Hack Your Tamales For More Exciting Vegetarian Grilling

A tamale (also spelled "tamal") is a perfect pocket of masa and filling. Most widely known in the United States are the Mexican varieties commonly made by wrapping corn masa harina around a filling, bundling it all in corn husks, and then steaming them. There are tons of other varieties of tamales from across Mexico and Latin America — they can be sweet or savory, use plantains or rice flour instead of corn masa, and have a banana or plantain leaf wrap.

When it comes to making grilling a little more exciting, you can take a page from the tamale book, and wrap basically whatever you want in a corn husk (or a banana or plantain leaf if you have it). It is no secret that grilling vegetables can be kind of a hassle. Especially if you're a vegetarian, a burnt ear of corn on the cob and some fajita peppers and onions isn't exactly the most inspired meal. If veggies are cut too small, they can quickly burn and fall through the grates. Vegetables cut too large can be bland and hard to cook evenly. Using a corn husk is like making a natural foil pouch — but better. The husk provides moisture and flavor, but it also prevents burning and sticking. No skewering, grill pans, or clumsy aluminum foil necessary for a delicious, plant-based meal.

How to use a corn husk to hack your grilling

You can use fresh or dried corn husks for grilling. Tamales are often made using dried corn husks, which can be purchased at Latin American markets, some supermarkets, and in bulk online. Simply soak them in warm water until they are soft and flexible. Soaking makes the husks easy to work with, prevents them from catching on fire when they hit the grill — and introduces just enough moisture to whatever is folded inside. Fresh or frozen banana and plantain leaves are available at Latin and Asian markets, and there is no need to soak them before use as they have enough residual moisture.

If it seems like your packet is not going to stay wrapped, use butcher's twine, also called kitchen or cooking twine, to secure it. Just make sure to soak the twine in water to prevent it from charring. Alternatively, tear off a strip of the corn husk, and use it as a piece of makeshift string.

Of course, if you have ears of corn you plan to grill, you can also use fresh corn husks straight from the vegetable. Just shuck it, soak the husk in water, and cut the kernels off the cob. Don't have any masa? No problem! You can mix the corn with proteins, other vegetables, and even different kinds of cheese. Eat your own combination right out of the husk for an easy vegetarian meal.

What vegetarian fillings should you try?

A delicious Mexican taco or tamale filling is called rajas con queso. It is simply cheese and poblano peppers, which is also a flavor combination popular in queso fundido. Combine these two delectable dishes in a corn husk packet using a melty Mexican cheese like queso Oaxaca or asadero, strips of poblano peppers, soy chorizo, and sliced mushrooms. Serve this melty mix with fresh flour or corn tortillas.

You don't just have to use Latin American flavors with this tamale hack. Try combining cauliflower, pesto, and mozzarella, and top with fresh halved cherry tomatoes after grilling, or toss together a mix of bell peppers, onions, zucchini, provolone cheese, and a big scoop of olive salad or giardiniera for an antipasto inspired mix.

You can use corn husks to create a fun, build-your-own, set-up. Lay out a variety of vegetables cut to roughly the same size, quick-cooking proteins — like vegetarian sausage, tofu, or tempeh — any kind of cheese, and flavorful accompaniments like teriyaki sauce, kimchi, hot sauce, chili crisp, balsamic glaze, or salsa. Have your barbecue guests spoon in whichever fillings they want, tie up their parcel, and write their name with a food-safe marker, so they can grab theirs once it's done cooking. Gone are the days of watery, last-minute, portobello mushrooms and crumbly veggie burgers. Vegetarian grilling just got seriously upgraded.