Delicious Colombian Tamales Recipe: A Traditional Delight

Are you looking to add some Latin American flavor to your next meal? Look no further than this delicious Colombian Tamales recipe! These iconic South American treats are enjoyed across the continent in a variety of styles and flavors, but the Colombian version is especially beloved for its unique blend of spices and ingredients. From the tender chicken or pork filling to the vibrant masa dough infused with fresh cilantro, garlic, and ground cumin, every bite is packed with bold, savory flavors that are sure to satisfy. And with options for vegetarian and vegan versions, there’s a variation of this recipe for everyone to enjoy. So why not take a culinary journey through Colombia without ever leaving your kitchen? This Colombian Tamales recipe is sure to become a new favorite!

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Colombian Tamales
Colombian Tamales

If you’re looking for a hearty and flavorful dish that will transport you straight to the vibrant streets of Colombia, look no further than this Colombian Tamales recipe. With its combination of tender chicken thighs, hard-boiled eggs, sweet carrots, and savory peas all wrapped up in a corn masa dough and steamed in banana leaves, this traditional Colombian dish is one that has been loved by locals and visitors alike for generations.

But the benefits of this dish go beyond taste alone. This recipe is quite versatile – it can be made with either chicken or pork, and it can even be made vegan. And while it does require some time and planning to make, once you take that first bite of a freshly steamed tamale, you’ll know it was well worth the effort.

Plus, with ingredients like fresh lemon juice, cilantro, and green onions all working together to create a truly mouth-watering flavor profile, this dish is not only delicious but also healthy. The use of banana leaves to steam the tamales also adds an earthy aroma to the mix.

So whether you’re craving a savory lunch or dinner, or simply curious about traditional Colombian cuisine, you’ll love this recipe for its delicious flavor and cultural significance.

Ingredient List

 The perfect Colombian tamale has a delicious masa filling, chicken or pork, and an array of veggies and spices.
The perfect Colombian tamale has a delicious masa filling, chicken or pork, and an array of veggies and spices.

Let’s take a look at the Colombian Tamales Recipe ingredients, the essential components that bring this famous dish to life:

Base Ingredients

  • Masa Harina: This cornflour is the backbone of the tamale dough.


  • Chicken thighs: We will use boneless chicken thighs because they are easy to prepare and work well with the recipe, but you can also use pork meat.
  • Hard-boiled eggs: A classic ingredient in Colombian Tamales recipes, adding a nice contrast to the soft tamale texture.

Vegetables and Aromatics:

  • Garlic cloves: Adds a lot of depth to the stew that goes inside the tamales.
  • Green onions: Used for their mild onion flavor.
  • Ground cumin: Brings a warm depth of flavor that gives a traditional taste.
  • Carrots and peas: Cut into small pieces, they bring extra color and texture to the dish.


  • Salt: Essential for taste balance
  • Food coloring powder (achiote or annatto): Gives Columbian Tamales their signature orange-red color.

Banana Leaves

One of the key components of any tamale recipe is a wrapper to hold everything together. In Colombian Tamales, banana leaves are traditionally used instead of corn husks (as in Mexican-style tamales). It imparts a unique flavor to the dish.

Liquid Ingredients

  • Olive Oil: It helps give moisture while cooking.
  • White vinegar
  • Water


-Fresh cilantro

These ingredients bring together all the flavors in this Colombian Tamal recipe. The total range may seem lengthy, but there’s no need to be intimidated: this variety is what defines this incredibly complex and deeply-nuanced dish.

The Recipe How-To

 Whether you're a native Colombian or a foodie adventurer, these tamales will transport you to the heart of Colombia, one bite at a time.
Whether you’re a native Colombian or a foodie adventurer, these tamales will transport you to the heart of Colombia, one bite at a time.

Now that we have all of our ingredients ready, let’s start making our Colombian Tamales!

Step 1: Preparing the Filling

To start with, we have to cook the filling. In a big pot over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat it up. Once it’s hot enough, add the diced chicken thighs and cook them until they are browned on both sides. Afterward, remove the chicken from the pot and set it aside.

Now, in the same pot you used to brown the chicken, add more olive oil if needed, then add in the chopped onions, tomatoes, and minced garlic cloves. Cook everything while stirring occasionally for around 5 minutes or until they become tender.

Next, bring back the cooked chicken to the pot and add 1 teaspoon of ground cumin and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice for a tangy touch. Mix everything together then pour in 3 cups of water and season with salt, sugar, white vinegar according to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low-medium and let it simmer uncovered for about 30-45 minutes until all ingredients are cooked through.

Lastly, remove the chicken meat from the pot and cut it into small pieces then add it back along with the remaining liquid. Add in a can of drained and rinsed frozen green peas and 2 small grated carrots then let it simmer for another 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Step 2: Preparing The Masa Dough

While waiting for the filling to cool down a bit you can start making masa dough. In a mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl, whisk together 5 cups of pre-cooked masa harina, 4 cups of warm water or chicken/pork stock, 3/4 cup of vegetable oil or melted lard and 1 tablespoon of powdered food coloring for a vibrant colored masa dough. Once everything comes together, let it sit for 5 minutes to absorb all the moisture.

Step 3: Assembling the Tamales

To assemble our tamales, take out your dried or fresh banana leaves and wash them thoroughly with water. Cut them into rectangles of around 8×10 inches.

Taking one banana leaf at a time, put them through a flame (running them over a stove burner works too) for a few seconds to soften the leaf and make it more pliable. This step also adds some flavor to the leaf.

Now, spoon about 1/2 cup of the masa dough onto the center of each leaf and spread it out a bit thin like a pancake then add in 1 tablespoon of cooked filling, diced hard-boiled eggs and some chopped fresh cilantro on top of it. Close the tamal by bringing over each side while bringing up the bottom part

Substitutions and Variations

 Hold on tight: our Colombian tamales have a spicy kick to them!
Hold on tight: our Colombian tamales have a spicy kick to them!

While Colombian tamales are a delicious and traditional dish, you may want to try some variations on this recipe. Here are some ideas for substitutions and changes that will still give you a delicious tamale experience:

– Vegetarian or Vegan Colombian Tamales: You can substitute the meat with extra veggies like mushrooms, diced potatoes or squash. Also, make sure the broth is vegetable instead of chicken or any other meat-based broth. This will give you a hearty, satisfying vegetarian or vegan tamale.

– Mexican Tamales: If you love Mexican cuisine, you can make the tamale dough with corn flour instead of masa harina and use pork meat as your protein of choice. Add in chili powder, cumin, and oregano to turn your tamale into a spicy Mexican version.

– Chicken Pork Tamale: If you prefer a combination of proteins, then add pork along with chicken for an even richer flavor.

– Tamales Tolimenses Style: These tamales come from the Tolima region of Colombia, where they use boiled egg as an additional filling inside the dough along with the meat, carrot and peas mixture.

– Tamales Santafereños Style: This style is another type of Colombian tamale which uses food coloring (achiote) to change the color of the dough from white to yellow which gives them an appealing look. The dough also contains corn kernels which makes them more textured.

It’s important to experiment with flavors that suit your individual taste buds. A little tweak in any recipe can oftentimes lead to delicious results.

Serving and Pairing

 The secret to making delicious tamales is all in the timing - and the patience to let the flavors meld together for the perfect taste.
The secret to making delicious tamales is all in the timing – and the patience to let the flavors meld together for the perfect taste.

Now that you have mastered the art of making Colombian tamales, it’s time to think about serving and pairing them. These tamales are a complete meal on their own, but they can also be enjoyed with various sides that will complement their taste.

Traditionally, Colombian tamales are served with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee for breakfast or brunch. The chocolate complements the tamale’s savory flavor and adds a touch of sweetness to this hearty meal. You can also serve your tamales with fresh fruit or fruit juice for a refreshing twist.

If you’re looking for a more substantial pairing, serve your tamales with a side salad or some pickled vegetables. The acidity of vegetables like cucumber, radish, and carrot will nicely cut through the richness of the tamale and create balance in your dish.

Some people also enjoy pairing their tamales with avocado or guacamole to add an extra layer of creaminess to the dish. You can either mash some avocado with salt and lemon juice for a simple guacamole recipe, or slice it and serve it alongside your tamales.

For something more filling, try serving your Colombian tamales with rice and beans on the side. This classic combination is commonly enjoyed in Latin America and will provide plenty of fiber and protein to keep you satisfied.

No matter how you choose to serve your Colombian tamales, be sure to enjoy them warm and freshly made. Whether you’re having them as part of a big family gathering or enjoying them solo on a cozy Sunday morning, these flavorful tamales are sure to delight your taste buds.

Make-Ahead, Storing and Reheating

 Our Colombian tamales may look small, but they pack a big flavor punch!
Our Colombian tamales may look small, but they pack a big flavor punch!

One great thing about Colombian tamales is that they can be made ahead of time, which makes them perfect for any special occasion or for a meal prep session. Once you have followed the recipe how-to and assembled the tamales, you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. Additionally, they can also be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

To reheat, take them out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature before unwrapping them from the banana leaves. You can then reheat by steaming them in a pot with a small amount of water until heated through. If reheating from frozen, let them thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.

It’s also important to note that if you’re making vegan Colombian tamales, they should be consumed immediately or stored in the fridge for no more than two days because they contain fresh ingredients that spoil quickly.

In summary, Colombian tamales are a versatile dish that can easily be made ahead of time, stored in either the fridge or freezer, and reheated when ready to serve. Just be sure to follow proper storage guidelines to maintain their delicious flavors and textures.

Tips for Perfect Results

 Made with love and attention to detail
Made with love and attention to detail

To make the perfect Colombian tamales, it takes a little bit of practice and patience. Don’t be intimidated by the steps required to make this delicious dish, follow these tips for perfect results.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when making Colombian tamales is to have all your ingredients prepped and ready before starting. Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients at hand and that everything is measured and cut into small pieces beforehand.

When mixing the masa harina with liquid, it’s important to achieve the right consistency. The masa harina should be light and fluffy but not too dry or too wet. If it’s too dry, add more liquid, if it’s too wet, add more masa harina until you get the desired consistency.

When it comes to cutting the banana leaves, make sure they are long enough to wrap around the tamale entirely. Don’t forget to wash them thoroughly and heat them up over an open flame, which will help make them more pliable.

When assembling the tamale, pay close attention to how much filling you include. Overstuffing can cause difficulty when wrapping and may lead to air pockets inside the tamale. Conversely, under stuffing won’t allow for much flavor or enjoyment.

Another crucial part of making Colombian tamales is knowing how long to cook them for. Too little cooking time can result in a raw or undercooked texture while too much cooking time will leave them dry and unappetizing.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment by adding different types of proteins or veggies to your tamale filling. Traditional chicken or pork meat can be substituted with vegan options such as tofu or tempeh for a plant-based alternative. And don’t forget fresh lime juice or hot sauce as condiments for even more delicious flavors.Be patient and enjoy the process of making this beloved Colombian dish – It will be worth it!


As we wrap up this article on Colombian Tamales recipe, let’s address some frequently asked questions (FAQ). These questions are important to consider because a small tweak can make a huge difference in the outcome of your Colombian Tamales in terms of taste and texture. So, let’s dive into the FAQ section and see if we can be of any assistance to you.

What are Colombian tamales made of?

When making Colombian tamales, one typically uses a mixture of meat options like beef, pork, or chicken, and combines them with “la masa”, a corn-based filling. Depending on the region, the filling can include sliced potatoes, peas, chickpeas, carrots, rice, hard-boiled eggs, or other similar ingredients.

What is the difference between Mexican tamales and Colombian tamales?

When it comes to tamales, Colombian ones have their own unique characteristics that set them apart from tamales made in other countries. Compared to Mexican tamales, Colombian ones have a milder spice level and are encased in plantain or banana leaves instead of corn husks. Additionally, lard isn’t usually included in the masa mixture.

Do they have tamales in Colombia?

Colombians consider tamales a must-have dish during the holiday season. While there are various tamale variations across the country, the recipe that I’ll be sharing is a popular one in the Andean region of Colombia. This recipe holds a special place in my heart as it’s the way my mom prepares them, making it my absolute favorite tamale recipe.

What is the origin of Colombian tamales?

Tamales have been a part of Mesoamerican cuisine for thousands of years, with origins traced back to 8000-5000 BC. It is believed that the making and consumption of tamales spread from the native communities in Mexico and Guatemala to other parts of Latin America. Scholars like Karl Taube, William Saturno, and David Stuart estimate that tamales might have been prepared as early as 100 AD.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, making Colombian Tamales is not only a delightful experience, but it also introduces you to the cultural richness that Colombia has to offer. Whether you’re a foodie or just seeking new and exciting flavors, this recipe is worth trying out! The combination of tender chicken or pork meat mixed with the corn dough, carrots, peas, and hard-boiled eggs delivers an authentic Colombian flavor that will have you coming back for seconds. The added touch of green onions, cilantro, and other seasonings elevates the complexity of flavors even further.

Remember to use banana leaves to wrap up your tamale parcels securely and tie them up tightly before boiling. This will ensure that all ingredients are sealed inside and cook evenly. You may need some practice to master the perfect wrapping technique or choose different types of leaf depending on availability. With some patience and passion for cooking, your efforts will be rewarded with a satisfying dish that you can share with your loved ones.

Don’t hesitate to put your spin on this traditional recipe by adding some of your favorite ingredients or making vegan-friendly substitutions. There’s no limit to creativity when it comes to cooking tamales! In case you have leftovers, take advantage of the make-ahead instructions and store them in the freezer for later consumption. Just reheat the tamales in a pot over low heat with some water or steam them up in the microwave for a quick meal.

I hope this article has inspired you to make your own Colombian Tamales and embark on a culinary journey! By following these instructions closely and experimenting with variations of seasoning and fillings, you might just come up with a perfect recipe that is uniquely yours. Remember always to enjoy every step of cooking as much as savoring the final result – Buen provecho!

Colombian Tamales

Colombian Tamales Recipe

This is one of my husband's favorite "Comfort Foods" (he's Colombian). He even said I made it right the first time I tried! The process is relatively involved - overnight marinating is recommended and it steams for three hours. It is nothing like Mexican Tamales or "Hot Tamales". These are wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks, are much larger, and not as spicy hot.
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Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs
Course Main Course
Cuisine Colombian
Servings 6 packets
Calories 496.1 kcal


  • 3 chicken thighs, skin removed and cut in half lengthwise with equal portions of meat
  • 6 pork ribs (spareribs)
  • 3 bunches green onions (scallions)
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sazon goya (2 packets)
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cups masa harina, prepared with chicken broth instead of water and a little salt
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen green pea
  • 2 large red potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into sticks like French fries
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (optional)
  • banana leaf, cut into 12 inch square pieces, rinsed in very hot tap water
  • kitchen string
  • aluminum foil


  • Prepare the marinade the night before you plan to make the tamales. Chop one bunch of green onions. Mince 2 garlic cloves. Combine, then add 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 packet of sazon. Rub mixture all over both chicken and ribs. Place meat in separate plastic baggies to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Next make the “hogao,” a kind of sofrito. Combine chopped tomatoes, 1 bunch of chopped green onions, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 packet of sazon, 1/6 cup of chopped cilantro, olive oil and salt to taste in a skillet and saute until everything is soft and tender, kind of like a mush. Cool and refrigerate until ready to assemble tamales.
  • Now you can make the "pique" sauce. Combine 1 bunch chopped green onions, 3 cloves minced garlic, fresh lemon juice, remaining chopped cilantro, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, sugar, vinegar and salt to taste. Make this at least 2 hours before serving so flavors develop.
  • Prepare masa harina according to package directions except use chicken broth in place of water and salt to taste. This mixture should have flavor unlike an arepa which is more bland (my husband says the masa is the best part). It should be fairly moist, but still stay together like a dough when pressed. If it is too wet you can still use it, it is just more messy.
  • Now the hardest part is assembling them. Place about 1/4 cup of dough in the center of a banana leaf and spread it out. Put one rib and one chicken thigh piece on top. Place about 3 slices of the carrots, 6 potato sticks and 3 slices egg on top of the meat. Sprinkle with peas. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the "hogao" (sofrito) over all, then top with another 1/2 cup of spread out masa. This does not have to be uniform or even neat.
  • Next pull up the sides of the banana leaf to form a packet. Tie with kitchen string, but do not let any of the filling seep out (I told you it was hard). If the leaves break just reinforce with extra banana leaves. Wrap packet in aluminum foil. Repeat 5 times.
  • They are now ready to steam. Use a large Dutch oven with a steamer insert so the tamales do not touch the water in the bottom of the Dutch oven. These need to cook about 3 hours. You probably will have to replenish the water during the cooking process. Stack the tamales all the way to the top in the steamer pot and turn up the heat to high. If your pot does not hold all of them, just refrigerate or freeze the rest until you can steam them later. When you hear the water boiling furiously, turn the heat down to medium.
  • Serve the tamales on a section of banana leaf. With the "pique" sauce on the side to be drizzled on bites of the tamale.

Add Your Own Notes


Serving: 460gCalories: 496.1kcalCarbohydrates: 80.4gProtein: 18.7gFat: 12.3gSaturated Fat: 2.8gCholesterol: 39.5mgSodium: 92.2mgFiber: 5.8gSugar: 10.5g
Keyword < 4 Hours, Chicken, Chicken Thigh & Leg, Christmas, Colombian, Meat, One-Dish Meal, Pork, Poultry, Savory Pies, South American, Steam
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Dora is a chef well-versed in Brazilian and American cuisine. After a hard day's work in the kitchen of her restaurant, she finds the time to jot down recipes for her food blog. Her recipes are sure to delight foodies everywhere, as she strives to make each one unique and enjoyable to read.