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Paleo Tamales

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

With a delicious sweet potato masa and several great preparation methods to choose from, you can take or leave the corn husk--it's what's on the inside that counts!

Read on for tips and pics. Click here to skip to printable recipe.

Tamales are one of my family’s favorite Christmastime traditions. We like to get the kids involved and make some to eat right away, some to freeze, and some to share with friends and family.

Over the years we’ve perfected our masa game and experimented with numerous fillings.

BUT. . .traditional masa is corn-based, and corn is no bueno on paleo. Typically we consider tamales part of the 15% of our diet that allows for culinary off-roading, but last year I wanted to see if we could bring our tamales to the 85.

My initial concept was simply replacing the masa with mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes with egg? Or maybe mashed green plantains? Brainstorming continued.

After much deliberation and a few trials, we landed on a combo of sweet potato and almond flour as the stand-in for the masa. The sweet potato lends color and just a tiny bit of sweetness (similar to corn), while the almond flour lends texture. Flavorful homemade chicken stock/bone broth and a combination of bacon grease and coconut oil round out the tamale dough.

The best way to prepare the sweet potato for use in this recipe is to bake a whole sweet potato, skin-on, until very tender. This can be done a few days in advance if desired. The cooked sweet potato can then be scooped right out of the skin into a measuring cup. Leftover sweet potato is a great addition to chili or paleo pancakes.

The dough is easiest to work with by hand after it sits for 5-10 minutes.

Traditionally, tamales are prepared with either corn husks (typical of Tex-Mex tamales) or banana leaves (more common in Southern Mexico and Central America). Parchment paper is also an option, but admittedly less sustainable. I set out on the banana-leaf route when developing this recipe. . .

. . .but about halfway through, I thought of a much simpler (if way less traditional) workaround. These rectangular silicone baking cups are spectacular. Simply scoop masa into cups, press down and up the sides with your hands, fill with something delicious, and press to seal.

I opted for corn husks for the cover shoot because I love the look of them, but if you are going for paleo purity, they might not be the best choice. Whichever way you choose to form your tamales, the next step is to steam them. You can stack them in a steamer basket on the stovetop, or place them in a water bath in a high-sided roasting pan, cover with foil, and steam in the oven. Tamales formed in silicone cups will look slightly baked on top, but when they are inverted onto a plate to serve, they will look more like regular tamales.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 cup cooked sweet potato, preferably baked in the skin till very soft (about 90 min at 350 degrees F)

  • ½ cup bacon grease, melted

  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted

  • ½ cup chicken stock

  • 3 cups almond flour

  • 2 tsp salt

  • 2 tsp baking powder

  • 2 ½ cups filling of choice

Here's what you'll do:

  1. Use a potato masher to mash the sweet potato and thoroughly combine with remaining ingredients. Let sit 5 minutes.

  2. Use a 3 T cookie scoop to portion out scoops of masa into each of 20 rectangular silicone baking cups.

  3. Use fingers or a silicone spatula to push the masa down and up the sides of each cup so that it extends a bit over the sides.

  4. Add 2 T filling to each cup, and press down, using your fingers, a spatula, and/or the sides of the cup to gently encase the filling in the masa.

  5. Transfer the filled cups to a high-walled baking dish, carefully add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the cups, and cover dish tightly with foil.

  6. Bake at 375 degrees F for 2 hours. Serve immediately or re-steam chilled or frozen tamales for 20 minutes or just till warmed through.

One of the best things about tamales is that you can fill them with just about anything! If you substituted the bacon grease for palm shortening or more coconut oil, you could even make them vegan. Our favorite fillings include...

*Chicken or Turkey Tinga (dark meat slow-cooked in salsa, our main go-to)

*Chopped smoked brisket

*Nom Nom Paleo's Mexican Braised Beef

*NomNomPaleo's Kahlua Pig

For the printable recipe click here.

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Hey Y'all!

I'm the Monster Momma.

I'm a Christ-follower, wife, mother to five sweet paleo monsters, writer, and

paleo food fiend.

Join me and my family on our paleo journey!

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