Unfilled Tamales

  • Serves

    makes 15-20


The name of these tamales stems from the yellowish wood ashes with which the masa was traditionally prepared: nejos means ashen-looking.


  • 1 large bunch (about 2 lbs.) unbroken hojas de milpa (corn leaves, not husks), fresh or dried
  • 14 oz. tequesquite (an alkaline salt)
  • 1 12 lb. smooth-ground fresh masa (corn dough) for tortillas
  • 2 12 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp. manteca (lard)
  • 2 tsp. cal (calcium hydroxide), sifted
  • 1 tsp. salt


Step 1

If corn leaves are dried, soak in cold water to cover until soft and pliable, about 2 hours. Shake off excess moisture. Cut 2'' off both ends of 24 leaves to form strips about 15'' long. (You'll have extra leaves in case some break while forming the tamales.) Gently crack central rib of each leaf to make it more flexible.

Step 2

Mix tequesquite with 2⁄3 cup warm water and stir until nearly dissolved. Set aside until any sediment has settled. Put masa, 1⁄2 cup of the stock, lard, cal, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on low speed until most of the liquid has been absorbed, then increase speed to medium-high and continue beating until smooth. Gradually pour half of the dissolved tequesquite, without disturbing the sediment at the bottom, into masa mixture and continue beating until mixture resembles thick cake batter. If it's too stiff, beat in up to 2 cups of remaining stock. Discard remaining tequesquite liquid and sediment.

Step 3

To form tamales, use the back of a spoon to spread 2 heaping tbsp. masa batter over half of each leaf, leaving a 1⁄2'' border on all sides. Fold other half of leaf over and gently press down to close tamal. Repeat with remaining masa batter and leaves.

Step 4

Working in batches, stack tamales no more than 2 layers deep in a steamer basket set over a pot of boiling water. Cover and steam until leaves peel away easily and masa is set, 15-20 minutes. Serve with Guerrero-Style Green Mole, if you like.

Continue to Next Story

Want more SAVEUR?

Get our favorite recipes, stories, and more delivered to your inbox.