Thank God for the Green Sauce!

Back in 2010, we loaded up our family Brent, our daughter (2 years old at the time), my mom and myself – into our car and headed off to Rosarito, Mexico to stay and help with a local orphanage-avoidance ministry called Open Arms. They’re a no-cost daycare that allows impoverished parents to work without worrying about their small children being left home alone (or the state taking their children to put them in orphanages, which often happens).

One afternoon Open Arms’ volunteer cook had just made her famous green sauce for the week (which apparently runs out quickly). It was absolutely fabulous. We poured it over our food, dipped chips into it, and nearly drank it from the containers. Just before we ate our meal, a 6 year old boy said grace beforehand. In his prayer he said, “Thank you God for my friends, my family, Open Arms, and thank you God for the green sauce!” Amen!

These tamales are inspired by that green sauce. Unfortunately they will never compare to the awesome salsa verde we had in Baja. I think the local vegetables there somehow have magical culinary powers that I can’t seem to find in my local markets. Nevertheless, I urge you to take an entire afternoon, because that’s how long this will take you, and make these pork tamales with good friends and family. And THANK GOD for the green sauce before you eat. That salsa really makes these tamales sing!

¡Buen provecho!

Green Tamales

Prep Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Yield: Approximately 50 - 60 tamales

Serving Size: 20+ people


    Roasted garlic
  • 3 heads of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • For the carnitas
  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Green sauce (salsa verde) - Double these ingredients if you want leftover salsa verde!
  • 15-18 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 medium white onion, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 serrano chile
  • 2 yellow chiles (guero)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, loosely packed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Other tamale ingredients
  • 1 bag of corn husks (approximately 50 - 60 corn husks)
  • 4 cups masa harina (fine corn flour)
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 - 4 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 2 cups shredded jack cheese


    A few thoughts before you begin...
  1. These tamales take several steps in preparing all of the components separately prior to assembling the tamales. All this preparation is referred to as your mise en place, which is French for 'put in place.' Make sure each prepared component's ingredients are washed, cut, cooked, assembled, etc., and you will find making tamales an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Without your mise en place, you will find yourself be overwhelmed with mad rushing, overlooked important steps, and possibly burnt or missing ingredients. So have a plan and be actively engaged. And get help - I solicited my 3 year old's help in peeling 30+ tomatillos! She's great at it now!
  2. These tamales have the added benefit of flavored garlic and lime infused masa - our own little delicious twist here at CollabKitchen! Play around with the masa using whatever flavors you'd like (add corn, replace butter with lard or oil, lemon zest...whatever!) to make your very own made-to-order tamales!
  3. Roasted garlic
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  5. Cut 1/4 of the top off of each head of garlic. Discard the top portions. Drizzle olive oil over the bottom portions of garlic, over the cut and exposed part of the garlic. Wrap the garlic bulbs into foil (separately or together, it makes no difference) and roast in preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove garlic from foil after roasting. After it has cooled a bit (so you can handle it) squeeze softened garlic out of its paper, pushing from the bottom up, into a large mixing bowl. This bowl will be used later for combining the masa. Set garlic aside.
  6. Corn husks
  7. Submerge all corn husks in a large bowl of water or in a clean sink filled with water, and soak for at least 30 minutes. Remove from water and separate, laying them out on a paper towel (stacking them is fine). Set aside.
  8. Carnitas (shredded, fried pork)
  9. Place meat in a single layer in a wide pan. Add water to just cover the meat. Stir in salt and lime juice. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, covering the pan. Cook gently for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. After the meat is tender, turn up the heat to high, removing the lid. Allow all the liquid to boil away. When the meat begins to sizzle, turn down the heat and fry gently to golden brown. Remove from heat, drain off the extra fat, and season with more salt if needed. Shred meat using two forks to separate the meat and set aside.
  10. Salsa verde (green sauce)
  11. Put the tomatillos, onion, serrano, yellow chiles and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and boil until the tomatillos turn olive-green color, about 10 minutes. Transfer the tomatillos, onion and chiles to a blender or food processor (discard water). Add the garlic and cilantro and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Stir green sauce into the carnitas (the shredded pork), until the meat is just covered by the sauce, taking care not to overdo the sauce. You don't need drenched meat, but enough of it should be in the meat so as to give it's distinct flavor.
  12. AMAZING SALSA ALERT! Double the green sauce recipe and you can have a delicious salsa for your chips, hamburgers, hot dogs. sandwiches, eggs... most anything savory! And mixing in an AVOCADO will take this sauce over the top into the realm of super-awesome. This salsa will stay fresh in the fridge for up to a week!
    Assembling the tamales
  13. Mix well the masa, roasted garlic, milk, water, butter, salt, cumin, chili powder and the zest of 1 lime into a thick paste (best done by hand, so remove those rings on your hands!). Mixture should be easily handled but not a watery consistency.
  14. Apply 5 tablespoons of the masa mix into the center of the corn husk. Push mix to 1-inch of the side of the husk. Add 2 tablespoons of the meat and a pinch of cheese to center, fold 1 edge of the husk to the center, and then fold the other side to cover entire tamale. Fold ends over by 2-inches.
  15. Place a colander in large pot of boiling water, but do not let the colander touch the water. Place the tamales in the colander, cover and allow steam to rise to the top. Steam the tamales for 40 minutes to an hour.
  16. To eat - Remove corn husk, and pour more green sauce over the tamale, add any hot sauce or sour cream (if desired). Garnish with a bit of chopped cilantro. DIG IN!