Super-easy slow-cooker pork recipes

Carnitas / BBQ Pulled Pork/ Korean BBQ Pork

The noble pork shoulder. Cheap. Meaty. But … how do you cook it?

I have three super-simple recipes, all using a pork shoulder or pork butt roast. With or without a bone, it makes no difference — although personally, I cook it with the bone, just because it adds a lot more flavor during the slow-cooking process.

Basically, you start with a slow cooker crock pot and a cut of pork shoulder or pork butt weighing approx. 3-5 lbs. Cut the meat into bite-sized chunks, and then add a few spices.


The first is one of my favorites. I based it off of this great recipe, and it’s amazing in tacos, burritos, tortas, or just by itself. Check out this great torta I made with the carnitas and some homemade curtido.

carnitas torta
– 3-4 fresh limes, sliced
– 2 fresh onions, sliced
– 1 head garlic, smashed and chopped
– 3 tbs. dried oregano
– 3 tbsp. cumin
– salt and pepper

Coat the pork in all of the spices mixed together, and place in the crock pot. Layer the sliced onions and sliced limes over the pork. Cover the crock pot in foil and place the lid on top, and cook on the “high” setting for 6-8 hours.

crock pot carnitas

Remove the lime slices before crisping the pork in a skillet on your stovetop and serving with tortillas, salsa, avocados and all of the fixings.

carnitas burritos

crockpot pork recipe card

If you’re not into carnitas, another excellent use of that pork cut is Korean food. If you like kimchi and other banchan, this is a great way to use it up.

Korean BBQ Pork

– 1/2 cup sriracha
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1 onion, sliced
– 1/4 cup soy sauce
– 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Place the cubed pork in the crock pot and coat with the remaining ingredients. Cook on the “high” setting for at least 6-8 hours. Serve shredded or cubed — preferably with rice, kimchi, and other banchan (traditional Korean pickled side dishes like these).

OR … if you just want something simple to slap on some buns, grab a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce. I prefer Sweet Baby Ray’s or KC Masterpiece. Or something homemade.

BBQ Pulled Pork

-1 bottle BBQ sauce
– hamburger or slider buns

Place the cubed pork in the crock pot with a bottle of your favorite storebought or homemade BBQ sauce, then simmer on “high” setting for at least 6 hours. When finished, take two forks and shred the pork (it will flake very easily), then serve on buns for sliders.

Don Chido for San Diego Restaurant Week

I’ve mentioned a number of times how lucky I am to live in San Diego, which has some of the best food and restaurants in the world. Locals get to take advantage of this bounty several times a year during San Diego Restaurant Week, where some of the best restaurants give a sample of their most groundbreaking dishes for a great value.

I was already planning to visit more than one of the restaurants this week, when McFarlane Promotions hooked up this awesome pre-SDRW deal for local food bloggers. I won a visit to Don Chido, a really authentic and trendy Mexican restaurant in the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego.

I had already visited Don Chido once a few weeks ago for another event called the Toast of Downtown, where we got to sample small plates of food as well as each restaurant’s signature cocktails, and I really loved their lovely little street tacos.

This is one of those places where “handcrafted” is not just a slogan. You can taste it.

toast of downtown

One of the best things about SDRW for me is to see what dishes the chefs choose to highlight. It’s even great to go to places where you’re already a regular, just to see what foods the staff thinks will make newbies want to come back again.

Don Chido actually had a whole new menu for SDRW. For just $20 per person (a steal for dinner in the Gaslamp District!) you get three amazing courses:

sdrw menu

Being a good food blogger, I checked out the SDRW restaurant list online (each restaurant has their full SDRW menu posted). I was pretty sure I wanted to try the pozole and the stewed lamb.

Pozole (or posole) is one of my favorite soups ever —  I make a slow-cooked version of it at home with smoked chicken — so I was really excited to taste this one.

pozole de verdura

It definitely did not disappoint. Pozole, although traditionally pretty thin, was stuffed full of lots of hearty hominy and black beans, and the broth was obviously slow-simmered and well-spiced. You can also get it with chicken, but I kept mine vegetarian.

more pozole
My boyfriend got the empanadas, which were stuffed with pollo adobado and cheese. The masa dough was also obviously fresh and homemade (as are the tortillas, and pretty much everything else at Don Chido), and the pollo adobado was hearty and saucy but not too heavy for the dough. That might seem like an easy balance to achieve, but anyone who as ever tried to make their own empanadas knows better.

For the main course, I got the Borrego en Mole Amarilla de Oaxaca, or stewed Colorado lamb shoulder with mole, rice and root vegetables.

stewed lamb shoulder

It was so amazing! The mole was really flavorful, yet it still allowed for the lighter flavor of the stewed lamb shoulder to come through. The meat was piled on top of spicy rice and root vegetables and covered in a delicious sauce. If you order this, tell the waiter he can keep the knife — you won’t need it.  In fact, if it wasn’t accompanied by crunchy fresh green beans, I don’t think you’d even need a fork.

Borrego en Mole Amarilla de Oaxaca

The lamb is extremely tender and juicy, and you can practically eat it with a spoon.

So, I have this thing called Entrée Envy. It’s a completely untreatable foodie disease, and it manifests itself at great dinners and lunches like this.

I see a menu.

I narrow my choices down to two or three.

I settle on one.

Someone else orders another one of the two or three.

We get our food.

No matter how delicious my dish is, I also want the one I didn’t choose.

Note I did not say “instead.”

I said “also.”

I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of my stewed lamb. But my handsome boyfriend got one of the other dishes I was considering, the seafood enchiladas, and I had to have a taste or two. (Note about the photo: they come with beans and rice, but he’s allergic to beans so had to get rice only.)

seafood enchiladas

These enchiladas were killer! Stuffed with scallops, shrimp, bites of fish and lots of cheese — and topped with a poblano cream sauce that made all of the rest of the ingredients come together beautifully.

I really can’t say enough about the poblano cream sauce. It’s not on any of Don Chido’s regular menu items, and when I spoke to the chef, she said it was a new sauce they came up with for this particular menu item — one that they will only have for SDRW.

The lovely chef was also kind enough to share: it’s just roasted garlic, roasted poblano peppers, cream, cheese, and salt and pepper. I will definitely be attempting to make this sauce for my next batch of homemade enchiladas, so I will let you know how it works out. In the meantime, I suggest you use your SDRW time to try it yourself at Don Chido. You won’t be disappointed: the way it combines with the seafood and the (obviously fresh and homemade) tortillas, it’s insane.

I say the tortillas were obviously fresh and homemade, as was the masa dough for the empanadas, because when you taste a freshly made tortilla, you just know.  In this case, you will know for sure when you taste them.

There were only two options for dessert, so my honey and I got them both: the dulce de leche cheesecake had dulce de leche IN the cheesecake and then a spiced caramel sauce on top.

dulce de leche cheesecake

The almonds on top are also a nice crunch that blends really well with the cinnamon and salt in the caramel sauce.

mexican fried ice cream

The Mexican fried ice cream was a fabulous twist on the traditional: it has toasted coconut and corn flakes forming the crunchy shell, and it comes with a slightly sweet strawberry compote. They’re both pretty small in size, but after the other two courses, good luck finishing your dessert anyway.

The whole meal overall was amazing, yet understated. This is one of the best options I have seen on the SDRW menus in a really long time.


* Disclaimer: This was a sponsored review, but the thoughts and opinions are all my own.

Welcome to Starbright’s Kitchen!

Welcome, come on in!

The H Blog is now Starbright’s Kitchen!

To celebrate, I am reposting 25 of your favorite recipe posts with new photographs and awesome recipe cards, perfect for easy printing, posting, and pinning.

Check them out:

1. Easy Homemade Applesauce

applesauce recipe card

2. Bacon Jam

bacon jam recipe card

3. Two great recipes made with Bacon Jam: Spicy Bacon Jam Bean Dip and Bacon Jam Vietnamese Meatballs:

bacon jam bean dip recipe card

BJV meatballs recipe card

4. A definite favorite, homemade bacon:

USE bacon recipe card

5. Beer-Can Smoked Chicken

beer can chicken recipe card

6. Butternut Squash and Beef Chili

butternut squash chili recipe card

7. Fall Vegetable Cassoulet and Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

cassoulet recipe card

spicy butternut squash soup recipe card

8. Curried Cauliflower Soup

curry cauliflower soup recipe card

9. Spicy Curtido and Cheesy Pupusas

curtido recipe card

pupusas recipe card

10. Epic Wings

epic wings comic recipe card

11. Homemade Ham

ham recipe card

12.  Winter Fruit Tart and Steak and Veggie Kabobs

winter fruit tart recipe card

kebabs recipe card
13. Lemon Epic Wings

lemon epic wings recipe card

14. Liver

liver recipe card

15. Oktoberfest Soup

oktoberfest soup recipe card

16. Homemade Pastrami

pastrami recipe card

17. Deviled Eggs Three Ways

traditional eggs recipe card

spicy egg recipe card

tangy egg recipe card

18. Quinoa Salad

quinoa salad recipe card

19. Smoked Mulligatawny Soup

smoked mulligatawny recipe card

20. Smoked Beer-Can Turkey

smoked turkey recipe card

21. Tamales and Tomatillo Salsa

tamales recipe card

tomatillo salsa recipe card

22. Tepache

tepache recipe card

23. Homemade Gyros

gyros recipe card

24.  Pickled Honey Jalapeno Rings

honey jalapeno rings recipe card

25. Smothered Pork Chops

pork chop recipe card


Winter Fruit Tart and Grilled Steak and Veggie Kebabs

This week, I and a few other San Diego-area food bloggers teamed up with Melissa’s Produce to come up with some fabulous new recipes using locally-grown winter produce.

Our challenge was to make a sweet and a savory dish, using Christmas Crunch seedless grapes, Korean pears, and Jeju mandarins, as well as Melissa’s pre-steamed and pre-prepared (totally ready-to-eat!) baby potatoes, baby beets, and chestnuts.

Korean pear, Christmas crunch grapes and Jeju mandarins

For the sweet dish, using all of those delicious fruits was pretty easy. The Christmas crunch grapes are really sweet, and the Korean pears are less sweet than their western cousins. So, I sliced the pears and cooked them in some clarified butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg before I put them in the finished product. As for the Jeju mandarins — they are so juicy and delicious, and almost too delicate for a tart — I juiced them and used the yummy mandarin juice to sweeten up the cream cheese filling!

The finished product really showcases the deliciousness of the fruits, and it’s not too sweet. It’s the perfect light dessert.

winter fruit tart

Winter Fruit Tart

  • 1 large Korean pear, sliced
  • 2 Jeju mandarins, juiced
  • 1 bunch of Christmas crunch seedless grapes
  • 5-6 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed and cut into squares
  • 5 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick of butter, separated
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. nutmeg

First, prepare the phyllo dough. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and make sure your phyllo dough is ready to use (if you bought it frozen, make sure it’s thawed – or you can make your own dough using this really easy recipe). You can stuff the squares of dough into a (well-greased) muffin tin, and form cups, or you can simply lay the slices of dough on a baking sheet. Add a dab of butter to each cup or slice of dough, and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Then remove from the oven and let cool. Set aside.

*Note: I used phyllo dough because I prefer the dough to be a little crunchy, and I wanted the dough to bake into a hardened cup that I could fill with cream cheese and fruit. However, this recipe would work just as well with a puff pastry or other type of dough.

While the dough is in the oven, melt 2-3 tbsp. of butter in a skillet and add the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until the slices of pear are caramelized. Set aside.

caramelized pears

Mix the Jeju mandarin juice and softened cream cheese together in a bowl, and whip with a fork or whisk until there are no lumps. Set aside.

winter fruit tart cup

When the dough is cooked and has been cooled, fill each cup (or spread each baked piece of dough) with the cream cheese/ juice mixture. Then slices the grapes lengthwise, and arrange the grapes and slices of cooked pear on each cup or piece of dough.

winter fruit tart

You can prepare this up to a day ahead of time. Serve chilled.

winter fruit tart recipe card


For the savory part of my challenge, I had some of the items ready ahead of time, and luckily, the pre-prepared produce from Melissa’s made everything else really easy to cook.

A few weeks ago I scored some awesome eggplants, peppers and cucumbers, so I went a little crazy pickling things, including a lovely recipe for Lebanese pickled eggplant, from Linda Zeidrich’s book, “The Joy of Pickling.” (Here’s another adaptation of the recipe, but I highly recommend her book, if you do any pickling at all.) Traditionally, the Lebanese pickled eggplant is served with hummus, pita bread, and a myriad of side dishes or tapas, so I that’s how the idea was formed to use my pre-cooked produce for some tasty kebabs. Luckily the foods randomly selected for this challenge were perfect for roasting or grilling.

Normally I don’t go for pre-cooked produce, but I really love all of the options Melissa’s has for pre-steamed, pre-peeled and ready-to-eat vegetables. Check out all of the options offered on Melissa’s Produce Pinterest page.


This was the hard part of the challenge … beets? Chestnuts?

The pre-steamed and pre-peeled potatoes were obviously ready to skewer and grill, but the chestnuts and beets?

I’ll be honest with you: beets are not my favorite thing to eat.

And, before this challenge, I had never eaten a chestnut (that I’m aware of) – in fact, I’d never even heard of them except in a Christmas song, which helpfully suggests roasting them.

Beets are also pretty tasty when roasted, and of course, so is a steak, so I thought a nice kebab would be the best way to showcase all of the flavors together. The final result was a really good combination of flavors. The chestnuts are a little difficult to keep on the skewers, so I used some in a pesto as well.

kebabs recipe card

grilled steak and veggie kabobs

Grilled Steak and Veggie Kebabs with Chestnut Pesto

  • 1 medium thick-cut New York steak, cut into chunks
  • 1 package steamed baby beets, cut into quarters
  • 1 package peeled and steamed chestnuts
  • 1 package peeled and steamed baby potatoes, halved or quartered if necessary
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more in a spray/spritz bottle
  • 1 tbsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 tbsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • wooden skewers (pre-soak before using!)

First, prepare the kabobs. Make sure your wooden skewers have soaked for at least several hours, or use metal skewers (you don’t want them to catch fire!). Arrange the pieces of steak, potatoes, beets and chestnuts on skewers, and season with salt and pepper, then spray with olive oil. Place on a pre-heated outdoor grill and cook for about 10 minutes on each side, until you can see grill marks on the food.


Next, while the skewers are on the grill, prepare the chestnut pesto. Place the garlic cloves, cilantro, remaining chestnuts (there should be about a cup), plus the dried rosemary, marjoram, and salt and pepper into a chopper or food processor. Puree until smooth, and gradually drizzle in the olive oil. Set aside.

chestnut pesto

Finish up the kabobs by crumbling some fresh feta cheese on top and serving the pesto nearby.

steak/beet/potato/chestnut kabobs

I served my kabobs and pesto with all of my favorite munchies: hummus and pita chips, sliced cucumber and carrot sticks, homemade dilly tzatziki sauce, and lots of good cocktails.

kabob spread
I can’t wait to see what my fellow food blogger friends have come up with for this challenge. As usual, it was a mindbender, but eating the results is always fun!

I invite you to check out the other challenge recipes using Melissa’s Produce products here:

Disclaimer: Melissa’s Produce graciously provided most of the produce I used in this post, but no other financial consideration was given for my opinions or ideas.

Spicy Curtido and Cheesy Pupusas

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a recipe that makes me wonder why I had never heard of it before. I first heard of pupusas when I was searching for a recipe for curtido, which is a pickled or lightly fermented spicy cabbage slaw, and an international cousin to sauerkraut and kimchi, which I make often.


I found recipes for pupusas again when I was searching for ways to use this bag of masa flour I had left over from last weekend’s tamale party.

premade storebough masa dough

For the curtido to get spicy, make it at least a couple of days ahead of time. Start with a good, clean mason jar, preferably a large one. You can’t make too much of this stuff, trust me. You’ll be surprised how quickly it disappears.

I made my curtido as I started a few other pickling projects.


I found a gorgeous bunch of tiny eggplants at the Korean market, and, along with a bag of small pickling cucumbers, a package each of jalapenos, habaneros, and Korean hot peppers, a head of green cabbage, a few carrots, onions, and heads of garlic, I consulted my trusty, well-read copy of Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling.”

pickle shelf

As a result, last week’s pickling shelf was a trip around the world: Puerto Rican pique (vinegar steeped in peppers, garlic, peppercorns, and salt); Lebanese stuffed eggplant (small eggplants sliced in half, stuffed with crushed garlic and spices, then pickled); Japanese-style cucumber and eggplant pickled with soy sauce and sake; and curtido, which is a delicacy of El Salvador.

Honestly, all of the recipes are pretty simple (as are most pickling recipes), and the curtido is also one of the fastest. It should be nice and spicy within 2-3 days on the shelf.

I based my recipe off of Linda Ziedrich’s as well as a few others– they’re basically all the same, but I left out the fresh onions. To my taste, the fresh-cut onions pack so much flavor, that it overpowers all of the other flavors mixing in there. I also add dried Mexican oregano, and let it sit on the shelf with an airlock cap while fermenting — and I ferment mine with vinegar. You can also ferment it without vinegar and it will take 5 days to two weeks.

curtido recipe card


  • 1 head of green cabbage, thinly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, diced
  • 1/4 cup dried Mexican oregano
  • 7-8 hot peppers, diced (jalapeno, habanero, Thai chilis work well, or a mix)
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 2-3 cups white vinegar

Blend all of the chopped vegetables in a large bowl, and cover with salt and oregano. Using a large wooden spoon or a krautpounder, pound the vegetables until the salt has dissolved and the vegetables are coated. Add pineapple juice and mix thoroughly. Transfer everything to a large mason jar and fill the jar almost to the top with vinegar. Cover with an airlock cap and let it rest in a cool place for 2-3 days.


Once it’s nice and spicy, the curtido is good for pretty much anything. It was a great accompaniment to all of the tamales we made before Thanksgiving … and, for that matter, it was good with my Thanksgiving leftovers, too.

I even ate it with some Chinese potstickers. You can’t go wrong with it.

However, they are traditionally eaten with pupusas, which are basically tiny handheld hot cornmeal sandwiches.


I based my recipe off of this one from The Kitchn, but as I said, my masa was pre-made and store-bought. If you ask me, that’s the easier way to go when it comes to masa, whether it’s for tamales or anything else. Although it’s a good idea to mix in a few pats of cold butter to make the masa taste good.

040They’re very easy to make: I blended a pound of pre-made masa dough with a stick of cold butter, and formed it into little balls of dough. Then I made a hole in each ball of dough, filled it with cheese, then flattened the dough and fried it. That’s it! I made mine with two different kinds of delicious cheddar, but you can stuff them with any type of meat, cheese, beans or vegetables.



  • 1 lb premade masa dough
  • 1 stick of cold, salted butter
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese (I used half mild and half sharp cheddar)
  • salt, pepper, cayenne

Mix the dough and butter thoroughly (using clean, dry hands), and form the dough into balls (you should have about 12). Holding the ball of dough in one palm, poke a hole in the dough with your thumb, then hollow out a hole in the center. Fill the hole with grated cheese, and seal the hole again. Then flatten the dough. Make sure no cheese has escaped. When you have all of the pupusas ready, bring your cast-iron or other heavy-duty frying pan up to high heat and coat with vegetable oil. Fry each pupusa for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Once removed from heat, sprinkle each side with salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne. Serve with curtido.

pupusa with curtido


pupusas recipe card

Of course, now I see why these two go together so well. It’s like an awesome, handheld, spicy cheesy quesadilla, without all of the mess. The light crunch and spicy tang of the slaw is a perfect companion to the smooth cheese inside of a thick corn crust. When you give it a try, you’ll see.

Thanksgiving Food Porn Challenge

I’m happy to announce my first ever Thanksgiving Food Porn Challenge!

 All weekend long, starting NOW, share your best food pictures to the Facebook page for this blog, here.

It can be shots of food prep, Thanksgiving dinner, or leftovers.

On Sunday a winner will be chosen, and will win a special prize!

Tamale party!

This weekend, I finally got to take part in my first tamale party. I’ve been wanting to do one of these for years and never had enough people willing to participate, and someone to let us use their kitchen, since I live in a tiny beach apartment. It was awesome!


The idea behind a tamale party is twofold: First and foremost, everyone loves tamales. Secondly, tamales are way too labor-intensive to make in small batches and by yourself. They’re not technically difficult to make, they just take FOREVER. If you make your own filling, and you make your own masa, it can take several hours of active work.

Long hours.

Standing up.

I am all for slow-cooking — in fact, I love slow-smoking meats and slow-simmering chilis and stews — but those kind of recipes take maybe 15-30 minutes of actual work, and then the other 5-6 hours of work are being done by the slow cooker or smoker.

Before this party, I made tamales exactly once. I made one dozen, and it took me about three hours from start to finish. Frankly, I don’t even know why people make recipes for one dozen tamales, because it’s simply ridiculous. If you’re going to make tamales — if you’re going to put a whole afternoon or a whole day into it — you better walk out of that kitchen with dozens of tamales. (Don’t worry, you can eat them now, or freeze them for later.)

tamale party

The plan was for all of us to show up with pre-made fillings (we all brought different types, more on that later), plus masa, lard, corn husks and some munchies and drinks to share.

From there, we’d make masa, fill the husks, and enjoy each other’s company over a few drinks while we stood around stuffing and rolling for a few hours. It’s a great way to make a ton of food of any type, but especially something as simple as tamales.

tamale party

How to make tamales:
Step 1: Prepare fillings and masa dough. Pre-soak husks.

Step 2: Spread masa on clean, dry corn husk.

Step 3: Spread filling on masa dough.

Step 4: Fold and roll the tamal. (Optional/Recommended: wrap in parchment paper.)

Step 5: Steam tamales for 45 minutes to one hour over boiling water.


Obviously the process is much easier if you take a few shortcuts. Luckily, I live in San Diego, which is a foodie paradise for many reasons, not the least of which is its proximity to Mexico and complete access to impeccable Mexican food. A local Mexican farmer’s market has its own premade masa for tamales …

premade storebough masa dough

… and an amazing selection of husks. I guess ’tis the season.

corn husks at the store

So it’s not hard, but it’s time-consuming … However, making tamales doesn’t have to be a tedious process. Here are a few things I would recommend to make lots of tamales without such a headache.

Premade dough: To save time — seriously, saving like half of the time — we used the premade masa dough, but here is a good and simple recipe if you can’t find premade dough, or you just really want to make the dough from scratch. If you buy it premade, I’d recommend adding some good butter to it to make it creamier, tastier, and easier to spread.

Parchment paper, preferably pre-cut: especially if you’re a beginner and you have husks of various sizes, it’s very hard to make uniformly sized and shaped tamales. To keep the fillings intact and the cleanup easy, every time you wrap a tamale, wrap it in a sheet of sandwich paper or parchment. You can steam them in the paper, too.

parchment paper

Colored string: eventually you will forget which filling went into which pile of tamales. Tie them with different-colored strings (embroidery thread works great) to indicate which filling you used.


Freeze them uncooked: tamales aren’t done until they’ve been steamed for 45 minutes to an hour. But if you’re making lots of them at a time, you can wrap them individually in parchment and freeze them in plastic bags, then steam them after defrosting. They’ll keep for months uncooked in the freezer.

Kitchen assistants: have lots. You’ll need all the hands you can get to help soak, rinse, dry and separate husks, to make sure the masa is mixed and tasty, to cut threads, spread fillings, pour wine, roll tamales, everything. Get the kids. Get the neighbors. Everyone can have a job to do.

sous chef Ben

Prep work: do as much as you can ahead of time. Pre-soak your husks for at least an hour, make your masa if you’re not buying it, and make your fillings the day or night before so they will be cooled and easy to use when you’re ready to spread them on  the masa.

I made four different fillings: a simple corn and cheese filling, a sweet pineapple filling, a smoked ribeye and mushroom filling (my ode to the classic British steak and mushroom pie), and roast duck and kale.

The last one was the simplest: I chopped some kale and marinated it — or, rather, stuck it in a freezer bag with fish sauce and black pepper on the way to the tamale party, then picked up a roast duck from my favorite dim sum restaurant and added the fatty, crispy duck to the salty kale.

roast duck and salty kale

The duck and kale tamales were delicious with homemade tomatillo salsa.

duck and kale tamal
Hickory-Smoked Ribeye and Mushroom Tamales

A few hours before the party, I seasoned some thinly sliced ribeye steaks and smoked them over hickory wood chips.

hickory smoked ribeye

I also marinated some mushrooms (again with the baggie) in some balsamic vinegar. I wanted to copy a steak and mushroom meat pie, and I think this finished tamale was my favorite.

steak and mushroom tamale

  • two (2) 1-pound ribeye steaks, very thinly sliced
  • 1 lb crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 lb soaked wood chips for smoking (I used hickory wood)

Season the steaks with pepper and place on a piece of foil with a small amount of oil. Smoke over soaked wood chips for at least one hour at 350 degrees. Chop the mushrooms very finely and place in a freezer bag with balsamic vinegar and a few teaspoons of pepper. Once the steak is smoked, chop the meat finely and blend with the mushrooms (don’t forget the meat juices inside the foil).

Dessert tamales are some of the best varieties. Try this one (and others with fruit) topped with brie or mild goat cheese. This is a delicious one, it tastes like tepache. Mmmm …

Pineapple Tamales

pineapple tamales

  • one whole pineapple, cored, peeled and diced
  • one cone of piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar)
  • 2 tbsp each of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and ground allspice
  • 1 vanilla bean, split

Place the diced pineapple in a large bowl with vanilla bean and spices. Place the cone of piloncillo in a small nonreactive pot with 2 cups of water (enough to cover the cone) and bring to a boil. Simmer until the piloncillo is dissolved. Pour over the spiced pineapple mixture and let sit at room temperature for at least one hour. Drain liquid before adding to tamales.

cheesy corn tamales

Cheesy Corn Tamales

cheesey corn tamales

  • 2 12-oz packs of frozen yellow corn
  • 2 whole jalapenos (optional)
  • 1 lb Oaxaca cheese
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper

Put the corn, jalapenos, butter and spices in a large pot over high heat until the butter is fully melted, the jalapenos are cooked and the corn is starting to char. Season well (and taste to make sure). Add a hunk of Oaxaca (or thick, mild melty, cheese) while assembling your tamales.

tamales recipe card

Of course, you can’t properly enjoy tamales and good Mexican food without good salsas and hot sauces. In addition to my homemade sriracha and curtido, I also make a mean tomatillo salsa. If you like it can be totally mild, or with an added kick of jalapeno.

tomatillo salsa

Bonus recipe: Tomatillo Salsa

This recipe is a variation on one of my faves, this tomatillo salsa and crockpot carnitas recipe from 100 Days of Real Food. Mine is totally similar except I use red onion instead of white (just a personal preference), I add garlic, too, and I roast my veggies first.


  • 3 lbs tomatillos
  • 2 red onions, halved
  • 2 whole garlic heads
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 jalapenos (optional, or just scrape out the seeds for less heat)
  • salt and pepper

Roast the tomatillos, onions and garlic uncovered, except for the garlic (put that on some foil and drizzle them with olive oil), on your grill or roaster. They need to char slightly over high heat until the tomatillos are soft. Let cool completely, for at least 20 minutes after removal from heat. Peel, chop, and mix together the tomatillos, onions and garlic, then season well with salt and pepper and add lime juice. If the mixture is too chunky, place into a food processor or chopper and puree until smooth.

tomatillo salsa recipe card