Beans and cheese, a tried-and-true combination, star in these easy, classic tamales.

What to buy: Queso fresco is a mild white cheese that doesn’t melt when heated. It can be found in the refrigerated cheese case of most grocery stores or at specialty cheese shops or Latin markets.

Corn husks can be found at Latin markets.

Game plan: The dough (see our tamale masa recipe) and filling can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated in a covered container. Alternatively, you can form the tamales up to 1 day ahead and keep them covered in the refrigerator until ready to steam and serve.

To help you make the perfect tamale, see our step-by-step guide to forming tamales.

This recipe was featured as part of our Tamales for the Holidays project.

  • Yield: 35 tamales
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Total: 3 hrs 20 mins, plus soaking time
  • Active: 1 hr 35 mins

Ingredients (8)

  • 35 corn husks
  • 3 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
  • Basic Masa Dough


  1. Place corn husks in a large bowl or baking dish, cover completely with hot water, and weigh down with a plate or bowl to fully submerge. Soak until husks are very pliable, at least 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain, squeeze out excess water, and wipe dry.
  2. Heat lard or shortening in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Add onion, garlic, and salt and cook until vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add beans and mash with the back of a spoon, leaving about half of the beans intact. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to keep the beans from sticking, until the beans are heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, fold in cheese, and let cool slightly.
  4. Place a steamer basket in a large pot and fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the steamer. Cover and bring the water to a simmer over low heat.
  5. Lay a corn husk on a clean work surface with the wide edge toward you (this is the bottom). Measure 1/4 cup masa dough and spread it 1/4 inch thick on the husk, leaving a 1/2-inch border at the bottom. Spread 1 tablespoon of the reserved filling down the center of the dough. Bring the two sides of the husk together until the dough meets over the filling. Wrap the husk over the dough, making sure you don’t get any of the husk in between the dough and the filling.
  6. Fold the top of the husk (the empty, tapered edge) back over the filled husk to close. (If your husks are particularly small or they don’t want to stay closed, use a bit of butcher’s twine to tie them closed.) Repeat to make 35 tamales.
  7. Arrange the tamales upright in the steamer with the open ends facing up. If your steamer is too big to hold all of the tamales snugly together, place a small heatproof bowl upside down in the center to stabilize the tamales. Cover and steam until the dough is set and no longer raw-tasting and the tamales pull away easily from the husks when unwrapped, about 1 1/2 hours. Turn the heat off and let the tamales rest for 15 minutes before serving.