Let’s start off on the right foot here by going ahead and admitting that this is not authentic Mexican (can anything with the word ‘pie’ in the title be authentic mexican?), nor even authentic Tex-Mex. More than likely it is best classified as a ‘vegetarian casserole version of a Tex-mex dish.’
But that description does it such a great disservice that I can’t believe I ever wrote (or thought!) those words.
So let’s try again.
This casserole is fucking amazing.
There, that’s better.
This casserole is also easy (like your mom). And cheap (like your mom). And vegetarian. Need I say more?
Even my sister-in-law, who Does Not Cook, asked for the recipe to try to recreate at home.
But it’s a recipe that’s so simple that it’s never been written down. If you can’t remember this recipe after seeing it made once, well then, I’m afraid you have problems much, much larger than a tamale pie can fix.
My mom came up with this recipe after finally coming to terms with me becoming a vegetarian at the age of 13. It took her a couple of years—I feel like maybe I was 15 or 16 when she first made this (until then I subsisted on gardenburgers that I had to pan-fry myself, thankyouverymuch).
She adapted it, I think, from a recipe on the back of Martha White’s Cotton Pickin’ Cornbread mix (which has only recently changed its name to ‘Cotton Country Cornbread’—you know, to be more P.C.). Why she ever bought that mix in the first place is a mystery, as we were always a Jiffy or a make-it-from-scratch cornbread kind of family. Maybe it was on sale? Maybe she had a coupon? It couldn’t have been because one of her friends told her it tasted good, because this cornbread on its own tastes just godawful.
Really. It hardly deserves to call itself cornbread.
But in the tamale pie recipe? It’s heavenly.
I’ve tried using Jiffy and from-scratch cornbreads in this recipe and they just don’t work. Too sweet, mainly, but somehow just…off.
No, for tamale pie, only Cotton Pickin’ Country Cornbread will do.
The original recipe called for ground beef and I’m not sure what else, cheese, probably. But my mom decided that instead of the ground beef she’d use one can of black beans and one can of diced tomatoes. And voila, a miracle was born.
Tamale pie has become a tradition for my friends and I now, especially when we all get together over New Year’s for a skiing/drinking/Law & Order watching fest. We sometimes refer to it, affectionately, as ‘molly pie,’ or just plain ‘molly.’ Sometimes some people even eat it for breakfast. But I’m not saying who, Jane.Vegetarian Tamale Pie Recipe from Mama P. 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes 1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (depending on how fatty you are feeling) 1 6-oz. package Martha White’s Cotton Pickin’ Country Cornbread (no substitutions! Or you will be sorry!) Optional: Add corn or jalapenos or diced onions to the beans and tomatoes mixture (but don’t if you’re a purist or lazy)
In an 8-inch square baking dish, mix together black beans and diced tomatoes. Sprinkle cheese evenly over top. In a separate bowl, mix cornbread mix according to package directions. Pour evenly over top of beans/cheese, making sure there are no gaps. Bake in 350° oven for 35-45 minutes until bubbly and golden and cornbread is cooked through. Serve with sour cream and plenty of hot sauce.