Tamale Pie

Tamale Pie is one of those quintessential American pot-luck casserole dishes. It was probably invented by someone who had a taste of a real tamale and tried to recreate the flavor in a cornbread casserole. I always loved tamale pie as a kid, fortunately it was often served in our school cafeteria. The tamale pie I remember was made with ground beef, with green chile, olives, whole corn, and topped with cornbread, though one could just as easily used pulled pork or a more traditional tamale stuffing for the casserole. Tamale pie is not remotely Mexican and only somewhat resembles the flavor of real tamales. But it does taste great, is budget friendly, and easily feeds a lot of people.

Tamale Pie Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons chile powder (more or less to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin (more or less to taste)
  • 1 (14 1/2 ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 (4-ounce) can green Anaheim chiles, drained, chopped
  • 1 (16 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 (4 ounce) can sliced ripe olives
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-pound of prepared cornbread mix (such as Jiffy or Bob's Red Mill).
  • Whatever is needed according to cornbread mix instructions to make the cornbread batter (water, egg, oil, milk)

Method

1 Preheat oven to 375°F.

2 Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium high. Add the ground beef, onion, and bell pepper. Add salt, chile powder, and cumin. Cook, stirring infrequently, until the ground beef has browned on all sides. Remove from heat. Drain excess fat if necessary (if you are using lean beef, there shouldn't be excess).

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3 Mix in fire-roasted tomatoes, Anaheim chiles, corn, olives, raisins, cheese, and water. Adjust seasoning. Add more chile powder and cumin if desired. Rub a little olive oil over the insides of a 9x12-inch casserole dish (or use a nonstick cooking spray). Spoon filling into the casserole dish.

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4 In a large bowl, prepare the cornbread batter according to the directions on the package. Pour the cornbread batter over the top of the filling in the casserole.

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5 Bake for 40 minutes, until the top is browned.

Serves 6-8.

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37 Comments

  1. Jerry

    The first time I had tamale pie was in a navy mess hall. I was hooked. Unfortunately for me, so was the cook, and we ended up eating so much of it that I’ve never made it myself.

    The cornbread over the top is wonderful. It’s also a great way to dress up some inexpensive canned chili if you’re in a pinch for a “different” side dish.

  2. Kyleen

    Growing up my mom made Tamale Casserole with canned (yes, I know, the horrors!) tamales. She’d layer the tamales in a casserole dish, pour Wolf Brand chili across the top (NO BEANS, thank you!), sprinkle on a layer of slightly crushed Fritos and then cover that with shredded cheddar. Heated through in the oven, it was really easy and actually quite tasty. Nothing like a REAL tamale dinner, but as you said, more for budget-friendly, quick and filling dinners.

  3. Elise

    Hi Jerry – Hey, that would be easy and good too, chili with cornbread baked right over it.

    Hi Jean – This tamale pie recipe is quite flexible. Just include the ingredients you like and keep out the ones you don’t. You absolutely don’t need raisins; we like them so they are in for our version.

    Hi Kyleen – I have seen recipes for tamale pie calling for fritos. I guess it isn’t much of a stretch. The classic tuna casserole has a bunch of potato chips in it. I’ll have my tamale pie without the corn chips myself, but to each her own.

  4. Danny DeCiryan

    Thanks Elise for continuing to provide lots of easy, taste tempting ideas; for those of us that love down home cooking – but don’t have lots of time to cook. Keep up the excellent work. I will make the Tamale Pie tonight!

  5. paula

    I love the addition of the raisins. Probably the best Mexican (or was it Tex-Mex?) meal I’ve had was in a restaurant on the River Walk in San Antonio – Chile Rellenos with raisins in the filling. I love Picadillo with raisins too.

  6. Rachelle

    I was excited about this recipe b/c I love tamales. However, I was disappointed to see that its made with cornbread mix. I was thinking…. maybe there’s a way to make the actual tamale masa, and put that over the top? Then it could be covered in foil while it bakes so that it would steam similar to actual tamales… Just a thought.

  7. Tom in Boston

    Wow! Your blog is so outstanding. This is a GREAT idea…I just never got the corn husk thing, and this blows it away for me. Thanks for the recipe!

  8. Elise

    Hi Rachelle – I love real tamales too! I think tamale pie is the option for people who don’t have easy access to masa or corn husks. Wherever they sell masa, they’ll be selling corn husks too.

    Hi Ana – Polenta is a great idea, I’ve seen that used in tamale pie recipes as well.

  9. Rachelle

    I thought tamale pie was for people who love tamales but don’t want to fuss with the corn husks and steaming (I fall into this catagory)!

  10. Elise

    Hi Rachelle – You know, it would probably be great with masa. Worth a try if you have some. I would do as you suggest, cover the casserole with foil and let it “steam” in the oven. If you try this please let us know how it turns out.

  11. Kim

    I guess this looks good for Americans, but this doesn’t sound much like tamales. My grandmother and parents make amazing tamales and other Mexican dishes so maybe I’m just spoiled when it comes to Mexican food….

  12. Teresa

    I made this recipe tonight. It’s the first one I’ve tried from your blog, even though I’ve been reading it for a little while. Love the pictures and great, simple recipes. I actually split this into three casseroles and froze two of them because I am eight months pregnant and thought it would be good to have some freezer meals for after the baby comes. Hopefully they freeze okay.

    My husband is a hunter and we have lots of ground elk. I used it in this recipe and it was absolutely delicious — one of the best dishes I’ve made with the elk. We aren’t huge fans of green bell peppers, so I used half a red one and half a yellow one. Used Jiffy cornbread mix. I definitely think the olives and raisins really add a good flavor. Yum! It was GREAT!

    Thank you so much!

  13. Jeanna

    Hot Tamale Pie is one of the few dishes in my repertoire, this looks like something similar I could handle.
    Your photos are very helpful.

  14. Lou

    A different take on Tamale Pie, an Arizona favorite.
    Green Corn Tamale Casserole
    Serves 6-8
    Ingredients:
    • 1 pkg. Corn bread Mix (Jiffy, Kurtz etc. –or make your own
    • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
    • 1/3 cup butter, melted or softened
    • 1 can (15 oz.) white corn, drained
    • 1 can (15 oz.) creamed corn
    • 1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilies
    • 1 cup sour cream
    • 1 cup shredded cheese (the Mexican style mix if available – otherwise jack and cheddar mix)
    Optional additions:
    • fresh cilantro
    • sliced olives
    • extra cheddar cheese (or Mex mix) on top
    • chopped green onion for garnish

    Combine all the ingredients except the extra cheese and the green onions. Place in a buttered casserole, approximately 7 x 11, and bake for about one hour at 350°. Sprinkle on the extra cheese during the last 15 or 10 minutes of bake time.

  15. Jennifer

    My mom also makes a version similar to this — but the cheese (2c) is a layer between the beef and cornbread. She also adds a can of creamed corn and a can of drained regular corn to the cornbread mixture – and takes it out of the oven before it browns. The cornbread top then takes a more moist cakelike texture, with cheese integrated into the bottom of it…which is the main reason I have always loved that dish! Her instructions to me upon handing the recipe over was: Experiment with this dish – it can easily be manipulated based on what you have onhand! (I will likely try sneaking raisins in one half of it at some point too…interesting idea!) Thank you!

  16. Carrie

    I just made this over the weekend, and it was AMAZING! Thank you so much for this recipe! I had to make some substitutions like regular canned tomatoes+liquid smoke since I couldn’t find fire roasted ones, and jalepenos instead of annnaheim peppers. Oh and I doubled up on the spices (cause we like stuff that way). But it’s really flexible, and everything came out great. Especially the raisins. Not what I would have thought of, but they really worked by adding a touch of sweetness.

    Thanks again!

  17. Ann

    Ann from Hands-Off Cooking here: In the recipe in my book, I was inspired by nacatamales, which are Nicaraguan tamales made with dried fruit, olives, and roasted peppers. I used raisins in my pie, although some nacatamales are spiked with prunes. It adds a nice sweet balance to the savory and vinegary tastes of the other ingredients.

  18. beth

    Yet another wonderful recipe – you are an inspiration, and thanks for sharing your recipes. Hubby and I had this the other night and it was an easy, tasty and filling recipe. This one, I think, will go in the regular rotation. It seems like it will take easily to variations, which is always good. ;) No raisins, used ground chicken, subbed diced tomatoes with jalepeno in place of fire roasted tomatoes, and topped with a little sour cream. The corn bread we had on hand was Trader Joe’s blue corn with jalepeno – with corn in the mix.

  19. C

    Hi – The recipe looks great, and thanks, as always, for the wonderful site. I have a question for Lou: do you make the corn bread batter and mix it in, or do you just throw the mix in with those ingredients? I’d like to try Elise’s AND Lou’s recipes!

  20. Melissa

    I have made this dish twice. The first just as you instructed and then again with some additions to make it fit my family. I could not find fire roasted tomatoes but I could find fire roasted chilies. So I got that and just diced tomatoes. I also added a can of black beans and some hot sauce. I also had to increase the Chili Powder and Cumin as we like things spicy! I used three packages of the Jiffy corn bread mix and that worked great in my 13in by 9in pan. What a great and easy meal. I had people over last night for our weekly get together and everyone raved about it. I had to print up the recipe for everyone. Thank you for such a great site!

  21. Erin

    This recipe was wonderful. I actually used leftover taco meat, which made this a quick and easy dinner.

    Thanks!

  22. Monica

    I made this recipe this morning for the moms in my son’s playgroup. It was wonderful! I didn’t have any raisins on hand (I don’t like them), so I added one teaspoon of honey to the hamburger mixture and it was great. I also pumped up the chili powder and cumin amounts to about 2 tablespoons each, which I would recommend if you like spicy foods. I will definitely make this tamale pie again.

  23. merd

    Tried a variation of this last night for a get together for cinco de Mayo. for my 1.5lbs of meat, I used a combo of beef and chorizo. Nice and spicy base. I used hominy instead of corn which was good but I think maybe was bit much with the cornbread topping… and added 1/2 can of pintos (just a sprinkling, not full coverage) over top of meat mixture which I used a one large fresh jalapeno in instead of the aneheims. I layered monterey jack just before the cornbread topping.

    This is very hearty and the 4 guys that had been watching the boxing match and drinking the most all chowed it down with some fresh salsa and tobasco. Funny thing is at 1 am as the last bit was sitting there and we were devouring all of the leftovers, I cut off a chunk and ate it unheated… and I was told: “hey you should reheat that… It’s really good warm”… so knowing it satisfied my Mexican acquaintance who works at the store as a meatcutter… after an evening of drinking… was very complimentary.

  24. marilyn Roosevelt

    Hi Elise, or anyone reading this. I wondered if you could help me. I live in South Africa and have a lot of English friends who love traditional cottage pie (as you know, minced meat with mash potato on top). I want to introduce them to knew flavors (as I was raised in California) and made this Tamale Pie recipe because it has mince and a topping (like cottage pie). I found the cornbread recipe a bit dry though, even with a can of creamed corn. Do you think this would be good with a Corn Souffle on top or would that be too gooey? I just thought the consitancy of Corn souffle would be similar to Mash potatoe and might be good. If so, do you have a Corn Souffle recipe?

    Thank you for a fabulous site all the way from Cape Town!!
    Marilyn

  25. Elise

    Hi Marilyn – tamale pie is a pretty flexible recipe, open to lots of interpretation. If it is coming out dry, you may want to add a bit more liquid to the batter or filling.

  26. Marie

    For the fire roasted tomotoes – should they be diced or whole?

  27. Catherine

    This is the first recipe I’ve tried from this site, it turned out great! I pretty much followed the recipe verbatim, but have thought about two things I’ll try on the next go around. I’m going to try using the fire roasted corn from Trader Joe’s freezer section in place of the canned corn, and I’m going to try mixing some shredded cheese into the cornbread batter. I don’t know if the cheese thing will work?

    Anyway, thank you so much for your wonderful site and especially for all of the beautiful photos, those really help novices like me!

  28. Sharee

    I made this the other night as my first recipe from this site. I am very impressed and will definately make again. Instead of 1 1/2 lbs of gr. beef, I only had 1 lb, so I also pulled my last link of hot italian sausage out of the freezer and used it. Also, I was out of raisins so didn’t use them..I don’t think I will next time either..I thought the jiffy cornbread on top was plenty sweet. Also, I didn’t have a can of corn and I forgot to use the frozen that I had intended. Again, next time I don’t think I will use corn anyway as I thought the corn bread was corny enough. It wasn’t quite spicy enough for my taste, so next time I will do something more to satisfy my hot-tooth, as it were… Good stuff !

  29. Jamie AZ

    We made this for Christmas Eve dinner and everyone loved it! I did skip the olives and raisins as I don’t care for them and substituted a can of pintos instead, otherwise we followed the rest of the recipe as written. Ended up about doubling the seasonings in the “adjust seasonings” stage. My 5 year old actually cleaned his plate, which says A LOT! He even asked for it as leftovers for dinner Christmas night. Thanks for the great recipe, Elise!

  30. Dianna

    Elise, this has become a family favorite! I just took it to a friend last night who is sick and her family loved it too. I love your entries and recipes, especially since I’m in Sacramento as well. Thanks (to you AND your dad!) for all the great recipes!

  31. Stesha

    Very simple. Very good. Use the ingredients you have. Substitute just about anything with ingredients you prefer.

  32. HollyDolly

    My mom used to make tamale pie years ago.However it was from a packaged mix made by McCormick or lawry’s who don’t make it any more.
    This recipe isn’t that hard to make, and the cornbread makes an easy topping. The mix my mom used had a corn topping I think you mixed with water, and it resembled a corn meal mush.
    The mexicans have a dish called picadillo.It is ground meat,spices etc.and also has raisins and olives in it, so this is what the filling resembles, but you can leave the raisins out if you wish.
    You can adjust the seasonings in this recipe to your likeing.As a single person you can also do this, and mix it up, and place it in small disposable alumninum pans,and freeze it.I plan to add some Green Giant southwestern corn,which has the corn peppers and black beans with it.
    A good dish for a lot of guests, or for a potluck party at work.

  33. Andrea

    I didn’t know you guys in the States also had this! My mother used to make something similar but using bits of dough from a tortilleria and mixing it with her own dough of fresh grinded corn. In my family we call it tamal de cazuela and as far as I know it is Mexican, though we don’t use the cheddar :)
    I am curious to try this recipe, thanks!

  34. Ann

    I actually doubled the recipe right off the bat – one to a potluck and one for home. It was a hit! I was a little skeptical about the raisins, but they add a nice sweet balance to the spicy (which I amped up slightly). Thanks again Elise – spot on!

  35. Alana

    Mix the cheese with the meat? Did I read that correctly? I’ve never made it before and I’m thinking of trying it tonight. I just thought that its strange that the cheese would be mixed with the meat and not the cornbread. will put the cheese in both and see how it turns out.

  36. Laurie

    Thank you, thank you for this terrific recipe. I have made it twice now, in as many weeks. The leftovers are great. I do leave out the raisins and bump up the spices just a bit.

  37. Lauren

    Delicious!! Feeds a lot too, perfect for a big family. Before serving added few fritos to the bottom of the bowl and hot sauce w/ sour cream on top.

    Loved the raisins, next time I’m adding more :)

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