Tamale Pie

25 12 2009

First of all: Merry Christmas Eve to those of you who celebrate it (culturally or religiously)!

Second of all: I’m going to share with you one of my happiest accidents, and an obscenely easy and cheap dinner. I call it tamale pie, but frankly, anything other than “really lazy and inauthentic Tex-Mex” is probably too glamorous. The first time I made this, I was trying to make some weird cornbread variant (which, in retrospect, would probably have been kind of gross) but was out of cornmeal and was pot-committed to the endeavor as I’d already prepared something or other to go with it. All I had was masa harina, so I said to myself, “What the hell!” Oh, I am so racy and adventurous, substituting finely ground corn for coarsely ground corn. I throw caution to the winds every day, I tell you.

The result was a super-dense cornbread and bean pie that took approximately 15 minutes of preparation and about the same amount of time in the oven, and costs almost nothing. I present to you my laziest, most accidental Tex-Mex: tamale pie. It’s also, by the way, completely and utterly delicious. For the recipe, I use an 8 or 9in cast iron skillet, but you can also just make it in a round cake pan or an 8×8 brownie pan if you don’t have cast iron. If you do, and you use a cake pan, you are doing yourself and my recipe a disservice! Yum, cast iron.

Tamale Pie


For the cornbread base:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 c all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached white or white whole wheat)
  • 3/4c masa harina
  • 1/4c nutritional yeast (optional but highly recommended)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 2 fresh jalapeño peppers, finely chopped (you can seed them if you want. If you’re a pansy, anyhow)

For the topping:

  • 1 can black beans, mostly drained
  • 1 small onion, quartered and finely sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch or 2 tbsp potato starch
  • 1c shredded cheddar cheese
  • about 2/3 a head chopped green leaf lettuce, tossed with lemon juice and a dash of salt
  • hot sauce (optional; I prefer Cholula, Tapatio, or Secret Aardvark in the PDX area)


  1. Cook onions and peppers until tender in a medium skillet. I cooked mine in 1 tbsp of butter; use whatever oil you have around.
  2. While these are cooking, work on the cornbread base. Turn oven to 400F and put a 9in cast iron skillet with 2 tbsp butter in while the oven heats up, melting the butter and heating your skillet.
  3. Mix flour, masa harina, nutritional yeast, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Stir together eggs, milk, and oil and add all at once to flour mix; stir until just combined and then stir in the chopped jalapeños.
  5. Pour into prepared skillet and put in the oven for 5 minutes.
  6. Once your veggies are tender, add in the can of black beans, mostly drained. Let a little of the beans’ liquid stick around. Add in spices and cook together for a minute or so; stir in potato or cornstarch. Turn off the heat.
  7. Pull the baking cornbread out of the oven for a moment (it will have set a bit at this point, which is what you want) and spread the bean and vegetable mixture over the top. Place back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.
  8. Again, pull the tamale pie out of the oven after the 10min are up and spread the cheese over the top. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly and the center is set.
  9. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes; serve generous slices on a bed of lettuce tossed with lemon juice and salt, accompanied by your favorite hot sauce!

Easy-peasy and cheap as hell. Yum!

I will win no prizes for my food photography on this one, but it is certainly delicious.

And, last but not least, I tried this recipe the other morning. It is fast and ridiculously tasty. I made the following changes, due to what I had and did not have on hand: I only made 2 ramekins’ worth, I used 1/2 an onion caramelized in butter and glazed with sherry vinegar at the last moment instead of leeks, I put 2 eggs in each ramekin, and I stirred about 1 tbsp of stone-ground sweet & hot mustard into the cream before spooning it over the top. I highly, highly recommend this recipe. I cannot stress enough how delicious it was. If it weren’t made with cream I would eat it every day. If I didn’t restrain myself from buying cream on a regular basis, I would make this every day regardless. It’s amazing and super versatile – you could easily change the vegetables and flavors into whatever works with your other dishes. You have to bake it a bit longer with 2 eggs, FYI, but it’s easy to tell when they’re done.




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