A Mexican Family Recipe for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

November 15, 2018 Updated: January 31, 2020

Forget the sandwich—Mario Garcia, executive chef at Hilton Chicago, has a better idea for your Turkey Day leftovers.

“Having grown up in Mexico, making tamales is one of my most cherished family traditions. My family uses this turkey tamales recipe for the day after Thanksgiving and for Christmas Day (the only variation is that we use chicken for Christmas).

We make this recipe at my in-laws’, who are American and had no clue how to make a tamale; it became a tradition when I joined the family, and we have done this for the past four years! It is a blast, and a great way to bring the family together in my favorite part of the house: the kitchen.”

Turkey Tamales

Makes about 40 (4-ounce) tamales

  • 1 (8-ounce) package dried corn husks

For the filling:

  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed
  • 4 ounces yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 (3-inch-long) serrano chiles, stemmed, chopped
  • 4 ounces pepitas (toasted, peeled pumpkin seeds)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 pounds cooked, shredded or chopped roasted turkey (I personally prefer the dark meat parts, which are more flavorful and moist)
  • 1 ounce fresh Mexican oregano, chopped
  • 2 ounces fresh cilantro, chopped

For the dough:

  • 1 1/3 cups lard or solid vegetable shortening (or artisan butter)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (omit if masa mixture contains salt)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (omit if masa mixture contains baking powder)
  • 4 cups freshly ground masa dough for tamales (34 to 36 ounces), or make masa dough with 3 1/2 cups masa harina (corn tortilla mix; about 17 ounces) mixed with 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Place husks in large pot or large bowl; add water to cover. Place a heavy plate on the husks to keep them submerged. Let stand until the husks soften, turning occasionally, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. This step is very important, because it will make your husks flexible to fold properly when making your tamales.

For the filling: Preheat broiler. Line a heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange tomatillos, onions, chiles, and pepitas on the prepared sheet. Broil until the tomatillos blacken in spots, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer all items and any juices on the sheet to a food processor and cool. Add garlic to the food processor and blend until a smooth puree forms.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tomatillo puree and boil 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the chicken broth. Reduce heat to medium; simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickly coats a spoon and is reduced to 1 cup, about 40 minutes. Season with salt. Mix in turkey, oregano, and cilantro. (This step can be done a day ahead—it will make things a lot easier the day of.)

For the dough: Using a mixer, beat the lard (with salt and baking powder, if using) in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in the fresh masa or masa harina mixture. Reduce speed to low and add 1 1/2 cups broth, forming a tender dough. If the dough seems firm, add more broth to soften.

To make the tamales: Place a steamer basket insert into a large pot and fill with enough water (about 2 inches) to reach the bottom of the insert—an important step so your tamales steam and cook evenly. Line the bottom of the insert with some softened corn husks.

On a large surface, open 2 large husks and spread 1/4 cup of dough in a 3- to 4-inch square in the center of each, leaving a 2-inch plain border at the narrow end of husk. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling in a strip down the center of each dough square. Fold the long sides of the husk and the dough over the filling to cover. Fold up the narrow end of the husk. Tie the folded portion with a strip of husk to secure, leaving the wide end of the tamale open. Stand tamales in the steamer basket. Repeat with the rest of the husks, dough, and filling.

Bring the water in the pot to boil. Cover the pot and steam tamales until the dough is firm to the touch and separates easily from husk, adding more water to the pot as necessary, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Mario Garcia