Leftover Tamales? Don’t Toss Them! 7 Tasty Recipe ideas

Marria Beklavac By Marria Beklavac

Tamales aren’t just a regular dish but a Mesoamerican cultural tradition that brings people together. Family and friends gather to assemble them and steam them together. 

The masa (corn dough) is usually filled with pulled meat, vegetables, or cheese, and everything is wrapped in corn husks. Obviously, this takes time, so it is no wonder the dish is made in bulk. Leftovers are inevitable, so here are seven amazing ideas for serving tamales differently. 

If you want leftover tamales for breakfast, make tamale hash or waffles. They are tasty, super crispy, and amazing to serve with eggs and spicy sauces. For a Sunday lunch, prepare hearty tamale pie, soup, or stuffed peppers. Nachos and fritters put together with extra tamales are crunchy and quick appetizer options!

I find tamale taste specific, but amazing, especially if you add some jalapeños or chili peppers for the signature spice. They can get a bit boring if you eat them a few days in a row, so incorporating them in different meals is essential. Read on for recipes and pairing combinations to inspire you!

7. Tamale Breakfast Hash

Tamale hash is a perfect Sunday breakfast – warm, hearty, and rich. Start by removing husks, then dice the tamales. Use a whole tamale and go for bite-size cubes, as the filling will almost caramelize anyway.

Over a splash of oil, fry tamale chunks until golden. Then, remove them from the skillet and stir-fry finely diced veggies there, as well. Go for onion and multicolor bell peppers.

Spice it up as you like, simple salt, pepper, and garlic powder or go all in. Taco or fajita spice blends give a nice touch, but you can opt for any spice from the mixes, too. 

Add chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, or smoked paprika. Everything depends on how spicy you want it to be.

Spicy chorizo sausage works finely in this dish, as it adds some heat and depth. Just break it down into chunks and fry together with tamale cubes.

Potatoes are a breakfast staple, so it’s no surprise they are on this list. You can dice them finely and stir-fry them along with peppers.

Or, slice them thinly and brown them in the skillet. In that case, arrange them on the bottom of the plate and top with tamale hash.

To add some freshness, cut up some herbs – parsley, cilantro, or mint are great ideas. When it comes to the finishing touch – eggs, you can do whatever you like.

Whisk some eggs and scramble them directly into the hash or fry them sunny side-up and top tamale mix. The second option is even more flavorful, though, as runny yolk and tamale hash in one bite are impeccable!

Don’t forget to drizzle salsa on top!

6. Tamale Pie

This is not really a pie, but a casserole. For this one, you’re going to need filling only. For standard 9×13 casserole dish, you’re going to need 5-7 tamales, so if you have more, use a larger dish.

This dish has three layers – tamale filling base, bean chili in the middle, and melty cheese finish. When it comes to bean chili, you can make your favorite from scratch recipe.

Opt for meatless chili, as you already have tamale fillings on the bottom. This is a great recipe to go in tamale pie.

You can, of course, use canned chili. Hormel Chili is top-notch, whether it is vegetarian with beans or standard chili.

Cheese on top is a final touch, so it is important which one you choose. Melty cheeses like cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Colby are top-tier choices.

Their flavors complement casserole finely, as they add a rich, savory taste. The goal is bubbly and golden cheese on top, so bake the pie until it reaches that stage. 

Serve it with fresh herbs sprinkled on top – parsley, cilantro, and basil are the best. If you want something to smash hearty taste, sour cream, Greek yogurt, or crème fraiche are way to go!

Avocado or red chili sauce, as well as salsa verde, will give a final touch of spiciness.

5. Tamale Fritters

Crispy and addictive tamale fritters are perfect appetizer or snack options. The trickiest part in making these is separating masa from filling.

The easiest way is slicing the masa lengthwise with a very sharp knife from one end to another. Be careful not to cut all the way through but rather make a slit in the masa.

Peel it back from the filling with your fingers, but do it gently, so you don’t tear up the masa. You can go for simplest tamale fritters – filling, eggs, and breadcrumbs, or add some finely diced veggies into the mixture, as well.

If you like softer fritters, add some flour along with breadcrumbs into the blend. For an egg, you will need approximately ¼ cup of breadcrumbs or more, depending on how moist the filling is to start with.

Thus, they should be easy to shape, not crumbly nor sticky. When it comes to frying, you can do deep or pan fry.

For deep-frying, choose tasteless oils like vegetable or canola and olive oil for pan-frying. Fry them at 350 °F until golden brown on both sides, that’s about 5-7 minutes.

Fritter tamales are the best when served with various sauces. The finest are cilantro lime crema for the tang and chipotle cream sauce for the heat.

Also, aioli impeccably complements the taste of fritters, as well as tomato salsa. 

4. Tamale Soup

Soup is an epitome of soul food and this one is that times two. When you have leftover tamales, to make soup is the best idea!

In a pot, sauté onion and garlic to create an aromatic base. To prevent this soup from being bland, add diced tomatoes for the tang, black beans, and some corn. 

If using canned sweet corn and beans, add them at the very end of cooking, so they keep their firm texture. If you want them super creamy, adding them at the beginning is the way to go.

You need only tamale filling for this but shred it finely if you want a thicker consistency or a tad larger for a clear soup. Of course, you need some kind of broth to go with this – vegetable, chicken, or beef.

Vegetable broth is a safe, neutral option, soup will be rich but not overwhelming. Chicken bouillon is not too strong either, but has a specific taste, so if you don’t like to combine two meat varieties – skip it.

If you’re dealing with beef tamales, beef broth for the soup is an obvious choice. Just note that the flavor could turn out overly sapid.

Adding a bunch of other vegetables is quick and easy option to boost nutrition and quantity. Dicing some potatoes and sautéing them along with onions gives a nice comforting flavor.

This also thickens up the soup, so keep that in mind. If you want to sneak in veggies, zucchini and eggplant are amazing as they almost melt in the process, but still leave distinctive taste.

What’s more, you don’t need to stick to kidney beans only, as mixing in cannellini, black beans, peas, and even chick peas are top-notch!

This soup is heavy-tasting, but in positive way. To brighten up the taste, you can serve it with a drizzle of sour cream, yogurt, or Sriracha, and lime wedges on the side. 

3. Tamale “Nachos”

This is probably the most fun you can have with leftover tamales. Crumble them into smaller pieces and arrange them on a baking sheet blanketed with baking paper, in a thin layer.

Now, choose your favorite toppings. There are no nachos without cheese, so opt for a melty, stretchy, but flavorful one.

The obvious choice is the Mexican blend, as it offers perfect taste and texture. It combines Queso Quesadilla, Monterey Jack, cheddar, and Asadero cheese. 

You can, surely, use any of these on their own, or go for Queso Blanco, Pepper Jack, or Colby. Each of these will deepen the flavor and bake impeccably.

For other toppings, choose whatever you fancy. Beans, jalapeños, onions, bell peppers – anything will do!

If you want tamale nachos super crispy, broil them for 3-5 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and browned on top. If you like a tad softer texture, bake them for about 10-15 minutes until golden on top.

You can, of course, combine both of these methods for the best texture! Nachos are the best when piping hot, so you need something fresh on top to balance it out.

Pico de gallo, guacamole, and salsa are staples, but if you prefer something simpler, fresh vegetables will do the job. Peppers, tomatoes, and onions are top-notch options.

Also, you can add some heat with jalapeños, brininess with black olives, or tang with a squeeze of lime. Don’t forget to sprinkle chopped cilantro on top for a signature, citrusy smack.

2. Tamale Stuffed Peppers

First things first, choose peppers for filling. The best are bell peppers, poblano, or Cubanelle. Cut the top, rinse the peppers to remove seeds, and leave them to drain while you prepare the stuffing.

Here, you have two options – parboiling and using them raw. If you want them done super quickly and don’t use rice in the filling, parboiling is necessary for them to cook through.

If not, stuff them raw. Also, you can pre-broil them for the smoky taste instead of parboiling.

Now, you only need shredded tamale filling, of course, plus some additions. Rice is optional, but recommend, as you will get the juicer and softer texture.

As tamales are already cooked thoroughly, use precooked rice so the peppers can bake shorter. That way, you will prevent the meat from getting too dry.

When it comes to choosing the right rice, white will give you a softer and juicer texture, while brown rice offers a nutty flavor but a crumbly consistency. Both options are amazing, though; it all comes down to your preference.

If you want, add some beans in the blend, as well. Also, chorizo sausage for spice and olives for briny flavor are superb additions.

Tamales are already seasoned, so you can kick them a notch by adding chili, cayenne, or dried herbs to the mixture. 

Cheese is optional and you can add it directly into the stuffing or sprinkle it on top, as you wish. Here, consider same or similar cheeses as for nachos, as they give the best consistency – cheddar, Monetery Jack, Colby…

When it comes to baking time, this depends solely on the filling. If you’re using rice in the recipe, about an hour of baking will be enough, without rice cut the time in half. 

In the first case, cover the peppers with some aluminum foil, so they don’t burn and remove it a little before the end. If you’re baking them about half an hour only, covering isn’t needed at all.

1. Tamale Waffles

Tamale waffles are a breakfast option you never knew you needed! Crumble tamales – filing and masa dough into a bowl.

You have two options here. The first one is to mash tamales into an almost paste-like consistency and mix it with eggs and a splash of milk. With this method, you will be able to achieve a texture similar to regular waffles.

Go for the same thickness of the batter and maybe add a pinch of baking powder, as well. Second method is a crispier version, just roughly crumble tamales, mix in an egg, and press it with a waffle maker.

They shouldn’t bake any longer than standard waffles, as the tamales are already cooked. Make sure to let them crisp up very well, as they will be tastier.

As in any savory waffles, you can sprinkle a pinch of chili powder, chopped scallions, or jalapeños. For the topping, opt for anything you fancy – fried eggs, shredded cheese, or any savory sauce, like salsa, Sriracha, tabasco, garlic hot sauce…

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By Marria Beklavac Owner
Hey there! I'm Marria Beklavac, a barista by trade and a cook by heart. My culinary journey started at 12, inspired by my grandpa, who first introduced me to the wonders of cooking. His passion sparked mine, leading me to a life where each meal is an adventure. In Terra's Kitchen, I blend my love for coffee with my zeal for cooking to share my culinary exploits with you. This blog is my space to share the joys, discoveries, and lessons from my kitchen to yours. Welcome aboard – let's cook up some magic together!