Calabrian Chile Lion’s Mane Tamal

Andrea Aliseda

Calabrian Chile Lion’s Mane Tamal

Swapping dried Mexican chiles for a spoonful of jarred Calabrian pepper paste brings a touch of heat, whimsy, and ease to these tamales. Smallhold’s lion’s mane mushrooms work overtime here by serving as the meaty succulent filling, drenched in an Italian-Mexican fusion salsa, and flavoring the tamal masa itself. The Brooklyn Mushroom Dust adds a flavorful base to the masa, while the dried lion’s mane soak creates a quick “broth” that infuses the dough with depth and richness. The optional addition of the artichoke heart or pitted green olive adds a touch of brininess that cuts through the fat with pleasant surprise. Cut the recipe in half if needed, or reserve uncooked tamales in the freezer for a future delectable meal. Otherwise, cook with friends and be prepared to roll up your sleeves, these vegan tamales are so worth it. Check out the rest of Andrea's work here!

Yields: about 20 tamales


1 lb of corn husks 

Mushroom Broth

1 cup Smallhold dried lion’s mane mushrooms

4 ½ cups hot water


1 white onion 

(2) 8oz clamshells of Lion’s Mane mushrooms

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or more for pan frying

2 zucchinis 

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tbsp tomato paste

4 tsp garlic powder 

1 tsp sea salt

Optional, rinsed quartered canned artichoke hearts

Optional, green pitted olives 


4 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp Calabrian pepper paste

½ white onion

2 garlic clove

½ cup fresh cilantro 

1 cup mushroom broth

Tamal Masa 

1 cup butter, room temperature 

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt 

3 cups masa harina 

1 tablespoon Smallhold Brooklyn Mushroom Dust

3 cups mushroom broth


Step 1 - In a medium ceramic, glass or stainless steel bowl add 1 cup of the dried Smallhold lion’s mane mushrooms and cover with 4½ cups of hot water. Set aside. 

Step 2 - In a big bowl soak and rinse the corn husks with warm water a few times to clean them. Then, let them sit in warm water to soften. Add a bowl (bottom facing) down to keep the husks from floating, set them aside. 

Step 3 - For the filling, cut the white onion in half, then in thin half moons, set aside. Using your fingers, pull apart the lion’s mane mushroom, like pulling apart string cheese, into smaller chunks, set aside. Cut the zucchinis into matchsticks, set aside. 

Step 4 - Add 2 teaspoons of oil to a medium heat frying pan or skillet. Once hot add in the onion. When the onions begin to soften, add a pinch of salt. Stir frequently and allow the onions to get some golden color and brown ever so slightly, set aside. 

Step 5 - Add 2 teaspoons of oil to a medium heat frying pan or skillet. Once it’s hot, add in a batch of lion’s mane mushrooms, but do not overcrowd the pan. Stir occasionally and let the mushrooms sear, getting golden with some browning, about 5 to 6 minutes per batch. Repeat process and set aside. 

Step 6 - To a medium high heat pan or skillet, add 1 tablespoon of oil and pan fry the zucchinis in two batches. Stir occasionally, and wait for them to get uber soft and crispy with deeper browning on the edges. Set aside. 

Step 7 - Return to the mushroom broth and strain the mushrooms out, squeezing the liquid out of them and storing them for a future recipe. 

Step 8 - To a blender, add the tomato paste, calabrian pepper paste, white onion, garlic cloves, fresh cilantro, and 1 cup of the mushroom broth and blend until smooth, set aside.

Step 9 - In a medium heat pan or skillet, add 2 teaspoons of oil and once hot, mix together the golden onions, seared mushrooms, and pan fried zucchinis. Create a small divot in the pan and add the tomato paste and soy sauce. Quickly mix this together with the vegetables, ensuring it's been evenly distributed. Let it absorb and meld together for about 3 more minutes.

Step 10 - Next, add the blended mixture into the pan with the vegetables and stir to cover evenly. Stir occasionally and let it simmer for about 3 minutes. Then set to a low heat for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the salsa is clinging to the vegetables. Remove from heat and set aside.

Step 11 - For the masa, take the softened butter and add it to a large mixing bowl or standing mixer bowl. Add the baking powder and salt, use a wire whip or a hand mixer and beat until creamy and lighter in color. Then add the masa harina, the Brooklyn Mushroom Dust, and slowly start adding the mushroom broth, one cup at a time. Ramp up the speed to a medium high setting to aerate the dough for about 5 minutes. Stop beating and check for doneness: you should be able to touch it without it sticking to your hands. It will be fatty, and have less shape than masa for a tortilla. If you roll a ball with it, the masa will be very smooth but will not feel as firm as play-doh. The masa should look like cookie dough once it's spread around the bowl with a silicone spatula. Cover with a clean towel and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.        

Step 12 - Set up an assembly line: soaked corn husks on a large plate (sans water), tamal masa, tamal filling, and your optional artichoke hearts or pitted green olives (if desired).

Step 13 - To assemble the tamales, take a corn husk with the widest part facing you, and use the side of the husk that is curved away from the plate. Scoop out about a ¼ cup’s worth of tamal masa and set it in the middle of the husk. Using the silicone spatula, drag the masa down until about 1 to ½ inch away from the edge. Spread it horizontally as well, to get a lean base of masa. Do not worry about perfection, just try to get a good schmear on the husk. Repeat this step until you are out of masa, and set the husks aside on a large sheet pan. Next, add about two tablespoons of the mushroom-zucchini filling right down the middle. And if desired, an artichoke heart or pitted green olive in its center. To wrap the tamal, with the widest part still facing you, lift both edges up and have them meet (hot dog-style). Have the husk touch until it meets the masa and filling, then fold it to one side. Now grab the tip end of the tamal, opposite you, and fold it into the tamal, where you’ve made the fold. Set it aside, folded sides down so it remains wrapped. For extra insurance, take a corn husk and pull from top to bottom, from widest side down, to create thin strips, or ribbons. These can be used to wrap (or differentiate) tamales and keep the folded flaps taut. Simply add the middle of the length of the strip to the fold (like you would in gift wrapping) and tie it together on the opposite side, where there are no folds. 

Step 14 - To steam, line your dutch oven or stock pot with some of the remaining soaked corn husks. Do this until there are no visible spots of the pot’s base. Insert your tamales facing up, or tilt them slightly if the pot is too small. Start by lining the wall of the pot and then go into the middle. Add 2 ½ to 3 cups of water, or about an inch and a half to steam. Cover the tamales with a layer of corn husks or a clean towel and cover with the pot’s lid. 

Step 15 - Set the pot to the highest heat and bring it to a boil. Then lower the heat to medium low and set the timer for 40 minutes. 

Step 16 - Once the timer goes off, allow the tamales to sit and set for about 10 minutes either on your plate or in the pot, uncovered. The corn husk should peel off easily. Serve with salsa and beans and rice, with a salad, or alone, enjoy!