Texan Tamale Pie–containing no tamales, but traditional

I wanted to make a casserole-type dish that has been a big hit in our family for years. My mother had not made it since the 1970s (blaming my dad’s ultimate early death on this and other “bad” foods she used to feed him–she made this the evening before his death the next morning), but I had given it several tries over the years, feeling that other factors were at play in that particular event. I think this time I actually hit on the sekrit formula.

This tamale pie recipe is made with ground beef, onion, peppers, tomatoes, corn, olives, and cheese, and has a cornmeal and cheese crust. It’s kind of like a Tex-Mex Shepherd’s Pie. I don’t know why they call it a “tamale” pie, as there are no tamales in it and it really isn’t that much like tamales . . . but that’s what we call it. Ours turned out very husband-pleasing!

Ingredients:
• 1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef (80/20 or better is good–NO TURKEY)
• 1 cup chopped onion (optional)
• 1 large green bell pepper, diced (optional)
• 1 large can (15 ounces) tomato sauce or 1 10-oz can Campbell’s condensed tomato soup
•1 large can (28 ounces) or two 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes–I use the Del Monte diced version with green peppers and onions already in the mix, meaning I don’t have to do the onion/pepper above
•1 can (16 ounces) whole kernel Fiesta Corn or MexiCorn, drained
•1 small can (4 ounces) sliced ripe olives
•1 pkg taco seasoning (I use McCormick’s regular, with no MSG)
•1 cup Pace chunky salsa, mild or regular
•1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
•1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
•1 egg
•1 cup cold milk or powdered milk (1/3 c powder in 7/8 cup water)
•1/2 cup grated Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, for topping (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400F (you’ll reduce the temp to 375 once it’s in the oven.)

Brown ground beef with sauteed onions and green pepper (if using them); drain well. You can rinse the meat in a colander in the sink to reduce the amount of fat. And you can even do this the night before and put the hamburger meat into a plastic bag and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the casserole.

When you’re ready, spread the meat in a 10×13 glass Pyrex casserole dish. Open the cans of tomatoes and mix them in using spoons or your hands, depending on who’s watching and how clean/squeamish you are. Mix in one by one the olives, salsa, corn, and 1 c grated cheese. Open the can of soup and dump it into a separate bowl; mix the taco seasoning packet into the soup and stir well before pouring the soup over the casserole and combining well. Some people like a spicier mixture, and they add garlic powder or more chili powder or black pepper . . . but let’s see how you like it this way the first time around.

Now you’ll make the topping in a separate work bowl. Dump in the Jiffy mix and pour in the milk; break the egg and add that. Stir the batter. Batter will be lumpy. I usually let the mixed batter rest for up to three minutes, then stir it some more (this supposedly gives it a higher and crustier rise). Some people add a dash of chili powder to this mixture, but–again–let’s see how you like it this way first.

Plop the cornmeal mush by spoonfuls over the top of the meat mixture until it’s covered. You can do the “frosting swirl” a bit with the back of a spoon so it’s evenly covered. Don’t worry too much about how thin it looks, as it will rise.

Bake at 375° for 45 minutes. Take it out of the oven and sprinkle 1/2 cup grated cheese sparsely over the top crust immediately so it’ll melt. (People tell you to sprinkle the cheese while the thing is still in the oven, but this is asking for burned hands and a mess, and it’ll melt fine as long as you only do a sprinkle, very thin, so why not do it my way?)

Serves 8. Depending on how piggish your diners are.

This is good with a shredded-lettuce salad with diced fresh tomatoes and Catalina dressing–you can add Fritos to the salad if you feel really bulletproof as far as cholesterol and carbs and so forth–and perhaps some tortilla chips or buttered tortillas. I wouldn’t expect them to eat anything else for several hours after that, so don’t worry about dessert.

Here’s what it looks like with a thicker cornmeal crust:

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Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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