Simple Tamale Pie

Tamale pie is a US-born, casserole-like dish meant to mimic the flavors of a tamale—the cornmeal wrapper, the Mexican spices, the meat and veggie filling—without the more difficult steps involved in making one. This recipe, which we got from Jeff’s mom, takes the simplicity one step further with the use of packaged cornbread mix and tomato soup.

The first step is to make the “filling” for the tamale pie. To start, I chop 1 small onion or half a large onion and add it to a pan with some olive oil.

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I let the onions cook for just a few minutes, until they start to become translucent, then I add 1 lb. of ground turkey. Ground beef or ground chicken would work too! The turkey and onions cook (over medium to medium-high) until the meat is browned and the onions are soft.

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Once the meat is browned, I turn the heat to low and add 1 can of tomato soup, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of frozen corn, 1 small or half a large chopped bell pepper, 1 tbsp. of chili powder, 1 tsp. of salt and some pepper. I mix it up and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Apart from the soup and the water, all the other ingredients in this step can be changed depending on your taste—more chili powder or some chopped jalapenos would add more spice, for example.

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While the mixture is simmering, I preheat the oven to 400°F. The next step is to make the cornbread crust, I guess you could call it. For this, we usually buy Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix—it’s only 69 cents!—but you could use any corn muffin or cornbread mix you can find. Simply mix it up according to the instructions on the box.

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The final step is to put it all together! I use a 10″ by 10″ square ceramic baking dish for this recipe, but you could use a glass one or a rectangular one, whatever you have on hand. Though I wouldn’t go much larger than a 10″ by 10″, because then your filling layer will be too thin compared to the cornbread. Spray the dish with cooking spray, pour in the filling, then slowly pour the cornbread mix over the top (admittedly, I’m not very good at this part. Jeff usually does it). The filling will seem a little liquidy, but don’t worry—it’s going to absorbed by the cornbread as it bakes. The batter is also going to expand during baking, just like a muffin or quickbread would, so it doesn’t need to be spread all the way to the edges of the pan.

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Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cornbread layer comes out clean.

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Then all that’s left to do is scoop and serve. I like to mash the cornbread together with the filling (just like I do in my burrito bowls). The cornbread soaks up the tasty filling and provides some texture to each bite. This usually makes enough for Jeff and I to have for dinner and then for lunch the next day. It’s warm, homey and with just a hint of spice. Delicious!

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