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Tamale Pie

January 22, 2012

This was supposed to be my offering for the January #LetsLunch gathering of chili recipes. Instead, I got carried away with other stuff like shopping for furniture rather than sitting down to write.

Priorities – I’m not sure I’ve got them in order, but I’m pretty sure my future guests will appreciate that I bought a sleeper sofa instead of making them sleep on the floor or whathaveyou. Maybe. We’ll see what they think after the sofa arrives.

Tamale Pie served with chow-chow and shredded cheddar

As for my late #LetsLunch recipe? It is the amalgamation of several recipes. And, as you might’ve noticed in the picture. There are beans in it.



Beans in my chili.

Any number of Texans are shuddering and shaking their fists at me right now since Texas chili is meat. No beans.

Quite frankly, I’m a little worried this could result in me being deported from Texas to some state like Ohio or something similarly terrible.

But I can explain, I promise.

My family lays claim to Texas as our home. My Dranny lived in Stratford. My mom was born in Houston. My Grandma Mary Lou lives on the Texas side of Texhoma and goodness help you if you insinuate she lives in Oklahoma.

But me? I’ve lived all over the place with my parents (that’d be my Mom and Dranny). And they lived all over the place to thanks to my grandfather’s Army career. And when you live all over the place and when money is as tight as it can be, you get creative with your leftovers.

In our case, a big ol’ pot of pinto beans was just fine for leftovers once or twice. But if the beans made it to a third night, it was more than likely that they were reincarnated as part of a pot of chili. This leftovers reincarnation served a couple of purposes. One: The beans were loved. Two: The beans stretched that pot of chili a little further than it might’ve gone if it’d just been meat.

When I left the family nest and was barely making ends meet in D.C. on my Hill staffer’s entry-level salary, beans in my chili were a necessity. Actually, they were probably about all that was in my chili.

And so, the tradition and even the preference for beans in my chili has carried in my house ever since.

What has changed though is how I season my chili. Growing up, our standard was to season the chili with that packet of chili seasoning you buy at the store. Then I found a recipe for Tamale Pie in my early 20s that featured cumin, chili powder, cocoa, cinnamon and nutmeg. Hence my fear of being deported to Ohio, where they put beans and cinnamon in their chili. And for folks who don’t know, Tamale Pie is, basically, chili with a layer of cornbread baked on top of it. (basically, right?)

Tamale Pie hot out of the oven

Since those early experimental, post-college, broke-as-all-get-out days, I’ve played with the seasonings quite a bit and don’t even bother with a recipe anymore. Not really. Instead, I use whatever seasonings sound good to me and that will complement the meat I plan to use.

While the recipe is never exactly the same, here is a rough guideline for making your own Tamale Pie. I will confess that this version contains no references to cocoa, cinnamon or nutmeg since I was using a spicy cajun sausage from Central Market. I couldn’t imagine those flavors going together at all.

Tamale Pie
Serves 10-12

2 or 3 poblano peppers diced (no poblano peppers? use green bell peppers instead)
2 jalapenos seeded and fine diced
1 large onion of your choice diced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
several cranks of fresh ground pepper
1/2 pound chili ground beef (or regular ground beef if your butcher isn’t as helpful as mine)
1/2 pound ground bison (or just another 1/2 pound of beef, if you can’t get ground bison)
1/2 pound spicy ground sausage
1 or 2 cans of kidney beans
1 or 2 cans of black beans
more chili powder
more cumin
Tabasco sauce

Cornbread of choice (I used two boxes of Jiffy, prepared according to the directions)
Lots of shredded cheese

In a large, oven-proof Dutch oven or similar big, heavy-bottomed pan (5qts or so), sautee the peppers, jalapenos, onion and garlic in the vegetable oil. As the veggies start to soften, add in your first round of seasonings. This would be the 1 Tablespoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of salt and the fresh cracked pepper listed above.

Crumble the ground meat into the pan and brown it until cooked through. That means no pink. As it browns, stir it and break up any chunks that you think are to big.

As it browns, I like to add more spices.

It’s about this time that I add another Tablespoon of chili powder, another teaspoon of ground cumin, another teaspoon of salt, more fresh cracked pepper and about 8 or 9 dashes of Tabasco sauce. You can use more or less depending on how spicy you like your food.

And you don’t have to add all the extra seasoning all at once. I am a huge proponent of the test-taste bowl. You know, the bowl you scoop a couple of bites into so that you can test the seasoning of whatever it is you’re making. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this, am I?

Anyhow, once the meat has been browned and seasoned, add the beans. Taste again. Add more seasonings. For this batch, I added another Tablespoon of chili powder and a few more shakes of Tabasco sauce.

And then I let it simmer on the stove for a while. I recommend letting it simmer on low heat for at least an hour. You want all those flavors to marry together. You’ll also want to test the flavor, too. Adjusting as suits your taste buds.

At this point, pre-heat your oven according to the recipe for your cornbread recipe. Shred some cheddar, too.

Now, pull the chili off the stove. sprinkle generous amount of cheddar on top the chili. Then pour the cornbread over the top of it all.

Bake until the cornbread is done. If you’re using two boxes of Jiffy in a 5 qt pan, then you’ll need to bake it for about 40 or 45 minutes to make sure the cornbread is baked all the way through.

Serve the Tamale Pie with your favorite toppings. Mine are more shredded cheese and my Mom’s chow-chow. You might also want to try sour cream, diced onions, pickled jalapeno slices or other goodies.


One Comment leave one →
  1. January 23, 2012 10:21 am

    That looks good Stef!

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