Mexican tamales are delicious, little bundles of masa (a type of treated cornmeal) topped with all kinds of different fillings from meat to vegetables to beans, then wrapped in corn husks and steamed. They are fairly labor intensive to make – each tamale is wrapped by hand and then steamed, and making authentic masa is also a labor of love to some degree.
But the combined flavors and textures of a cornmeal-based topping and the richness of a meaty Mexican-inspired casserole beneath is irresistible and highly achievable. This base is like a meaty chili with just a can of beans mixed in, and lots of veggies. The topping is basically the cornbread I made on the regular, but with a slightly higher cornmeal to all-purpose flour ratio for a crunchy tender layer.
My friend calls this Mexican Casserole. I found this out because I kept asking her to make the tamale pie she has made us once many years ago, and she apparently had no idea what I was talking about, but then when I described it in detail she said, “Oh, Mexican casserole!” Anyway, I still want her to make her version for me, but I got tired of waiting, so did some playing around until I cam up with this one. I’ve also hear it called Tamale Casserole, Mexican Cornbread Casserole, and Mexican Masa Casserole.
Optional Add-Ins to Tamale Pie:
Add sliced black olives if you like. Cilantro is another optional addition; I’d add ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro when you add the corn kernels. Maybe swap in a can of drained green chilies for the jalapeno, add some spinach or diced zucchini, or chopped fresh tomatoes.
Tamale Pie: A flavorful Mexican-inspired ground beef and vegetable casserole is nestled under a crunchy-tender cornbread topping.Tweet This
You can skip the layer of cheese between the meat mixture and the cornbread topping, but I think it makes this casserole a bit more special. I like to use sharp cheddar, but you could use a milder cheddar, or a Mexican blend, and I want to experiment with some cotija cheese mixed in there as well. Pepper Jack would also be great.
Cornbread Topping for Tamale Pie:
You can pretty much use any cornbread topping you like, including one mixed up quickly from a box. Spread the cornbread topping evenly over the cheese layer; it helps to dollop it on by rounded tablespoons, then use a knife or offset spatula to spread it out fairly evenly. I added some scallions to my cornbread topping, but you can leave them out if it’s just one too many things to deal with.
Freezing Tamale Pie
Once the pie is baked, cool it completely, then wrap it well with plastic wrap or foil, doubling the wrap to keep air out. You could also slide the wrapped casserole into a very large freezer proof zipper top plastic bag for good measure. Freeze for up to 3 months.
You can defrost the casserole in the fridge, then heat it at 350°F covered for 15 minutes, and uncovered for 15. Or you can bake it from frozen, at 350°F, covered for about 45 minutes, and uncovered for 15, until heated through. Make sure there is no plastic wrap going into the oven!
What to Serve with Tamale Pie:
You can serve it on its own as a one-dish meal for sure, but a salad with it is nice.
- Crunchy Mixed Green Salad
- Mexican Avocado, Corn, and Three Bean Salad
- Romaine Salad with Queso Fresco
- Sesame-Honey Quinoa and Carrot Salad with Sliced Avocado
Other Casserole Recipes:
- Hashbrown Chicken Vegetable Pot Pie Casserole
- Havarti and Gouda Turkey Lasagna
- Southwest Quinoa Casserole
- Southwest Quinoa Casserole
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- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork (or another pound ground beef)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 onion , chopped
- 1 bell pepper (red, green, yellow or orange) , seeded and chopped
- 1 jalapeno , seeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 can (28-ounce) diced or crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup less-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup corn kernels (fresh, canned or frozen)
- 1 can (12-ounce) kidney or black beans , drained and rinsed
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
For the Cornbread Topping
- 1 cup cornmeal
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup whole milk or buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 3 tablespoons chopped scallions (optional)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 2 ½-quart casserole or a 12-inch ovenproof pan or skillet with nonstick cooking spray.
- Heat a large skillet (if you are planning to bake the Tamale Pie in a skillet, use the one you are planning to bake it in) over medium heat. Add the beef and pork (if using) and sauté stirring to break up any lumps, until the meat is browned. Turn the meat into a colander to drain.
- Return the pan to the heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and bell pepper and sauté for 4 minutes, until the vegetables are crisp tender. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and stir until you can smell the garlic, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, broth, corn, beans and the drained cooked meat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.
- While the mixture simmers, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the milk, egg, scallions (if using) and butter together. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir just until they are barely combined.
- If you are baking the casserole in a casserole pan, transfer the meat mixture to that casserole. Otherwise leave the mixture in the ovenproof pan. Sprinkle the cheese over the meat mixture. Spread the cornbread topping evenly over the cheese; it helps to dollop it on by rounded tablespoons, then use a knife or offset spatula to spread it out fairly evenly.
- Bake the casserole until the top is lightly browned and set, about 25 minutes. Place the skillet on a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve the Tamale Pie hot or warm.
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