredients are gone.
Bring the water in the steamer to a boil, cover the pot and cook the tamales de rajas for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, checking occasionally and adding more water when needed.
- Leave some room between each tamal because as they cook, they will raise and become larger.
- If you can’t find corn husks, you can use 6×6-inches sheets of parchment paper as wrappers.
- To check up if tamales de rajas are cooked, remove a tamal from the steamer and let it cool slightly. If the dough doesn’t stick to the husk they are ready.
- Want to make them vegetarian? Replace the lard with olive oil, avocado oil, or your favorite vegetable oil.
How To Serve
But you can also top them with Mexican crema, queso fresco, and salsa. And if you looking for some sides, you can actually serve tamales with refried frijoles puercos, arroz rojo, or sautéed champiñones.
How To Store and Reheat
Once cooled down, place tamales de rajas (still wrapped in husks) in a container with a tight lid and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You can also place them in a bag and freeze them for up to 3 months. Thaw rajas tamales before reheating.
There are many ways for reheating tamales, but my favorite so far is in a steamer, because they come out just as freshly cooked, so soft. So, just add water to the steamer, place the basket and arrange the tamales de rajas then reheat for about 10 minutes.
Tamales de Rajas con Queso
- 2 ½ cups Masa Harina
- ⅔ cup pork lard (or vegetable oil)
- 2 ½ cups lukewarm water (or chicken stock)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- salt (to taste)
- 12 large dried corn husks (read note 1)
For the filling
- 2 poblano peppers (read note 2)
- 7 oz Oaxaca cheese (cut into pieces, read note 3.)
- 1 cup molcajete salsa (read note 4)
For toppings (optional)
- Mexican crema
- molcajete salsa
- Place corn husks into a large bowl and cover with warm water. Soak while you continue with the recipe (read note 1).
- Prepare your steamer or a large stock pot with a steamer basket. Fill the pot with water just before it touches the basket.
Roast green peppers
- Roast the peppers using your favorite method (on the stove, grill, or oven). Place them in a bowl and cover them with a kitchen towel.
- Let peppers rest for 15 minutes then peel them, discard the stem, open them and discard the seeds.
- Cut peppers into thin strips and set aside.
Make the dough
- Melt the lard in a pan and allow it to cool down without solidifying.
- Place corn masa harina in a large bowl. Add salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
- Pour in the water while mixing with your hands little by little until you will have a soft dough (about 3 minutes).
- Add lard to the dough and mix to combine until you'll have a slightly sticky dough. Taste and adjust with salt if needed.
Make the tamales
- Drain the corn husks and pat them dry with a kitchen towel.
- Place 2-3 spoonfuls of tamales dough in the middle of a husk and, using the back of a spoon, spread it in the middle.
- Add one tablespoon of molcajete salsa in the middle, then a few strips of roasted peppers.
- Finish with some bites of cheese.
- Fold the right side of the corn husk to the center of the tamal and then repeat with the left side.
- Take the narrow end of the husk and fold it towards the center.
- Place the tamal in the steamer standing up with the open side up. *Use some aluminum foil to fill some gaps and help the tamales to stand up.
- Repeat the steps until all ingredients are gone and the steamer is filled up.
- Bring the water in the steamer to a boil, cover the pot and cook the tamales for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, checking occasionally and adding more water when needed.
- Use parchment paper if you can’t find corn husks where you live, but be aware that by doing so you’re missing the wonderful taste of steamed husks.
- Poblano peppers can be substituted with green bell peppers, Anaheim, or Italian peppers.
- You can substitute Oaxaca cheese with mozzarella, Monterey jack, queso fresco, ranchero cheese, fontina, feta, etc.
- Salsa for filling is optional, omit it if you want your tamales to not have spicy. However, you can also use your favorite spicy salsa, either homemade or store-bought.
- Want to make them vegetarian? Replace the lard with olive oil or avocado oil, and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
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DID YOU KNOW? Tamal (singular) comes from the Nahuatl word Tamalli and it means envuelto (wrapped).
Maricruz Avalos Flores is a Mexican cook and photographer living in Italy where she shares authentic Mexican & Italian recipes that can be easily made at home using easy-to-find ingredients.