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Traditional Recipe for Turkey Tamales

These turkey tamales take a bit of work to make, but they taste so good that they are worth the effort. You can store leftover tamales in the freezer for a month, wrapped in plastic wrap. To reheat them, you need to remove the plastic wrap and steam them until they are hot.

So, what is a tamale exactly? Tamales are made of masa, which is a starchy dough, and then they are boiled or steamed in a leaf wrapper or corn husk. You do not eat the wrapping. Tamales can contain cheese, meat, chilies, vegetables, or any combination. The cooking liquid and filling can be seasoned.

Tamales originated between 5000 and 8000 BC in Mesoamerica. They were enjoyed by the Aztecs and Mayas, and possibly as far back as Inca times. Whether you like turkey tamales, beef tamales, cheese tamales or another kind, it is interesting to know that tamales are considered to be a Mexican comfort food. They can be served for any meal and street vendors also sell tamales. There are thought to be between 500 and 1000 different tamale recipes in Mexico.

You will need dried corn husks to make these tamales, so a visit to the Latin grocery store might be in order unless your grocery store is particularly well stocked or you live somewhere with a large Mexican population. You will also need fragrant spices like cumin, chili and cayenne pepper, as well as garlic, oregano and more, for a very aromatic flavor.

Turkey leg meat and onion are combined with all these seasonings to make the filling, and then you will be making the tamale dough out of salt, flour, lard and baking powder. Tamales do require a bit of work and time, so enlist the help of some other members of the family and have fun in the kitchen making these little treats for a special occasion. Serve one as an appetizer or several as an entrée, along with your favorite Mexican side dishes.

Turkey Tamales Recipe
Summary: Turkey tamales are typically Mexican. Whether you have tried them in a restaurant or never had one, this recipe is well worth making because the tamales are so tasty.
Cuisine: Mexican
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 12
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons toasted, ground cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 2 ¼ lbs turkey legs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 seeded, minced Serrano chili
  • 3 minced cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 24 dried corn husks
For the Dough:
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 ½ cups masa harina
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 cups reserved cooking liquid
  • 4 oz lard
  1. Combine the cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, salt, black pepper, turkey legs, and oregano in a 6 quart pot and add enough water to cover everything. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the mixture until the turkey is falling apart.
  2. This will take about an hour and a half. Submerge the corn husks in hot water for 2 hours or until they are pliable. Let the turkey cool on a cutting board, then take it off the bone and shred it. Discard the cartilage and skin. Heat the vegetable oil in a pot over a high heat, then sauté the onion in it for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the turkey and ½ cup of the cooking liquid and cook for 3 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated. Combine the baking powder, salt, and masa in a bowl, and then rub in the lard with your fingers, kneading well until the lard is mixed in.
  4. Add 2 to 4 cups of the cooking liquid to make a dough with a thick mashed potato consistency. The dough should be moist rather than wet. Pat the corn husks to remove any excess water then lay 6 at a time on a towel and spread a couple of tablespoons of the dough across the wide end, leaving a ½ inch border from the edges.
  5. Add 2 teaspoons of the turkey mixture down the middle, then roll up the husk around the meat and fold the bottom under. Repeat with the remaining husks, turkey mixture, and dough.
  6. Tie the tamales around the middle in groups of 3 or individually with string.
  7. Put a steamer basked in a big pot and add enough water to reach the base of the basket.
  8. Put the tamales close together on the folded parts and lean them away from the pot sides.
  9. Bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and steam the tamales for about an hour or an hour and a half, or until the dough is firm and pulls away from the husk.
  10. Check the level of the water occasionally, adding more if need be. Serve the tamales warm.

Photo Description:

These corn husks are filled with a combination of turkey, onion, chili, onions, garlic, masa dough and more, to make mouthwatering turkey tamales. This is a classic Mexican dish and tamales are often served at special occasions, like Christmas, Mexican Independence Day, Posadas, and Day of the Dead. If you want to try some traditional Mexican recipes, tamales are fun to make and they taste really good. Discard the outer husk and enjoy the tasty masa dough and turkey filling. These turkey tamales take a while to make but they taste incredibly good.

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Christine Szalay-Kudra

Hi, I'm Christine, and I'm pleased to welcome you to I have endeavored to gather as many delicious South of the border recipes here for you, including Mexican-inspired as well as traditional Mexican, and also some Tex-Mex and Mexican fusion dishes. Food is very important to our family's lives and Mexican food is certainly a favorite around here.

We have everything from appetizers and snacks to soups, drinks, entrées, and much more. You will find everything from mild dishes to super-spicy ones, simple recipes based on fresh ingredients up to more complex ones suitable for a dinner party.

Home cooks just starting out with Mexican cooking tend to be surprised how much of the emphasis is placed on using fresh ingredients and aromatic herbs and spices. Forget the typical ideas about Mexican food being all beans, cheese and beef (that applies a little more to Tex-Mex), take inspiration from authentic Mexican dishes based on fresh ingredients, and inject all your passion into cooking South of the border food, for perfect results every time.

Thanks for visiting,