I like tamale pie. I generally make it with ground meat, but decided to make a meatless version that received high marks on Epicurious. I thought tamale pie was pretty well known, but the check-out clerk at the grocery store was puzzled when told I was making it for dinner. "How do you do that?" She asked me, looking confused. So, I explained it and she looked relieved. "I couldn't figure out why you would put tamales in a pie," she told me. She's right, tamale pie is really a casserole, with a cornmeal layer on the bottom and the top. Instead of meat, this recipe uses a mixture of corn, tomatoes, cheese, black beans, and poblanos. It has oregano, cumin, and cilantro, which is my favorite herb. So, I decided to feature it for Weekend Herb Blogging, the fabulous event created by the lovely Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen. This week WHB is being hosted by the talented Scott at Real Epicurean. Make sure to check his site this weekend, when he may have the Roundup of herby recipes from bloggers around the world.
Last year, cilantro was chosen favorite herb by WHB readers. Not everyone likes it, often due to a genetic trait that makes it taste like soap. I don't have this affliction, but if you do, use another herb in place of the cilantro, like parsely.
The recipe calls for poblano peppers, which were not available at my grocery store. I could have used bell peppers, but I prefer poblanos. So, I bought a can of fire roasted poblanos and used that instead. Fresh roasted are better, but the canned variety tasted good, and was certainly easier to use. I also used frozen corn, but fresh would have been wonderful.
This was a cursed effort. Right off the bat, I broke my food processor as I was grating cheese. That sent me rummaging through my cabinets, trying to find the hand grater. Later, I dropped cornmeal batter all over my cooktop burners and didn't notice until it hardened into tenaciously hard lumps. But, it wasn't hard to assemble the dish, which has a layer of black beans on top of the bottom cornmeal crust, then a layer of cheese, the corn/tomato layer, and topped with cornmeal polenta, tomatoes and cheese.
But the really annoying thing was that my tamale pie was very slumpy. I probably didn't cook the cornmeal mixture long enough. Although it was a sprawler, the dish tasted very good. The cornmeal crust was light and fluffy, and the corn and tomato filling was delicious. And this dish will feed a lot of people. It claims to serve eight people, and it would.
The pie did firm up after sitting out on the table for 30 minutes. But, I think the better path is to cook the "polenta" until it's quite thick (but not rubbery). However, I must say that my fluffy cornmeal layers were very nice, even if they sprawled.
Meatless Tamale Pie
(Bon Appétit, January 1999)
1 pound poblano chilies or 2 cans roasted poblanos or green chilis (use only one can, if you prefer)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 to 2 jalapeño chilies, seeded, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, drained, 3/4 cup juice reserved
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 15 ounce can drained black beans (About 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
7 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Roast poblano chilies over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose chilies in paper bag. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed and coarsely chop chilies. If using the canned chilis, drain and clean out the seeds, then chop coparsely.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add corn kernels (don't bother to defrost) and cook until beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeño chilies, garlic, cumin and oregano; sauté 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in roasted poblano chilies, canned tomatoes, 1/2 cup reserved juice from canned tomatoes, green onions and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil 15 x 10 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Combine 5 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in heavy large saucepan. Bring to boil. Combine cornmeal and remaining 2 cups water in medium bowl. Gradually whisk cornmeal mixture into boiling salted water. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until cornmeal is very tender and mixture is thick, stirring often, about 14 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in yogurt.
Spread 2/3 of cornmeal over bottom of prepared dish (cover remaining cornmeal to keep warm). Arrange black beans over cornmeal in dish. Sprinkle beans with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 2 cups cheese over beans. Spoon corn kernel mixture evenly over cheese, spreading with spatula. Spread remaining cornmeal evenly over corn kernel mixture. Arrange tomato slices atop cornmeal, pressing gently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle remaining 1/4 cup juice from canned tomatoes over. Sprinkle remaining cheese evenly over casserole.
Bake casserole uncovered until heated through and top is golden, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm, covered with foil, in 350°F oven until heated through, about 30 minutes.)
Let casserole stand 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve.