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, a jar of salsa or 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, spending 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. There is the option of Whole Foods 365 brand sliced black olives which are naturally dark brown in color and they 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.
This casserole is nice kept simple with just a salad or some cut up tomatoes. It’s also good served with Spanish Rice (below).
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
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup fresh corn
- 1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 cups grated Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 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 20 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup cheese. Spoon into a 8 x 8 pyrex 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. Serve with sour cream and fresh cilantro.
Spanish Brown Rice
- 3/4 cup long grain brown rice
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 1/2 fresh jalapeño, diced
- 3 green onions
- 1 small garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse rice and dry on paper towels. Spread on a cookie, set in the oven and turn oven off. Let dry in oven for 30 minutes. Cut the white part only of the green onions and put with the chopped jalapeño and garlic. Chop green onion tops and set in a dish in the refrigerator. Melt butter in a saucepan with tight fitting lid on medium heat. Add rice and stir to coat all the kernels (this will keep the rice kernels from sticking to each other.) Add the green onion whites, jalapeño and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes. Add the cumin, paprika and salt and sauté 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth and tomato paste. Stir until blended. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 35 minutes. Do not disturb lid. Remove from heat, keeping tightly covered and lest rest for 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork. Sprinkle with reserved green tops.