Why You Need to Try the Turkey Tamale

You must taste this Tex-Mex twist on Thanksgiving leftovers.

Anna Aguillard
Cheesy Thanksgiving Tamales Recipe
Photo: Alison Miksch

We could be biased, but we like to think the South is the best place in the whole country to celebrate Thanksgiving. In some states, it’s still warm enough in November to stretch buffet tables from one end of the porch to the other and enjoy an al fresco holiday feast. Those tables will be so laden with sweet potato casserole, green beans, layered salad, potato salad, and ambrosia—that’s just a partial listing—that you’d think they might collapse at any minute. Kids will be sneaking pinches of pecan pie well before supper. Ditto chocolate and red velvet cake. You can count on an endless flow of conversation as the relatives come and go. And you just never know when unpredictable family members might do unpredictable things, ramping up the entertainment value for the whole crowd.

Those are just a few reasons why we love this food-filled holiday. And here’s one more: Thanksgiving leftovers. You’re not getting out of a Southern Thanksgiving without at least one takeaway container stuffed with Turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce. Just try. If we have to, we’ll chase you down the driveway with a to-go bag of goodies “so you won’t have to cook tomorrow."

If you’ve already had your fill of traditional Thanksgiving fare, try taking your leftovers to a whole new Tex-Mex level with our unique recipe for leftover turkey: Cheesy Thanksgiving Tamales. According to an age-old tradition that made its way from Mexico to Texas, every year when the weather cools for the holiday season, it’s tamale-making time. Holiday tamales are now a such a large part of the Lone Star State’s culture that it’s hard to imagine Texans ever going back to ho-hum turkey sandwiches. Many families and friends gather during this season for “Tamaladas,” or tamale-making parties.
Although we’re never opposed to a holiday gathering, you won’t need an army of family members to make our version of holiday tamales with a Southern Tex-Mex twist. This clever and flavorful turkey recipe uses all those Thanksgiving leftovers you have stored in Tupperware, taking up way too much refrigerator space. While traditional tamale dough is made from a mixture of masa and lard, the Southern Living version calls for a breading made of leftover Thanksgiving dressing or stuffing. Instead of pork, we use leftover turkey meat and a yummy sprinkle of pepper jack cheese. Wrapped in the traditional cornhusks and steamed to soft, flavorful perfection, these tamales offer a savory blend of tasty cultural traditions. Top them with leftover cranberry sauce (plus a few spicy additions) for an irresistible finishing touch. You’ll never think of Thanksgiving leftovers the same way again.

Get the recipe: Cheesy Thanksgiving Tamales