Giant Quinoa “Tamale” with Tomatillo Salsa


By Freya Bellin

This recipe may sound like a far cry from a traditional tamale; here, there are no corn husks, no dough, and no meat. But somehow the flavor and consistency of a real tamale is achieved. I will admit that mine definitely didn’t come out as the instructions suggested it would. You need to really grease the pan if you want the mixture to emerge in loaf form. Adding a little fat to the quinoa, either in the form of cheese or a little oil, might have helped the quinoa layers set and stay together better. Of course, it will taste just as good if it spills out into a giant pile, as did mine, but appearance-wise it will be lacking some elegance. 

No matter—this dish was delicious, if not beautiful. The cheese layer melts in the oven and the outer edges of the quinoa crisp up nicely, although the real highlight for me was the tomatillo salsa. As mentioned below, it could be reserved and used for other dishes as well. The tomatillos are pretty sweet, and you can adjust the spiciness depending on the pepper you use. Make a little more than the recipe calls for; you’ll want to have some extra. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

Giant Quinoa “Tamale” with Tomatillo Salsa

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended

Don’t let the time and number of steps here put you off: This loaf is a fraction of the work of traditional tamales, and all of the components can be made ahead for last-minute assembly. I like the tamale a little soft, with a center that oozes a bit, but if you want a firmer tamale-like texture, bake the loaf uncovered for another 15 or 20 minutes.

Use the tomatillo salsa recipe on its own for a quick sauce that keeps well and comes in handy for serving with steamed vegetables, beans, fish, or tortilla chips.

1 pound tomatillos (about 5 or 6 large), husked and rinsed (canned are fine; drain and reserve their juice)

1 large poblano or other fresh mild green chile

1 large onion, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the loaf pan

2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained


1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons lime juice

Black pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup crumbled queso fresco or grated Monterey Jack, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon chili powder

1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the tomatillos, chile, onion, and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil. Roast, turning once or twice, until the chile skin is blistered and everything is browned, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the pan but leave the oven at 400°F if you’re making the tamale right away.

2. Meanwhile, put the quinoa in a large pot along with a big pinch of salt. Add water to cover by about 11⁄2 inches. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains are very tender and begin to burst, 25 to 30 minutes. If the grains get too dry, add just enough water to keep them submerged. When the grains are starchy and thick, remove from the heat. (You can cook the quinoa up to a day ahead and refrigerate; return to room temperature before proceeding.)

3. Remove the skin, seeds, and stem from the chile and put the flesh in a blender or food processor along with the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and any pan juices. Add the oregano, lime juice, 1⁄2 cup water (or the reserved canned tomatillo liquid), and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Blend or process until smooth, adding enough water to thin the mixture into a pourable sauce; taste and adjust the seasoning. (The salsa can be made ahead to this point and covered and refrigerated for up to a day; return to room temperature or gently warm right before serving.)

4. When you’re ready to make the tamale, generously grease a 9 × 5-inch loaf pan with some oil. Mix the baking powder and a pinch of salt into the quinoa with a fork. The consistency should be thick but spreadable; if it’s too stiff, add a few drops of water. Spread half of the quinoa mixture in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with the queso fresco and chili powder. Add the remaining quinoa, smooth it out evenly, and press down a bit to seal the loaf. Cover the pan tightly with foil. (At this point the quinoa loaf can be covered and refrigerated for up to several hours.)

5. Bake the loaf for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until the top is golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the oven and let the tamale sit for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a platter. Garnish with the cilantro and a little more cheese, cut the tamale into slices, and serve, passing the salsa at the table.


Posted in Mexican


  1. Bethany Chintana Malone said...

    This looks so easy and delicious! This is one of the few blog posts that makes me think "I must make this immediately."

  2. Keenonquinoa said...

    I can’t wait to try this. It looks fantastic and my son has been asking me to cook something with queso fresco.

  3. Jacky said...

    I changed it up a bit, mixing into the already prepared quinoa the following which I mixed in the blender:

    Poblano peppers cooked and peeled
    Lots of cilantro
    Slice of onion

    I mixed this mixture into the quinoa and then put it in a Pyrex, layered it with the queso fresco and another layer of the quinoa. It’s in the fridge right now because I am serving it for dinne tomorrow (so will bake it then). I hope it turns out yummy

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