Appetizer · Entree · Pork

Paleo Tamales

Paleo tamales 3

These paleo tamales are a little different than the Mexican cornhusk-wrapped tamales you are probably used to. These are actually a mix between a Central American tamale, made with corn dough, but wrapped in plantain leaves and a Puerto Rican pastel. 

I wanted to create a recipe that tasted just like the tamales I grew-up with, but was grain-free and that called for ingredients that the average American could find in the stores. A hard task to complete considering that Costa Rican tamales are made with corn and pastels are made with guineos, yautia, annatto, and a list of ingredients that only specialty Hispanic markets would carry.

Why am I sharing a recipe for a dish that is served during the Christmas holidays at the beginning of spring? Well, I have had this recipe on my mind ever since I started Paleo 4 years ago, but  since many of the ingredients would be hard for most of you to find.  I didn’t think there would be interest in a recipe like that… Until I found out that Amazon sells frozen plantain leaves…SCORE!  Although you can omit the plantain leaves and just use parchment paper, the leaves give them an unique flavor.

The toppings can be adjusted to your liking. They usually would have raisins, prunes, chilies, olives, and even capers, but I am not a fan of capers or sweet ingredients in my tamales, so I leave those out. If you don’t follow a strict paleo diet, you can even add cooked garbanzo beans.

For other latin recipes using plantain try my empanadas, sweet empanadas, patacones, chili cups, or fried sweet plantains.

Paleo Tamales

Ingredients for the meat:

1-2 tbsp of non-hydrogenated pork lard

2 lbs of diced pork shoulder

1 medium onion

8 garlic cloves

1/3 cup of cilantro, chopped

1 tsp of oregano

1 tsp of smoked paprika

Salt to taste

Ingredients for the dough:

2 ½ pounds of  taro root (white flesh)

4 green plantains

3/4 cup of non-hydrogenated pork lard

1 tsp of cumin

Salt to taste

Other filling options:

Thinly sliced carrots

Bell pepper slices



Other ingredients:

Banana leaves

Parchment paper

Kitchen twine

Preparation for the meat:

  • Finely chop the garlic cloves and the onion, using a food processor or cheese grater.
  • In a large Dutch oven heat the lard and add the onions, cook until transparent.
  • Add the pork shoulder and continue to cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients  (garlic, cilantro, oregano, smoked paprika and salt).
  • Lower the heat and cover. Continue to cook until the meat is tender.
  • Remove the lid and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Preparation for the dough:

  • Peel the plantains and the taro root. The easiest way to peel plantains is to submerge them in boiling water until the peel darkens and comes off easily. Be careful not to fully cook the plantains.
  • Run the taro and plantains through the food processor until they are finely crumbled, you can also use a fine cheese grater for this.
  • Mix all the ingredients for the dough together until well combined.


  • Cut the banana leaves into squares (Approximately 12 inches by 12 inches)
  • Set up a “work station” by lining up all the ingredients along a counter or table. Start by placing a the banana leaves, then a bowl with the dough, followed with a bowl with the meat, individual bowls for each optional filling, parchment paper and then the kitchen twine
  • Place a banana leaf on a plate.
  • Place ½ cup of the dough in the center of the leaf and make a rectangle shape with it.
  • Top with ¼ cup of the meat, 1 or 2 carrot and  bell peppers slices, 3-4 raisins, an olive and any optional toping you want to use. Paleo Tamal
  • Fold the banana leaf over as if you where wrapping a gift with them.
    Paleo Tamales
  • Wrap the tamale in a piece of parchment paper, big enough to seal in all the juices from the tamale while cooking.
  • Stack two parchment paper wrapped tamales and secure together using kitchen twine. Make a loop lengthwise and a loop across.
  • Bring a large pot off salted water to a boil.
  • Add the tamales making sure that they are submerged underwater as much as possible and cook for 50 minutes on medium high heat, making sure to turn the tamales half way through.
  • Remove your tamales from the water as soon as they are done cooking.
  • Eat warm.
Makes 14

Disclosure of Material Connection: The links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a very small percentage. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

4 thoughts on “Paleo Tamales

  1. tamales and venezuelan hallacas are cousins, but the dough in venezuelais colored with annato and massed with hen broth, will try this version for christmas, keeping the traditional recipe for the filling


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