Tamales Tolimenses

Tamales Tolimenses
Photography by Brian Wetzstein | Food styling by Donna Coates and Linda Hall

Traditional Colombian tamales are served open-faced. This version uses canned peas to reduce cooking time, lean meat and poultry, and brown rice instead of white rice.

SERVING SIZE: 1 tamale (320 grams)
PREP TIME: 30 minutes
COOKING TIME: 2 hours 30 minutes


  • 4 cups (950 milliliters) water
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1⅓ cup diced yellow onion
  • ½ pound flank steak
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs


  • 1½ cups yellow coarse ground cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons sazon con azafran


  • ¾ cup chopped scallions
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2½ cups chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 15-ounce can yellow peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1¼ cups cooked brown rice
  • 10 10-inch banana or plantain leaves
  • 16 slices large carrot, ⅛-inch thick (about ½ cup)
  • 16 slices small white potato, ⅛-inch thick (about ¾ cup)


  1. To a large pot, add water, garlic, cumin and onions and bring to a boil.
  2. Add steak and chicken and return to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes until meat softens and reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
  4. Remove meat and set aside. Reserve the broth and skim off excess fat if necessary.
  5. When meat is cool, slice into ¼-inch strips.
  6. Bring broth to a boil.
  7. In a small bowl, combine cornmeal and sazon seasoning.
  8. Slowly add this mixture to the broth, whisking to combine.
  9. Continue stirring and cooking until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
  10. Cook an additional 15 minutes, stirring continually. Set aside to cool.
  11. In a food processor, pulse scallions, onions, garlic, tomatoes, red pepper and salt into a chunky sauce.
  12. In a saucepan, heat sauce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  13. Stir in peas and rice, turn off heat and set aside.
  14. On a banana or plantain leaf, spread ¾ cup dough to ½-inch thickness.
  15. Place 3 chicken strips, 2 steak strips and ¼ cup filling into the center.
  16. Top with 2 potato slices and 2 carrot slices.
  17. Wrap leaf around the filling by bringing the opposite corners toward the middle. Repeat with remaining corners and tie with butcher’s string, if needed.
  18. In a steamer, steam tamales for about 1½ hours, making sure the water doesn’t evaporate. Add more water if necessary.

Cooking note: Sazon con azafran is a seasoning blend that includes saffron. Find it in the spice aisle of most grocery stores. Banana or plantain leaves usually are sold frozen due to their short shelf life. Find them in most Latin markets and online.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 351 calories, 7g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 70mg cholesterol, 787mg sodium, 43g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 3g sugar, 23g protein, N/A potassium, N/A phosphorus

Note: Analysis does not include banana or plantain leaves as they are not consumed.

Zachari Breeding on FacebookZachari Breeding on InstagramZachari Breeding on LinkedinZachari Breeding on Twitter
Zachari Breeding
Zach Breeding, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, is a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian nutritionist, professional chef and Clinical Nutrition Manager for The Sage: Nutritious Solutions. He is the author of The Slice Plan: An Integrative Approach to a Healthy Lifestyle and a Better You. Connect with Zach on his website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.