Instant Tamale Pie

Gluten-Free, Latin, Main Courses, Meatless / Thursday, April 30th, 2009


I can resist impulse buys everywhere but the grocery.

I walk in with a list and a mission, but then I see the new granola mixes and ice cream flavors and coffee creamers, and I get that tingly kid-in-the-candy-store feeling. Usually I get my fix for less than $5, and I get to try something new. But I hate it when I buy something that just sits around, like the roll of cheddar-jalapeño polenta I picked up a few months ago and never gave another thought until I was rearranging the cabinets, and it came rolling out, like a tampon from a spilled purse. Useful but previously forgotten.

Then I remembered this recipe for Instant Tamale Pie.

You get the pie’s first layer by overlapping rounds of packaged polenta (which comes in a roll, so you can slice it like you would sausage patties) in a cast-iron skillet or baking dish. Then you empty a can of pintos into a bowl, mash them, and add corn, salsa, cumin and oregano, and spoon the mixture over the polenta. Sprinkle a little cilantro and cheese on top, and it’s ready for the oven.

I should have broken out that roll of polenta sooner, because this pie is delicious, filling and cheap. Way cheap. From now on, I’ll be customizing it according to what needs to be used up in my fridge or pantry (i.e. black beans, mushrooms, onions, black olives, chiles, fire-roasted tomatoes, peppers). Oh, and if you need a substitute for the packaged polenta, you can always make a cornmeal crust (for the top, bottom or both) or use some crushed corn chips and adjust your baking time to practically non-existent. Yes, it’ll be like eating nachos with a fork, but you’ve got to do your own thing.

I’m not here to judge. I’m here to buy more granola.

Instant Tamale Pie

Adapted from “Moosewood Restaurant New Classics”

Serves 4

  • 1 15-ounce can pinto beans with liquid
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces prepared polenta (preferably the cheddar-jalapeño variety)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or an 11-inch baking dish. Set aside.
  2. Empty the beans into a large bowl, and mash with a potato masher or fork. Add corn, salsa, cumin, oregano and salt. Mix thoroughly, and set aside.
  3. Slice the polenta roll into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (about the thickness of sausage patties). Arrange the rounds in the skillet, slightly overlapping. Spoon the bean mixture over the polenta, and sprinkle on the cilantro and cheese.
  4. Cover and bake for 15 minutes, and then uncover and bake for 15 minutes more, until the beans are bubbling and hot. For a crisp topping, place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.


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29 thoughts on “Instant Tamale Pie

  1. Yummy! That's just the kind of food I love to eat – cheesy, flavourful, fattening. All the good stuff!

    I'm a terrible grocery store slut. I go to them all and buy all kinds of stuff I shouldn't just cause it's delicious or interesting. Otherwise, I'm a frugal shopper but when it comes to groceries – not so much.

    1. It IS grocery store slutiness! I have such a hard time saying no to all of the beautiful breads and interesting juices and new Cascadian Farms cereals. Oh, well. At least we're (fairly) cheap addicts. If it were Manolo's, we'd be in big trouble.

    1. As soon as I find a stamp that will stick to it …

      HAVING to cook everything you find is a good idea. Maybe I'll find something to do with my tube of pesto.

  2. "it came rolling out, like a tampon from a spilled purse. Useful but previously forgotten".

    -This is why I read you, you know. That and some damn good looking faux tamales.

    1. Thanks! My mom will be so totally proud.

      Loooove tamales. And these don't require any of that … what's the word … oh, yeah, EFFORT.

  3. Sounds delicious! I'm like you…I tell myself to stick to my list and then I end up buying new food treats. Trader Joe's is the worst for this.

    1. Trader Joe's is a killer. Ours is fairly new, so every time I walk in there, it seems all shiny and sparkly. Cilantro dressing! Multigrain crackers!

  4. Tamales are my most favorite Mexican dish EVAR so thank you for this alternative because I'm not brave enough to make my own. Thankfully Trader Joe's sells some frozen ones that are pretty darn spankin tasty and make for a quick meal.

  5. Wow, this looks so good… and so simple. When traveling, my favorite stops are not the national parks… it's the grocery stores in all the cities we pass through! LOL

    1. I know EXACTLY what you mean. We're going on vacation in a few weeks, and I'm already wondering what we're going to eat and what will be in the stores. Because I HAVE to know. I might be missing something!

  6. This is great! I am moving across the country in a few months and looking for recipes to use up my pantry. This will knock a few things off the list! It looks super yummy too. Perfect comfort food.

  7. Great! I'm a huge Moosewood cookbook fan, and this recipe has been slyly calling my name for a few months. I might have to give in and do it.

  8. Oh my gah, this sounds incredible! I'm loving the tampon metahpor. Great one. I wish I had this polenta in my fridge; I would be so happy for it to roll out unexpectedly. I've got to get my hands on some, so I too can have this delicious pie!

  9. When I first glanced at the title, I thought it said "PANTY raid." And, I thought, "ooh, what is this girl up to now?" Then I re-read the title and the recipe, and will add this to my "to try" list, since I LOVE tamale pie!

  10. This is so perfect!!!!!!!!!! I'm making it with cooked grits (don't yell, it's the same as polenta and we all know it) and secretly high fiving myself as everyone around me turns to putty in my hands as they eat it. And it's all thanks to you :)

  11. I've made this recipe multiple times and I believe it's better if you bake it for about 45 minutes in total. I didn't cover it at all and it worked out well. Also, I like spicy food, I added some crushed dried chilies to the salsa/bean mixture for a punch. Awesome!

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