by the handful

Nutritious culinary and healing recipes collected from the North American garden, orchard, forest, river and ocean

Turkey Pumpkin Tamales

tamale7 If you are looking for an interesting way to recycle your Thanksgiving leftovers, look no further. How many dried out turkey sandwiches can you eat anyway? This recipe looks a little different than the usual tamale, however Turkey and Pumpkin along with epazote, clove… well heck, this entire list of ingredients used here are native to North America and were commonly utilized by the ancient peoples of Mexico. So, I may unknowlingly be stealing this recipe from an Aztec grandma? Tamales are a little work but they are simple and they provide a good bang for your buck and effort. This recipe makes about 18-24 tamales but it doesnt take too much more work to double or triple the recipe and stock up. Once you make your first batch of tamales they will become very easy to repeat. To make this recipe you will need a way to steam the tamales. A steamer basket placed in the bottom of a pot is an easy method. If you have a canning steamer with a false bottom that works too. I have not tried this yet, but I wonder if putting Thanksgiving gravy over the top would be good?

You can save turkey meat for a long time and even make this recipe several days after Thanksgiving. The dark meat is best but white meat works too. Nothing wrong with a mix of the two. It’s important to save some of the rendered turkey juices from Thanksgiving, otherwise chicken stock can be used. If you are making this without Thanksgiving leftovers, a recipe for rendering turkey meat and stock follows.

An ancho chilli is just a dried poblano and one of the more mellow peppers. Peppers grow in surprisingly mild climates as they can thrive in a short growing season. I harvested these from a friend’s giant garden a month before making this recipe and let them dry. They are however cheap and easy to find in stores too. I also grabbed several pounds of tomatoes out of his garden and froze them whole.

Before we talk about lard let’s have a brief history of our wacko realtionship with fat. We humans used to eat fat and that was just fine but then we started eating sugar and became much less healthy as a society. Then we cut out the fat and ate more sugar and refined carbohydrates and became even more unhealthy. Next we introduced inlammatory manufatured fats into our diet that were marketed as being low in saturated fat but continued to eat more sugar. Long story short, less sugar and only natural fats is the way to go. No, its not about saturated or unsaturated, they are both healthy and necessary when eaten in the right proportions. Olive oil, grass-fed butter, lard, and palm shortening are natural fats that our bodies use. Margerine, vegetable shortening, corn, soybean and safflower oil are bad fats because they are either not actually foods to begin with or they are unstable and go rancid easy. Tamales are traditionally made with lard, which should be purchased cold but a good substitute is palm shortening which is sometimes easier to find.

Masa harina is finely ground corn and although I used Bob’s Red Mill here it can be purchased in bulk and it is much cheaper. Epazote is an edible weed that is common in Mexican cooking and is used fresh or dried. The common ingredient oregano is a good substite. Dried corn husks can be purchased in the latin-american section at your local grocery store.

Turkey Pumpkin Tamales


For the tamale filling

2 heaping cups leftover dark turkey meat, or light meat cubed (or 2 fresh turkey drumbsticks, recipe follows*)

6 dried ancho chilis

4 medium frozen tomtoes

1/2 white onion minced

1 tsp epazote dried or fresh minced (sub oregano)

1 tsp salt

A little ahead of time place ancho chillis in a bowl, tomatoes in another bowl and pour boiling water over both of them. Let anchos sit for 30 minutes covered, let tomatoes sit for 3 minutes uncovered. Then strain and squeeze tomatoes out of their skins but keep them in their juices and set aside. If using fresh tomatoes, score with a knife and let sit for 10 minutes under boiling water.

Next add 2 Tbsp’s fat (olive oil or butter) to a skillet over med-high heat and add minced onion. Wait for onion to begin to brown before turning heat to low and allow to carmelize, which means that the onion will be completely broken down and browned (about 15 minutes).

When onion is carmelized strain anchos and remove stems and scrape out seeds. Add anchos to pan and turn heat back to medium. Cook until you can smell the peppers then flip and cook 3 minutes more, add tomatoes and salt to skillet and let the mix cook for about 3 minutes as you chop and mash up tomatoes with a fork. Remove from heat.

After it has cooled a little bit add to a blender and puree well. Pour back into skillet and then stir in turkey meat and epazote. Cook at med-low heat for just a few minutes more as you use a fork to continue to shred up turkey. Add a little turkey stock if you need more liquid. The filling should be the consistancy of a thick spaghetti sauce. Pour mix into a bowl and set aside.

For the tamale dough

dried corn husks

4 cups masa harina

2 tsps allspice

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup lard or palm shortening

1 can pumpkin puree (15 oz)

approx. 2-2 1/2 cups turkey stock or sub chicken stock

Begin by rinsing the corn husks under hot water and then cover with hot water in a baking dish, placimg a heavy object on them to hold under water. Set aside to soak for 10-15 minutes.

Make sure to heat up stock to above room temperature if it is not already.

In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients (masa harina, allspice, salt and baking powder) together and set aside.

In an electric mixing bowl beat the lard until fluffy (about 3-5 minutes). Then add the combined dry ingredients and pumpkin puree and mix well.

Next add the stock 1/2 cup at a time while mixing. The masa mix should be light and fluffy and the texture of cake batter or peanut butter. Add stock or more masa harina as neccesary to gain this texture. It should take approximately 2-2 1/2 cups of stock. 

To assemble and cook the tamales

Setup your tamale station by draining the cornhusks, patting them dry and setting them on a kitchen towel. Set the bowl of masa and bowl of turkey filling in front of you, each bowl with a spoon.

Hold a husk in the palm of your hand or lay on a cuting board (easier). Locate the smooth side of the corn husk and hold that side face up and the larger side facing you. Use a stiff spatula to scoop a couple ounces of the masa mix and drop it into the middle of the husk, then use the back of spatula to smear it downward and towards the edges but leave an inch border on the sides. Add an 2nd scoop if needed. You want a large square of masa that goes all the way to the bottom but not quite to the edges. Take a smaller spoonful of the meat filling (about 2 Tbsps) and place it right into the middle of the masa mix.


Next make a slight grabbing motion with your hand to begin to form the tamale and then bring the husk edges together and roll.


Then fold the unfilled end of the tamale over and squeeze to shape. Begin stacking the tamales off to the side.


When all the tamales are ready to be cooked, fill your pot with an inch or two of water and place tamales vertically, open side up. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and steam covered for one hour. Be sure to be aware of the water level as you do not want it to run out. After one hour, remove from heat and remove lid carefully and allow to cool.

*sometimes for a variety of reasons its hard to arrange the tamales vertically, in this case just stack them. 


*If making this recipe from scratch and don’t have turkey leftovers simply use 2-3 lbs fresh turkey drumsticks. You will need the meat and broth that come from this preperation and it can be made the day ahead. Heat 2 Tbsps butter in a cooking pot over med-high heat. Salt turkey legs liberally and add to pot along with the top of the onion face down in pot (you will be using the rest later in the recipe). Make sure to keep the legs moving so they do not stick. Continue to cook until the skin on both sides is light brown, 7-10 minutes. Add 3 cups of water, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 2 hours. Remove from heat and let cool. Seperate the broth and set aside. With a fork remove and shred the meat.



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