The Tamale Project (Paleo Plantain Tamales v. Traditional Corn Tamales)

So this past weekend, on a bit of a whim, we drove down to Taos, New Mexico. The original plan had been to drive north, to Wyoming, but the menacing grey clouds over our own house had become so large that New Mexico was our closest escape to sunny weather. 

Since we decided no more than 5 hours before leaving the house where we were headed, we had a pretty limited plan, and a very limited idea of what we were headed towards. We drove and we drove, and what was a long drive felt short, thanks to the Serial Podcast

The sun was tucked behind the mountains by the time we arrived to the Taos area, and the only light was that deep glow you only get between sunset and nightfall. It was raining on and off and I was beginning to worry that we weren't going to escape the rain at all.

That's when it happened--right then, out of the blue. There was a sign that read "Rio Grande," which I read out loud, and then BOOM! There we were, 565 feet above the Rio Grande, on the Gorge Bridge. Welcome to New Mexico, the view said.

While I really wanted to stop right then to check it out, we needed a camp site. We hadn't eaten, it was getting dark, and our tent needed pitching. Did you know that finding an open campsite along the Rio Grande Gorge at 9pm on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend is virtually impossible? You did? Oh. Lesson learned. Make a reservation. After looking and looking, we gave up, found a quiet dirt road, and pitched our camp alongside it. (This killed my Type-A insides. We had no idea if it was ok to camp there, and my mind was running circles of "what ifs". Turns out, you can camp anywhere in the BML lands around the gorge). 

So what does this all have to do with tamales? Well, my Dad's ancestors were some of the first to settle Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Their Hispanic cooking flare has left a big mark on how I cook and what foods I crave. Tamales? Tamales are one of my all time favorites. I've been thinking about creating a Paleo tamale for probably as long as I've been following a Paleo diet. Being surrounded by so much hispanic culture and tromping through my ancestor's old lands pushed me over the edge. I had to make some tamales. I hurried home, and made two versions, one using corn masa (a sort of "control" to my experiment) and one using plantain, which is the Caribbean style, and Paleo-friendly, but new to me. The Tamale Project. 

I stuffed these tamales with leftover Green Chile Pork, but you could use Pork Mole or any sort of Red Chile Pork, too. The plantain masa was smoother and stickier than the corn masa, but it was almost the exact same color and was easy to work with. My hopes were high! I stack up a pile of both types of tamales, and got them ready for steaming. 

Here's a look at the final result: 

The verdict: Both were good. The plantain masa cooks a bit faster and comes out a bit darker in color. It holds it's shape really well, almost better than the corn masa. It's also a bit sweeter, and has a smoother texture. Overall--it's still a tamale. Still, I have to be honest with you, I preferred the corn version. I enjoy the slightly grain texture and classic flavor of corn masa. I guess I'm stuck in my ways! ;) In my book, The Tamale Project is not yet done. These plantain tamales are a good substitute (maybe even better if you aren't sitting there comparing it to the corn version), but I can see more experiments in my future. 

Until then, I'll lay out my recipes for Paleo Plantain Tamales here! And, of course, share a few pictures from the trip: 

Paleo Plantain Tamales

Paleo, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Egg-Free    |       |    Print Friendly and PDF

An experimental tamale recipe that uses plantains instead of corn masa.

Yields: 10   |    Total Time:


  • 2 cups leftover Pork Chile Verde, sauce and meat roughly separated into different bowls
  • 2 green plantains
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons bone broth
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil or lard
  • 10 corn husks
  • Garnish: chopped lettuce, lime, cilantro


  1. Peel the plantains, and chop them into 1 inch pieces. Add them to a blender along with the salt, baking soda, bone broth, and coconut oil. Puree.
  2. Soak the corn husks in warm water for 10 minutes, until soft and malleable. 
  3. Pull a husk from the water, and pat dry. Using a spatula, spread a small amount of plantain batter in a thin layer just in the center. Line a small amount (about 1 tablespoons) of pork in the center of that. Roll husk up tight, closing the tamale. Tie the ends with excess pieces of corn husk (I tear small strips from an extra). Repeat until all of the batter is used. 
  4. Steam the tamales: If using a pressure cooker, and 1 inch of water to the pot of a pressure cooker and stack the tamales in a steam basket in the pot. Set on "steam" setting and cook for 15 minutes. If steaming on the stove, add 1 inch of water to a large soup pot with a lid, and stack the tamales in a steam basket in the pot. Bring to a simmer, and steam, covered, for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Check the tamales by peeling back the husk on a single tamale. If the dough is firm, holds it's shape (is not soft and mushy), the tamales are ready.
  5. To serve, bring the reserved sauce from the Pork Chile Verde to a simmer. Open the corn husk of a tamale on a plate and smother in green chile sauce. Top with chopped lettuce, cilantro leaves, and/or a squeeze of lime.