Monday, April 24, 2017

A Tamale Pie My Mother Would Recognize

Before Blue Apron and Purple Carrot, there was Hamburger Helper and Swanson's frozen dinners. Before that, in the days of yore when I was growing up, when my father didn't have time to hunt down a brontosaurus, my mother made do with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and an arsenal of Lipton's dehydrated products. Spanish rice, tuna casserole and pot roast were her go-to dinners, egged on by the women's magazines of the day like the Ladies Home Journal that—shades of Betty Draper—gave busy homemakers tips on "quick dinners your family will love!"

Tamale pie was one of those dinner solutions, though in the days when most Americans considered spaghetti sauce "spicy food," its call for the addition of chili powder was a bridge too far for many. But my dad loved him some zing, so my mom would occasionally pep up her dinner rotation with chili powder-inflected goulash or tacos with hot sauce.

I'd been looking for a tamale pie recipe for those times when I'm feeling a bit of nostalgia for the casserole dinners of my childhood, and my friend Lizzy shared one recently that brought back a flood of cornmeal-scented, cheesy memories. Updated with a few adaptations using local cornmeal and grassfed beef, locally grown and roasted tomatoes and some tangy cheddar from Face Rock Creamery in Bandon, it fit the bill perfectly. I hope it will for you, too!

Tamale Pie

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion
2 poblano peppers, chopped in 1/4” dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground meat (beef, chicken or turkey)
2 c. roasted tomatoes
2 c. corn kernels
1/2 c. chicken stock
2 tsp. ancho chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. grated cheddar or jack cheese
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. (If using cast iron skillet, you can bake the casserole in it, as well.) When it shimmers, add ground meat and sauté until the meat is browned. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and pepper and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chile powder and cumin and stir briefly, then add tomatoes, corn kernels and broth. Bring to a simmer. Salt to taste.

While meat mixture simmers, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Slowly add cornmeal, stirring vigorously to prevent lumping. (Mixture will be quite thick.) Add 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Stir cornmeal mixture into other ingredients. Put mixture into casserole (if you are using a cast iron skillet, you can bake the casserole in this). Sprinkle cheese over the top and bake about 30 minutes.

Here's another version of tamale pie with a cornbread topping.

No comments: