As you surf through recipes online you find that a tamale pie can be made in all kinds of ways. The topping for tamale pies can be made with part flour and with milk or buttermilk. The pie filling can have a can of tomatoes, stuffed olives instead of black, and every kind of pepper, mild, medium and very hot. They are made with turkey, beef and pork and the amount of chili powder varies depending on how much heat people think makes the dish right for them. The cornmeal topping can also be doubled, spreading half of it on the bottom of the casserole, then the meat mixture and then the remaining half spread on the top.
After some experimenting I decided on the thicker texture for the topping, like my grandmother made, rather than a cornbread type topping. I made the mistake of using a corn meal that was too coarsely ground and it didn’t get cooked.
Using fresh corn instead of canned or frozen is much better.
A note on olives: The classic recipes for tamale pie, the ones our grandmother’s and great grandmother’s made, called for 1 small can of sliced black olives. Most sliced black olives, like Safeway’s Signature Ripe Sliced Olives, have a very mild flavor and are jet black and because they have been soaked in a lye solution, then water to remove the lye, then a brine. As they go through the curing process, they are oxygenated which turns them the jet black color, a discovery made in the 1800’s. To stabilize the color, ferrous gluconate is added when they are canned. If you’re avoiding chemicals, you may want to leave sliced olives out of your recipe. Whole Foods 365 brand sliced black olives which are naturally dark brown in color are mild compared to other olives but still have a very distinct flavor which is great for pizza but not the right flavor for tamale pie.
Tamale Pie With Fresh Corn and Buttery Cornmeal Topping
- 1 pound ground beef
- 3/4 cup onion, cut small
- 1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced small
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Spice Islands Chili Powder or Pensey’s Chili Con Carne and any of Pensey’s other chili powders
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup fresh corn
- 1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup picante/salsa sauce
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups grated yellow sharp cheddar cheese, divided (Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Cheddar is good)
- 1 small can sliced back olives with ferrous gluconate. (opt.) (See note above.)
Brown meat, breaking into small pieces, and set aside. Saute the onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin and cook 1 minute. Add cooked meat, salt, pepper, olives, corn and tomato sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup cheese. Spoon into a 8 x 8 or other small casserole.
- 3/4 cup fine grain cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons butter
Mix cornmeal, salt, and cold water together in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thick. Remove form heat and stir in butter. Spread topping on meat filling and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes. Top with sour cream and fresh cilantro.
Serve with Roasted Zucchini and Sweet Peppers (recipe below).
Roasted Zucchini and Sweet Peppers
- 2 medium zucchini (or any combination of summer squash)
- 1 each, red, orange and yellow sweet peppers
- 1 medium onion
- 3 tablespoons avocado oil
- salt and pepper
Cut the zucchini diagonally into 1/3″ slices and then cut the slices in thirds. Slice onions in thin wedges. Core the peppers, cut in half, remove the seeds and membranes. Slice the peppers in 1/3″ slices and cut the longer slices in half. For 9 cups of vegetables, toss with 3 tablespoons of avocado oil, massaging the oil into each of the pieces. Spread the vegetables on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in a 400° oven for 45 minutes, stirring half way through.