Tamale Pie

Tamale Pie is a great dish with a weird name. I almost hate calling it by that name because it doesn’t sound appetizing and the name is so uninformative–its not a pie and has absolutely nothing tamale-like about it. Its sort of a tex-mex flavored casserole held together with ground beef, cornbread, and a salsa-like mixture. Its crumbly like cornbread, moist, and zesty. And for something tex-mex, its very comfort-foodish.

Serving of tamale pie w/avocado and sour cream

I was inspired by the version of tamale pie from Simply Recipes and was surprised to learn that this is actually a commonplace dish. Prepare yourself for some really heavy news: I never encountered tamale pie growing up.

For me, this dish is nice because you can easily make it from a lot of fresh ingredients or substitute in some pre-made components with ease. I try to strike a middle ground, keeping it full of fresh flavors, but still simple enough that it is in my quick-and-easy-to-make arsenal, rather than the better-save-this-for-the-weekend set of recipes. This dish is also my entry in this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Myriam from Once Upon a Tart.

  • 1-1.5 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-5 jalapeño peppers
  • 1-3 poblano peppers
  • 8 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup olives (I used pimento-stuffed queen olives, but a black olive variety would work wonderfully)
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Conbread mix (I use two packets of cornbread mix. Also, include whatever ingredients the packet calls for, like milk, eggs, etc)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 3 tsp chile powder (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • smoked paprika
  • pinch of salt
  • fennel seeds
  • Optional:
    • some fresh oregano
    • habanero pepper(s)

Preheat the oven to 375?F.

Peppers and herbs

Mince the garlic finely and chop the peppers somewhat coarsely. Fry all of this in olive oil on medium-high heat for two minutes or so. Your kitchen will smell good and you’ll soften those veggies up a little. Add in the ground beef and cook until browned, mixing periodically to prevent your veggies from burning. This will probably amount to roughly 10-15 minutes.


Now, mix your fresh herbs, dried spices, olives, and the can of tomatoes. I pulsed these 2 or 3 in the food processor to get them to a more manageable size but not to the point of liquifying them. After all, having some texture is nice! Then mix in the corn and beans, pulsing once or twice just to get everybody talking, but again, keep some texture.

You may have noticed that it seems like we’re using a pretty hefty portion of cilantro leaves (with some ground coriander, no less!). If you’ve worked with cilantro before, this might seem strange because cilantro has some really potent flavors. However, this is countered by the risk you run when you actually heat cilantro: losing a lot of that edgy flavor. The solution is actually quite simple though–if you use large amounts and cook it for a while, the flavor will mellow out (but not disppear!), dissolve, and integrate with your food. This is my preferred approach, because if you mix it fairly raw at the end of your cooking, it can really overpower and deter some people from your dish as cilantro might turn some people off.

Cornbread dough

In a separate bowl, prepare the cornbread batter according to the directions on the package. Don’t cook it or anything–just mix the required ingredients together. Real quick and easy.

Beef, veggies, salsa mix Tamale pie w/cornbread batter spread on top

Rub a little butter over the insides of a casserole dish (roughly 9×12-inch in size). Pour the beef & veggies, herby salsa, and your grated cheese into the dish, mixing them together. Then, spoon the cornbread mixture evenly on top of it. I like to swish the cornbread batter around a little and to poke at it here and there so that it extends somewhat deeper into the dish. I don’t want a floating cornbread island on a sea of beefy salsa, but if you really mix it all together, you’ll get a soggy mess at the end, which is also not appealing (been there!). So just mix them together a little bit.

Baked tamale pie

Finally, bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. When it is done, carve a square through the cornbread and spoon out on a plate. I like to top it off with a little more cheese, some hot sauce (my wife prefers I not make the entire batch quite as potent as I’d like ), a dollop of sour cream, and a piece of avocado (the lazy man’s guacamole 😉 ). Enjoy!

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One Response to “Tamale Pie”

  1. Kalyn Says:

    Some of my favorite ingredients are in this like poblano peppers and of course cilantro. Sounds wonderful.

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