A Christmas Eve Tradition

Green Chile Corn Tamales

By Sue Schulte, Sr. Director of Communications

One of my family’s favorite traditions is the Christmas Eve tamale feast. I love Mexican food, and I’m not picky about the type. Most of my family settled in New Mexico in the early 1900s. We moved to southwest Kansas when I was young, but we spent most of our summer vacations and holidays visiting family back home. That’s how I developed my love the New Mexico style Mexican food the best with its rich red chile, and delicious green chiles. (If you ever look in my freezer, see that I am a hoarder of green chiles, and I have a cupboard full of different types of red chile powder.)

We make two types of tamales for our Christmas Eve dinner. We make tamales filled with pork that has been cooked in red chile sauce. The red chile sauce is basically red chile, pork, broth, garlic and salt. It is hot, and it is rich.

Making tamales is time consuming, and is definitely a group effort, especially when you wrap the tamales in corn husks. Our traditional tamale is a stuffed with pork that has been simmered in a New Mexico red chile sauce. This is not like your normal chili. This is basically pork, broth, red chile, garlic and salt.  It is strong, but so delicious. I bring back frozen red chile and red chile powder whenever I visit New Mexico. You can buy it in most grocery stores there. But you can also make the red sauce with chili powder, or you can buy bags of while dried red chiles at most supermarkets. Here is a basic recipe for the red sauce.   I probably make a bigger batch, stew a pork shoulder, chop it up add it into the red chile after it is made. You don’t need red sauce for this Green Corn Tamale recipe, but it is good on top of the tamales, or just in a bowl with some cheese (and a margarita)

I am sharing my Corn Tamale recipe. They are delicious, and often disappear faster than our pork tamales.  Also, they are easier to make because they are not necessarily stuffed with anything. I work for corn growers and this recipe has corn in three forms!

Corn in three forms?

  1. Masa harina, which is the limed corn flour for the tamale dough. You can find it in most grocery stores. Walmart usually has a special little section with Hispanic foods. You can usually find it in that section or often just in in the flour section. Don’t use corn meal. They use the liming process for masa harina, and it is also what makes your tortilla chips taste so awesome!
  2. Fresh corn kernels – These remind me of sweet corn season in the summer!
  3. Corn husks for wrapping and tying. –When I soak the corn husks in hot water, it smells like a corn field being harvested in the fall!

Green Chile Corn Tamale Recipe

  • 2 ½ cups of corn kernels. About four ears of fresh corn (cut the kernels off the ears and scrape out some of the juice from the cob after the kernels have been removed) I’m always happy and amazed to find fresh corn at the store in December! You could use frozen or canned corn in a pinch.
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 cups Masa Harina (regular or the tamal type–either one works fine)
  • 1 ¾ cups butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of roasted green chiles (if they are already processed, they are roasted)
  • 1 cup of grated cheese—I usually use a mix of jack and sharp cheddar.


Put your corn husks in a large container and cover with hot water and let sit. You might need to put something heavy on them to keep them submerged. Note: I love this because it smells like a corn field during harvest.

Simmer the corn kernels and the milk for about 10 minutes and let cool just a bit because it is going into the blender. Dump it in the blender and puree it. Some people leave some of the corn kernels whole. Up to you.

Measure the masa harina into a bowl and then add the pureed corn mixture and mix it up. It will be glumpy.

I use a stand mixer to whip the butter, baking powder and salt together. Mix until its fluffy.

With the mixer on a lower setting, start tossing in hunks of the masa mixture and once all the masa is incorporated, let it mix on medium until fluffy—about 10 minutes is usually good. Then fold in the cheese and green chiles.

Take a corn husk, lay it flat and put a hunk of the tamale dough onto it. The amount may depend on the size of your husk. Maybe about ¼ cup of dough.

Roll it up from a long side, fold over the smaller, softer end and tie it. You can tie the top or leave it open, but for these, I like to tie the tops because they are a little more delicate.

Get your steamer out and steam them for 30 minutes. Let them cool a little to set up and then serve with some cheese, and some red chile sauce is good on them if you’ve made some. Sometimes I make a little green chile cheese sauce for them (Velveeta, green chiles and a little milk or beer to thin it down a little)

About Roasting Green Chiles: In the winter you can often find Anaheim or Poblano chiles that you could roast. Hatch chiles are the best but you can only get those in late summer. Anaheims or Poblanos work too, although poblanos are definitely meatier. Here is how to roast green chiles.