Tamale Pie

top layer:
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup shredded cheddar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg

meat mixture:
1 lb ground chicken
1/4 cup canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, pureed
20 oz canned diced tomatoes with green chile, drained*
15 oz kidney beans, drained
1/4 cup spicy Sicilian-style olives (oil packed)**
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon chile powder

Preheat oven to 400. Spray or grease a 8×8 baking dish.
For the cornbread layer: In a medium bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat in the egg, buttermilk and oil until well combined. Set aside.
For the meat mixture:
In a large skillet, heat the oil in the pan, then saute onion, garlic until fragrant. Add chicken, cayenne and chipotle pepper powder, chile powder and sauté until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in beans, tomatoes with green chiles, olives, and peppers and the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Cook about 5 minutes or until the entire mixture is cooked though and the majority of the liquid has evaporated. Spread evenly into the prepared dish. The mixture should fill the majority of the pan, but don’t worry, the batter will fit. Spoon the batter evenly over the chicken mixture to cover completely. Smooth with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Slice into squares and serve.

*Or 18 oz canned diced tomatoes and 4 oz canned chopped green chiles.
**available in well stocked olive bars and delis

Yield: approx. 6-8 servings

My thoughts:

Tamale pie is a bit of a misnomer, it doesn’t really taste like tamales beyond the most basic corn-meat level but is a dish all of its own. Tamale pie appears to date back to at least 1905 when it appeared in this Los Angeles Times cookbook. During WWI a vegetarian version was popular (probably due to wartime rationing) then tamale pie had a resurgence of popularity during WWII when meat rationing was again in effect as tamale pie can serve a whole family with a minimal amount of relatively cheap meat. For this recipe, I modernized it a bit, I swapped out ground beef for flavor absorbing ground chicken, added chipotle peppers for a smoky spicy flavor and upped the amount of tomatoes. Some recipes call for corn in the meat mixture, but corn isn’t in season so I left it out. I don’t think it would be entirely out of place and might even make this dish more of a complete meal.


  1. Wow, that sounds delicious.

  2. This is so versatile you can even make it with Ives veggie ground for a vegetarian tamale pie.

    p.s. I read your blog all the time-I’ve tried out some of your recipes too i.e. “World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” Yum!- keep up the great work!

  3. My own foray into the odd thing that is ‘tamale pie’ is so different than yours! spicedish.typepad.com/spice_dish/2007/11/viva-la-frito.html

    Mine is a 1960’s version and not nearly as attractive as yours. Makes me want to give it a second whack!


  4. well i was going to ask if this could be made veg, but then i kept reading and found that it was veg at one time and also the other commenter. so i would just substitute the gr. chicken for faux meat? great! i will trying this this weekend. thanks for the great recipes
    dont suppose you have a recipe for fake jello with agar agar???

  5. How funny, I just made this (slightly different recipe, though) Sunday night. It was tasty that night, but didn’t warm up so well for lunch the next day.

  6. This looks great, but with most recipes that call for a cornbread type topping, I can’t make it with buttermilk and cheddar (wife can’t have bovine dairy.) I can use a sheep or goat milk cheese, but soy milk just doesn’t replace cow milk in recipes like this.

    Any thoughts?

  7. Re: food substitutions. All I can do is suggest that you substitute whatever you normally use for the ingredients you don’t want/can’t eat. I do not have the resources to test each recipe in every configuration and do not cook with meat substitutes or soy milk so I really have no idea how they would work in this recipe.

  8. I swapped out the chicken for ground venison and added a cup of corn frozen from the garden. I didn’t have the olives, so I just used regular black olives. Otherwise the same recipe. It was wonderful!

  9. Wow–this looks amazing. Thanks so much for sharing it. I am going to add it to my menu for next week!

  10. why doesnt soy milk work in a recipe like this?? i use fake milk in all my recipes and have had no problems. i do use almond milk right now, and have used oat milk too.

  11. Okay let me clarify – it’s not the same. Not to mention that I am allergic to soy milk AND almonds – maybe hemp milk or rice milk would work. I hear hemp milk is all the rage these days.

    I just know that when a baking recipe, like cornbread for example, calls for milk, it just doesn’t come out the same with a substitute.

  12. Oh, Rachel! I woke up craving cornbread this morning and this is the perfect thing for my craving–it satisfies that desire and then some! I am bookmarking this one. A nice find for a cold winter week (bummer).