Chicken, Dinner, Food, Recipes

Brother Mark’s Tamales

Most of you  know my Brother Mark from his now world famous Brother Mark BBQ sauce found in the Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook and he is also mentioned in all of my books as my amazing partner in crime in the kitchen, and in life in general. John, myself, and the kiddos have no clue what we would do without Mark and not only is he the best brother a girl could ask for but he’s also an amazing uncle and an absolute whiz in the kitchen.  Mark has been on a mission to make tamales in such a manner that allows us grain free eaters to enjoy them and I literally laughed out loud when he announced he was going to attempt a “masa” made with spaghetti squash as the base.  Mark ignored my laughter and went for it.  After a few tweaks, a couple of fails, and ultimately, a lot of tamales coming out of my kitchen; HE FREAKING DID IT!!!!!!  I wish I could take some credit because this recipes is so legit I have a feeling that Mark’s Tamales are going to make some serious paleo waves once you all have a chance to try them.  My only contribution was a tip here and there and well, I ate a lot of them….

Ok, enough rambling, go make some tamales and amaze your friends and family who sigh about how “boring” your way of life is.

(Never mind how awesome you feel, how great you look, and how absolutely delicious everything you eat actually is.  These tamales will only add fuel to your paleo is awesome fire…)



(These are made with chicken but the sky is the limit!  Try them stuffed with my Chili VerdeCarnitas, or get creative and post to comments what YOU came up with!)

The “Masa”

4 cups cooked spaghetti squash meat (my favorite way to cook a spaghetti squash is to cut a large slit in the squash with a sharp knife and microwave for 8 – 15 minutes depending on the size of your squash. Cut the cooked squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and use a fork to scrape out the inside strands of the squash until you have 4 cups of the meat.)

2 cups almond flour

1/2 cup arrowroot flour

1 tablespoon lard or bacon grease

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons granulated garlic

1/4 teaspoon paprika

2 egg yolks

1. Place the cooked meat of the spaghetti squash into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

2. Place the pureed squash into a wire mesh strainer and using a rubber spatula, stir and push as much moisture as possible through the strainer. Discard the liquid.

3. Place the strained squash meat into a large bowl and add the remaining masa ingredients and mix well.  Set aside.


Now it’s time  to make the shredded chicken!

2 pounds bone in skin on chicken thighs (for flavor!!!)

Salt, pepper, granulated garlic, chili powder

1 tablespoon lard or other cooking fat of your choice.

1. Lightly season the chicken thighs with the salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and chili powder.

2. Heat the lard in a large skillet over medium to medium high heat and brown the chicken thighs on both sides.

3. Add 2 cups of water to the skillet and bring to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is done all the way through.  Pull the meat from the bone and shred the chicken. Save the skin and bones to make broth!!


Now time to prepare the corn husks!  These can be found on the ethnic aisle of any major grocery store.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, turn the heat off, and soak the corn husks in the water until soft and easy to work with.


Now assemble the tamales!  Preheat your oven to 375.

1. Take a prepared corn husk (do not dry off the corn husk, leave it damp or the “masa” will stick!) and scoop approximately 1/2 a cup of masa (more or less depending on the size of the corn husk) into the middle of the corn husk, spreading the dough so it’s about a 1/4 of an inch thick.

2. Add a large spoonful of the shredded chicken in the middle of the masa and evenly spread down the middle.

3. Roll the corn husk and fold up the narrow end.

4. Place the rolled tamales, flap down on a baking sheet and bake for 25 min.

5. Turn over and bake for an additional 25 min.


*Things to remember – making tamales of any kind is a learning process and your tamales might need more or less cooking time depending on your oven, the size you end up making your tamales, if you decide to use more or less masa per tamale, etc., so have fun, experiment and enjoy!   Our trial and error with these tamales has made us come to the conclusion that if you overcook these, the masa will not be tender and the chicken will be dry so make sure you check on your tamales sooner than later!  True traditional tamales are steamed, not baked.  We have not attempted this but feel free to try, just do one or two rather than the entire batch, but I think with this type of dough, baking is probably best.

Serve as is or with your favorite salsa OR if you really have some time to kill, make my mole sauce to go with it!!



Sarah Fragoso

Sarah Fragoso is an international best selling author of 6 books, co-owner of the Chico, CA based gym JS Strength and Conditioning, and founder of the Everyday Paleo franchise. Sarah is the co-host of the popular Sarah and Dr. Brooke Show podcast and she also conducts workshops and retreats on the subjects of nutrition, lifestyle and fitness.

Her message is from the heart and she carries a genuine desire to help other families looking for guidance. These attributes have contributed to her successes and provide the drive to keep the discoveries coming.

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  1. Ashley says:

    Will coconut oil work as a replacement for lard in this recipe?

    1. Yes, it should work just fine!

  2. Maggie Lavoie says:

    OMG I love you! I’ve been missing tamales since going paleo, and must admit, I’ve cheated a few times with them. Some of my favorite Mexican food! I can’t wait to try these!

  3. Michelle says:

    Can’t wait to try these! Thank you for sharing! about how long will they last in the fridge and are they still tasty after reheating?

    1. I promise you they won’t last very long in the fridge because you will eat them, LOL! But in all seriousness probably 2-3 days would be max and yes, they still taste good after reheating, we tested that a couple of times and they were still great!

  4. Andi leonard says:

    Oh my goodness!!! My family is going to love this!!! Bravo! 😀

  5. Phoebe Collins says:

    Sarah I am loving your newest book! I just fell in love with your stories and the people you became friends with along the way. You are truly a gifted writer. Oh, and the recipes look incredible too!
    I am so excited about these tamales I could scream! I have missed them greatly. Thanks for all you do for the Paleo community. I have listened to every podcast and will probably just listen to them again!

  6. Oh my goodness!
    I have never made tamales because it is almost impossible to find the corn husks in Canada – or at least I can’t find them in the grocery stores I shop at….
    I am wondering if I could use something else instead – maybe the lotus leaves that Chinese steam rice in (there is a Chinese grocery store not far from me). Or even vine leaves (and then the outer would be edible as well…. OK so they would not be tamales, but I should think they would work.

    1. Yes, I think anything that will simply hold it all together and create some moisture will totally work. : )

    2. Kim Jenkins says:

      Parchment paper also works great in a pinch, I’ve done it many times!

    3. Wayne says:

      Probably Banana leaves will work in place of corn husks

    4. You can use banana leaves. That’t the other option that is used here in Texas.

  7. Selene says:

    No microwaving for me. I have to say I haven’t done spaghetti squash in years. Cut in two and steam?

    1. You can also bake it. Here’s a great link for directions how:

    2. Barbara Loska says:

      I do mine in my crock pot, add one half cup water, a whole spaghetti squash, cover it, on high for 4 hours, cool and then slice open, seed and shred out the squash. Works every time!!

  8. Jennifer Foster says:

    So, so excited to try this….I have missed tamales!

  9. Jess says:

    Wow! Those look amazing! Can’t wait to try it with green chile and chicken. Especially fried up with some eggs and coffee the next morning…. my mouth is drooling at the thought;) Your brother is awesome!

    1. I agree! My brother is totally awesome! : )

  10. These look amazing. Could I substitute coconut flour for almond flour? I’m trying to get my husband into the paleo lifestyle but he’s allergic to nuts.

    1. Erin says:

      I tried these with coconut flour and they were delish. My family also has nut and corn allergies, so we were missing tamales. I used the 4 cups squash, but subbed the almond flour and arrowroot with 1 cup coconut flour, 1 cup potato starch, and added an extra egg yolk since coconut usually needs more eggs than almond flour. They were so wonderful. My taste tester didn’t know there wasn’t corn in it!

  11. Sharon D. says:

    What a wonderfully clever idea!! They look awesome! I’m also wondering if this could be used as a topping for a Tamale Pie?!???

    1. Yes, I think that would totally work!

    2. Shavonne says:

      I was wondering the same thing as I have an almond allergy. I can eat cashews and macadamia nuts. Could these nut flours work in place of almond?

      1. I would try cashew flour, I think the flavor would be a better fit over macadamia. : )

  12. WOW!!! These look amazing! Clearly Brother Mark’s persistence and perseverance paid off again! I can hardly wait to try them!!!

  13. becca says:

    Made these tonight and they are awesome!! Only problem I had was the mass stuck to the husk. Not sure if I screwed up the dough or if I should have kept cooking them last 50 min. Awesome taste thouvh!

    1. Rosie says:

      Before you spread the masa examine the husk. One side is smoother than the other. Spreading the masa on the smoother side decreases sticking, at least when makibg traditional tamales.

  14. Lisa E says:

    Traditional corn masa tamales are steamed. Would that work for this recipe? I used to make them every New Year’s Eve…but haven’t for a few years now. My family would be thankful to have tamales again!

    1. Down at the bottom of the post, I address the idea of steaming the tamales but to recap, I think baking these would work better for this type of dough but I want to try to steam them also to see if it would work! I would only suggest trying one or two this way before you do a whole batch.

  15. Virginia T. says:

    Just made these tonight and they do taste just like tamales, they are amazing; however, the masa stuck to the husks big time. I’m wondering what I did wrong. Any suggestions? The consistency of the masa seemed perfect when I was building the tamales. The raw masa didn’t stick to the husks when they were wet, but once baked I couldn’t get them out. (Reminded me of making baked goods with almond flour – if I don’t use parchment, cleaning the pan feels like the impossible.) A few browned and came out a little easier, but the others were gooey and pasty. All in all a great tasting recipe and very close to the real thing! My husband loved them and so did my 8 year old! Big hit, thanks for sharing!

    1. They might just need to cook a little longer and make sure you do not dry off the husks after removing them from the water! : )

      1. Even corn masa will stick to husks if its spread on the “wrong side”. Make sure you use the smooth side of the husk sometimes it’s hard to notice the fine rough fibers on the wrong side. Even experienced tamaleras miss it from time to time

    2. Mine did the same thing. We had some leftovers and put the, in the fridge and they didn’t stick nearly as much after cooling off and being in the fridge overnight. They were delicious though! Everyone at my box LOVED them! Thank you Sarah and Brother Mark for the AWESOME recipe!

  16. Erika M. says:

    1. I just got Everyday Paleo Italian Cuisine and cannot wait to start cooking!
    2. My family is from Nicaragua and tamales are a traditional staple food that I have avoided for a while. My mom usually makes them at Christmas and I am super excited to try these out! Thank you to your brother for taking on the challenge and sharing his successful recipe.
    3. I think this recipe would be a wonderful addition to Everyday Paleo Around the World: Latin America. Just sayin’! I would even help you for free with that cookbook. Seriously.

    1. Be careful what you wish for Erika!! I just might be contacting you…. ; )

  17. Ashley Castle says:

    I made these last night and OMG were they AMAZING! Way better than other corn based tamales I have had! We will definitely be making these again–thanks so much for sharing!! Yum!

  18. I can’t wait to try these out myself! In the meantime I had to re-blog this amazing recipe to my Paleo Pals! Thanks to you and your brother. 🙂

  19. Cherie says:

    Thanks for the recipe! I’m eager to try these however how much time do they require (from start to finish- prep time, ect). I know traditional tamales take up quite a bit of a day, that’s why I ask. Thanks in advance!

    1. I would give yourself a good hour and a half to play it safe!

  20. YES!

    Like you, your brother Mark knows what’s up.
    Growing up in a latino family, saying no to your mom’s cooking can be tough. Now knowing I can share this recipe with my family, and I can make tamales we can all enjoy is going to make this Christmas AWESOME.

    Thank you so much, for all the good you do.

  21. Brittany says:

    I wonder if they would keep from sticking so bad if you did steam them, or maybe put a dish of water in the oven with them? I used bacon grease but maybe coconut oil will keep them from sticking… They were soooo goood!! I just cannot wait to perfect them!

  22. Neldene says:

    You are missing the New Mexico Red Chile. I have this on my list to try.

  23. Neldene says:

    You are missing the New Mexico Red Chile. A Tamale is naked without it. I can’t wait to try these. Great for Christmas.

  24. Brittany says:

    I wanted to add that after a few times of making them, for high altitudes, like where I live it’s 8,000ft roughly, you should shorten the cook time and keep a dish of water inside the oven with the tamales, and presto! I have so far made them with chicken and shredded pork, I could eat them all day!

    1. Thanks so much for the advice Brittany and so glad you are enjoying the tamales! : )

  25. Justina says:

    I used Ghee in place of the lard and they were a big hit in our house!

  26. Valerie says:

    These were soooo yummy, but I had a big problem with them sticking as well and wound up with a pile of meat and masa instead of something that resembled a tamale. If anyone knows how to fix this, I’m all ears. Thanks for the delicious recipe!!

    1. Make sure that you do not wipe the moisture off of the corn husks when you remove them from the water. The extra moisture helps them not to stick! : )

  27. Stephanie says:

    Would these be frozen? Do you think they would hold up?

  28. Libby says:

    Any suggestions for an egg substitute?

  29. Tanya says:

    Can these be made the day ahead? Would it be better to prepare and not bake until the next day, or bake immediately and re-heat the next day?

    Thank you!

    1. Yes, you can absolutely make these a day ahead!

  30. These were delicious and so filling! We used shredded pork from a left over pork roast and they turned out great. Thank you mark for creating this recipe, it’s a keeper!

  31. Amelia says:

    Where can good almond flour and arrow root flour be purchased? I have only seen almond “meal” and that is always to grainy and not powdery enough…

  32. sarah says:

    Tried this recipe tonight. Stuck to the corn husks so didn’t stay formed. Any suggestions?.

    1. Did you completely dry off the corn husks before filling them? They need to be left a little damp and that should help. So sorry about that! I hope they tasted delicious despite sticking!! 🙂

      1. Sarah says:

        I used coconut oil instead of lard, not sure if that would’ve made a difference. But the corn husks were definitely still wet. TASTED AMAZING!! I’m totally going to try again. 🙂 I wonder if you were to coat the corn husks say with that spray coconut oil? I put them in the fridge and will see if the husk comes off better once they’ve cooled too. Thanks again for the recipe Sarah! I just love your site!! This also got me thinking that the recipe would be good for like a pot pie or something, the dough was amazing!

  33. Crystal says:

    This was so amazing! I’m in love. The texture of the masa was perfect. Mine did stick to the corn husks but it was delicious anyways. Next time I will make sure the husks are soaking wet before putting on the masa. That leftover turkey meat came in handy here, thanks so much!!

  34. Dominoe says:

    How many tamales does this recipe make?

  35. I started eating paleo on January 2, 2013. Why January 2 and not January 1? Because living in Texas, we always have tamales on New Year’s Day. I could not possibly be more excited about this recipe! We learned this year that my son is allergic to corn so that makes me all the more excited to try these out (maybe with banana leaves?) for New Year’s Day 2014!

  36. whitney says:

    Corn husks are paleo?!?! I don’t get it lol I thought corn was a no no??

    1. You don’t eat the corn husks, they are just to hold the tamale together! 🙂

  37. Brooke says:

    I have a couple of questions
    1) How do you reheat these so they don’t dry out?
    2) If I put them together the day before and cook them the next day will they be too dry from sitting over night?

    1. We have reheated in the oven and microwave and both have been fine! Yes, assembling them the day before will be fine. Have fun!!

  38. Leticia Villarreal Sosa says:

    I made these and I love the taste, but they never formed despite an hour and a half of baking, they remained gooey and the sticking to the corn husks was a major problem. Any ideas why thy may have stayed gooey and never formed?

  39. Leticia Villarreal Sosa says:

    I wrote the above comment. I REALLY want this recipe to work because these tamales taste so good. I wanted to add some information above and I want some concrete suggestions about what might have gone wrong. As others reported above, the masa remains “gooey” and doesn’t “bake.” I am wondering if it might need a higher almond flour to spaghetti squash ration. So more almond flour, perhaps more eggs? The first time I made them, I thought maybe I didn’t strain the spaghetti squash enough, so I tried again, this time taking special care to get as much liquid as a could out of the spaghetti squash. Is the the type of almond flour that will make a difference? What almond flour did you use? I make a lot of things from Elena’s Pantry’s website and have never had a problem no matter what almond flour I use, but maybe in this case it makes a difference? I’m trying to figure out what would make the masa bake rather than remaining gooey as if it is not baked at all.

    Also, I have another question, how do you keep the tamale leaves from becoming dry in the baking process? Do you cover them when baking or leave them open? Doesn’t it burn. I noticed that when the tamale leaves remain moist, they are less likely to stick – but the open baking process dries them out.

    The only thing I did differently in your recipe was that I used 2 TBS of the vegan shortening. Other than that, everything else was the same. What do you think I might need to do to get them to bake. Literally I baked them for nearly two hours and they never baked. They remained gooey. Ideas?

  40. Connie says:

    I have read in other recipes that the tamales are steamed for an hour in a steamer basket. I like the idea of using an additional egg and maybe a touch more of the arrowroot. Maybe a binder like psyllium husk powder might help. I will definitely try these and post any updates that I come up with.

  41. Stephanie says:

    I made these tonight and had no trouble with sticking to the corn husk because I rubbed the husk with lard first. To cook them, I put them on my wire cookie cooling rack, put the rack over a muffin tin with water in each cup, and then covered the whole thing with tin foil. Baked them for nearly an hour. They were a big hit. I also doubled the recipe and put half in the freezer for later- we’ll see how well that goes .

  42. I tried these Sunday and they are by FAR the best I have ever had…”Bar None”..Thank you brother Mark, nice job.

  43. Michelle says:

    This recipe is great. I have now used the masa to make both tamales and tamale pie which both brought great joy to my family. My tamales also stuck to the husks pretty badly (despite soaking/boiling the husks for hours in advance), so I tested out steaming a few of the remaining already cooked tamales. This did the trick perfectly. Just a few minutes of steaming and the tamales rolled out of the husks beautifully. On a side note, my family can’t eat almond flour so I used a combination of cashew meal and coconut flour. It worked great. Also since I didn’t have any lard or tallow, I used bacon grease once and ghee once (I know that isn’t technically paleo, but anyway). Although I love bacon grease, I like the ghee better in the tamale masa because the bacon flavor just didn’t taste right to me. Lard or tallow would undoubtedly be great. I am currently using the masa to make a batch of corn dogs. They are baking on parchment paper. My son and I are both really excited at the prospect of eating a corn dog that isn’t made out of really disgusting unhealthy stuff. Oh yeah and my son claims to hate spaghetti squash and complains every time I make it, so I haven’t let him see me making the masa. I love when I can trick my kids into gleefully eating something they claim to hate. LOL Thanks for the recipe.

    1. This is all so awesome Michelle and I think ghee and butter for that matter are great additions to a “real food” diet so eat up and enjoy!!! 🙂

  44. Brooke says:

    Wow I amazed by this recipe! Going to try these at first opportunity. My husband and I are on day 24 of our first Whole30 and are really missing corn tortillas (he is Salvadorean)… Any idea if the masa could be used to be handmade tortillas?? Thanks for the recipe!!!!

  45. Jana says:

    I have made these twice. That are delicious, but both times they have stuck. Any suggestions on his to fix this.

  46. Christie says:

    Think these would do well in the freezer? Looking for some make ahead meals before baby comes.

    1. I honestly have not froze these before but I think that they would freeze well given the ingredients! Congratulations on the baby!!!

  47. Carmella says:

    I tried these wrapped in parchment instead of corn husks, and it worked great! Just thought I’d let you know. 🙂

    1. GREAT idea, thank you Carmella!!!

  48. Brandon says:

    What about for us keto folks? How many tamales does the recipe yield? And is there an acceptable substitute for the arrowroot flour with lower net carb content, such as coconut flour, or is that much starch needed?

  49. This recipe is a permanent bookmark for me – it is absolutely THE best paleo recipe I’ve made! I’m making them as SuperBowl food today (GO PATS!) and I expect them to steal the show 🙂 Reading through everyone’s comments has been enlightening – I think I’m going to try using ghee in place of lard or bacon grease, and I’m going to try spraying the husks lightly with coconut oil to try to prevent sticking. I used parchment paper last time but was able to locate corn husks for this round, which will be a more authentic presentation for my crowd. Thank you for this recipe!

    1. So glad you like the Tamales and you were right, the Pats won!! 😉

  50. AMBER says:

    how many servings does this make?

    1. For me I get about 15-18 tamales.

  51. Angie says:

    I can’t wait to try these! A hint for the husks though… they have a smooth side and a ridged side. Apply the uncooked dough (masa) to the smooth side. I can see in the 2nd photo of the completed product that the masa was applied to the ridged side. Hopefully this will help with the sticking.

  52. HEAVENLY is all I can say! I have never joined a blog before but I just HAD to with this site. Sarah, your recipes (and Mark’s) have been one of my lifesavers since going paleo almost 2 years ago. However, I am such a dork. This is my 5th time making your tamales. My niece came over today so she could learn how to make these delightful things. While following your “exact” recipe she says to me, “Aunt Tracy, why does it say spaghetti squash in the recipe?” LOL! All this time I have read the recipe as butternut squash instead of spaghetti squash. 5 TIMES!! All I can say is, butternut squash is an absolutely amazing substitute but now I can’t wait to try your exact recipe the next time!! And, if you have not tried it with butternut squash, you must. EVERYBODY loves them:) Blessings!

    1. Hi Tracy! I think it’s AWESOME you’ve been making these with butternut squash – I will absolutely try them this way I’m sure they are out of this world delicious. 🙂

    2. So how did you do it with the butternut? I tried but the butternut was so smooth it all went through the strainer, so I made baby food instead Hahahaha!

  53. I used this “masa” recipe for this Thanskgiving. Since I am a Paleo vegetarian, I used coconut oil and a Pork “Jackfruit” based red suace tamale filling. I was in paradise once these were done!! I made two batches and ate the last two for lunch today.

    For those that had sticking issues, I cooked mine in the over, let them cool, refrigerated them, then either steamed them or microwaved them with a little water in a dish 2 at a time. They fell out of the husk without any issue.

    Thank you for posting this recipe. I will be making these again during Christmas and adding some spice to the “masa” for more flavor.

  54. gaylen says:

    Can’t wait to try these tamales. But right now I am overflowing with zucchini. I was wondering if anyone has subed Zucchini for the spaghetti squash? Of course I would make sure I squeezed out all the excess water in the zucchinis. I bet zucchini would work for these tamales as well. What do you think?

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