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Tamale Pie

Sometimes you just want comfort food.  Good, warm, filling, comfort food.

This recipe arrived in my inbox from my weekly Saveur emails, and I was intrigued.  Not being American, I had never had this so-called “American classic” (or so Saveur dubbed it).  It looked incredibly easy – it’s just, after all, a bunch of cornmeal baked with meat sauce.  I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands, so I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to bake a casserole, but cooking the cornmeal and the meat sauce on the stovetop took a mere 20 minutes, and after popping it in the oven, 35 minutes more finished the meal.  35 minutes, might I add, that I used to brush my teeth, put on makeup, and kiss my husband when he came home before we needed to go out again to visit with friends.  I’m all about multi-tasking, and I love dishes that you can just stick in the oven and then forget about.  Especially dishes that are, with the addition of a salad, basically complete meals.

I don’t have kids, but if I did, I might put this dish into heavy rotation.  I mean, it’s so easy, it’s so filling, it’s tasty, and it’s so dang CHEAP!  I used a bit from my stock of ground beef from the HUGE package I got from Costco a while ago, added a can of tomatoes and some frozen “petite peas” and an onion, and with a few cents’ worth of cornmeal I had supper on the table!  It’s kind of Depression-era cooking, isn’t it?  Or should I say, Recession-era cooking?

I’ve also been reading a lot about gluten-free these days, especially since I have a couple friends who have recently switched to gluten-free diets and find that health issues they’d struggled with have suddenly vanished.  I think – I’m not sure, so correct me if I’m wrong – that this recipe doesn’t have any gluten in it.

Tamale Pie

4 tbsp butter
2 1/4 cups coarse cornmeal
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 cup green peas (original recipe called for 1 chopped bell pepper)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/4 pound lean ground beef
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

1.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Then cook the cornmeal.  Heat 4 cups of water with 2 tsp salt until boiling.  While water boils, sprinkle cornmeal in gradually, whisking vigorously all the while.  Turn heat down to low, and continue to cook until thick, about 8 minutes, stirring often.  When cornmeal is done, stir in 3 tbsp butter.

2.  While cornmeal is cooking, use remaining 1 tbsp of butter to butter a casserole dish or baking pan.  When cornmeal is ready, spread half of it out over the bottom of the pan.  Set the rest aside, covered to keep warm.

3.  Heat olive oil in a skillet, and cook the onion and garlic until slightly softened.  Add ground beef, chili powder, and cumin, and cook until ground beef is no longer pink.  Add the can of tomatoes and salt to taste.  When sauce is somewhat thickened and most of the liquid has been reduced, spread the meat sauce over the cornmeal in the dish.

4.  Spread the rest of the cornmeal over the meat.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until top of casserole is browned and the sauce is bubbling.

2 comments to Tamale Pie

  • This is certainly an American classic that I’ve had and loved. Although my mom never cooked it, I made it quite a bit in college and it was always delicious.

  • I bought all the ingredients to make tamales but when I read how long they have to be steamed I chickened out. This looks a lot more user friendly! Love it!