tamale pie, or midwest meets southwest

tamale pieMaking regular food into a casserole is something I think of as the awsomeness of the midwest.  Since I’m in the midwest, and I’m overwhelmed by the idea of making real tamales, I thought I would give this recipe for tamale pie (from the Moosewood Restaurant’s Low-Fat Favorites) a try. I hear the origins of tamale pie are in California or somewhere else out west during WWI, when people were trying to stretch out their use of meat to make it into more food. While I feel like it kind of belongs in one of those cookbooks that pokes fun at the food of the 50’s in America, like aspic and bizarre combinations of molded jello, and it has far too many ingredients compared to the things I usually like to make, I must admit, I really liked it.

Ingredients:

Vegetable-bean mixture:
2 tsp olive oil
1 cp chopped onions
1 tb ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1-2 tb water
1 cp peeled, diced carrots
1 cp diced bell peppers
1 cp diced zucchini
1 small fresh green chile, minced (we used 2 cans of Hatch green chiles that we hoard after leaving NM)
2 cps canned crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cooked/canned pinto, kidney, or black beans
salt and pepper to taste
4 oz grated cheddar, optional

Cornmeal topping:
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tb all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 eggs/egg whites/equivalent in egg replacer, beaten
1/2 cp buttermilk (you can make it vegan by stirring 1 tb vinegar into a cup of soy milk and letting it sit for 10 minutes – you can do this with regular milk, too – it makes it curdle a little bit, but makes a good substitution in cooking)
2 tsp vegetable oil

Garnish:
minced scallions
chopped fresh cilantro
optional sour cream or plain yogurt

1. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and garlic, cover, and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes (if you want to ignore the “low fat” in the title, just use more oil and really saute the onions and garlic without covering). Add the spices and a bit of water to prevent sticking, and the carrots, cover, and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the bell peppers, zucchini, and chile, cover, and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and beans, cover, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Lightly oil a 2-quart casserole dish with vegetable oil. Spread the vegetable-bean mixture in the bottom of the dish. If you are using the cheese, sprinkle it over the top. Set aside.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Gently mix them together, stirring just until mixed. Pour the batter directly on top of the veg-bean mixture, spreading lightly with a spatula. It will look rather thin.
5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the topping comes out clean.
6. Garnish with scallions, cilantro, and optional sour cream/yogurt.

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