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Black Bean Tamale Pie

March 19, 2008

There was a period of time after I graduated from college when I was really enamored of one-dish meals. Maybe it was because it meant less dishes for me to do (now I’m lucky to have a husband who doesn’t mind dish-duty when I cook dinner, even when the kitchen is a complete disaster area!) Maybe it was because one-dish meals doubled easily as lunches for work the following days, or maybe it was because it seemed strange — when cooking for one — to make the “traditional” protein-with-veg on the side.

Around this same time, I began eating vegetarian meals a lot more often. This is a habit that’s stuck: we eat vegetarian most of the time now, with some meat or fish thrown in occasionally.


And to this day, I still love a one-pot meal. Especially on some of these cold late-winter/early-spring days (yes, we’re still getting some occasional snow), a pot of bubbling stew or a casserole baking in the oven is just perfect. This one has stuck with me since my post-college days: it’s a tamale pie made with black beans instead of the more traditional ground beef, and it is warm, spicy, supremely comforting, and so good! Black beans, bell peppers, corn, garlic and onions are sauteed with some tomatoes, chilies and spices, then spread in a baking dish and topped with shredded cheese and a cornbread batter that bakes on top of the beans in the oven. Mmm…does it get better than cornbread baked on top of oozy melted cheese and spicy black beans and vegetables? Not if you’re hopelessly devoted to cornbread as we are!

You can improvise on the black bean mixture any way you like; I’m thinking some chopped Swiss chard would be a great addition. Add some minced chili peppers for more heat…oh, and leftovers make great lunches!


Black Bean Tamale Pie

Adapted from Vegetarian Classics by Jeanne Lemlin

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup tomato sauce (I use Muir Glen organic tomato sauce)
1/2 cup water
1 small jalapeno, seeds removed and diced — or 1 4-oz. can chopped green chiles, drained
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
2 cups grated cheese – I use 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup monterey jack

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic and onion and saute until the onion softens and starts to color, about 5-7 minutes. Add the bell pepper and saute until it softens, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon, and keep stirring to toast the spices about 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomato sauce, water, drained and rinsed black beans, chilies, corn, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro. Pour the black bean mixture into a shallow 2.5 quart baking dish (such as a 12×7 Pyrex dish or a 9×9 ceramic dish) and spread it evenly. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and set aside.

To make the topping, whisk together the water, milk, and cornmeal in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking continuously. As the mixture bubbles, keep whisking it until it gets very thick and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan (this takes me about 5-7 minutes.)

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the sugar, salt, baking powder, and the beaten egg. Pour the topping over the bean mixture and spread out evenly with a spatula. Dot with the pieces of butter.

Place the baking dish on a sheet pan or cookie sheet (just to catch any drips that might bubble over) and bake for 45 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serves 6.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynne permalink
    March 19, 2008 6:45 am

    This looks delicious! Your photography really makes everything look so appetizing!

  2. March 19, 2008 7:30 am

    Lovely dish! I do not eat vegetarian much at all, but I love the idea of this and would love to play with it. I enjoy one dish meals. They are just not all that popular here in Peru!

  3. March 19, 2008 9:33 am

    Sounds great, and easy too! Gotta put it on my must-make list.

  4. March 19, 2008 10:26 am

    lord have mercy, that is incredible. i love the combination of black beans, corn, and cilantro. toss in cinnamon, cheese, and cornbread and i’m over the moon. very, very nicely done!

  5. March 19, 2008 3:50 pm

    This looks great and I love your pics. Gotta put it on my list for dinner next week!

  6. March 19, 2008 4:57 pm

    Thanks, Lynne!

    Gretchen Noelle, let me know what you try if you decide to play with it.

    kimberleyblue, enjoy!

    a. grace, thanks!

    Christine, thanks! Hope you enjoy.

  7. beckysolley permalink
    February 17, 2009 3:44 pm

    I just googled black bean tamale and this looks amazing! I am about to go grocery shopping for it. I am extremely excited. Thanks so much for posting! 🙂

  8. January 5, 2010 6:37 pm

    Oh I can’t wait to try this recipe. I am challenging myself and my blog reader (the few that I have) to cook at least one new recipe a week. This is definitely on the list. Yum! Happy new year! What a beautiful baby you have added to your family.

  9. January 21, 2010 3:15 pm

    Perfect—I’m going to make this tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it comes out. Thanks!

  10. September 9, 2010 3:58 pm

    This looks so good… I am seriously lacking in casserole type dishes. And yea that it’s a mexican dish, as my family loves anything with beans and cheese. I will have to try this soon….thanks!

  11. Elizabeth permalink
    September 17, 2011 7:34 pm

    I made this tonight… and the cornbread never really cooked! I baked it for over an hour, and the top looked browned and crusty, but was still batter-consistancy once I dug in. Not sure what went wrong… hope it’s still safe to eat!

    • September 19, 2011 8:17 am

      Elizabeth, the cornbread layer is kind of pudding/soft polenta-like due to baking on top of the vegetable layer (w/liquid)…not as cake-like as your typical standalone cornbread.

  12. Traci permalink
    March 8, 2012 6:11 pm

    I made this a while ago and it was superb! I’m back here to make it again and had to let you know. Loved the photos, but wish there was one of the finished product too. I used tomatoes I canned from my garden and omitted the water. Thanks for the tip about cooking the cornmeal until it pulls away from the edge of the pan – because of this I cooked it longer than I normally would have and it came out perfectly!

  13. Beverly Olsen permalink
    April 8, 2012 11:31 pm

    I made this for the first time tonight for dinner. I didn’t use quite as much Chile Powder or Cumin and skipped jalapeno and green chiles, as we are older and don’t tolerate spicy foods as well as we used to. I only used I cup of cheese; again because we watch our diet for health reasons. Also didn’t have the 12×7 but had a 2L rectangle pyrex which worked perfect. My polenta/corn bread topping came out great and we enjoyed this recipe very much. It’s a keeper. I wonder thought if I served it to company if they would enjoy it as much because I didn’t use the jalapeno or green chiles. I will pick up a small can of mild green chilies to try with when I make it next time.

  14. Barbara permalink
    April 14, 2012 7:51 pm

    I just made a similar version using green chilies (they’re mild), diced tomatoes, and enchilada sauce. I didn’t use cheese until I served it — I flipped it into the bowl (or, plate, if you prefer) so the corn bread was on the bottom. Then, I sprinkled grated cheese on top and it melted immediately. Helped cool it, too. Also, I used a box corn bread mix and it was cake-like. I may have used a larger casserole dish, making the corn bread top a bit thinner, allowing it to bake through. It may have helped the corn bread bake because I put the black bean mixture in the oven until bubbly then took it out of the oven and poured the corn bread on top then put it back in the oven for about 30 minutes. Yum!

  15. Chirp permalink
    April 21, 2012 4:02 pm

    This is a great dish. Thank you for posting. I only used 1TBS of oil although I think as little as 1sp can be used. And I only used 1/2 the amount of cheese and butter. The filing was delicious, I think it would also taste great with scrambled eggs and make a great bean dip, or burrito filling.

    I liked the cornbread/polenta most when it was fresh from the pot (not on the pie yet) – perhaps because I was cooking hungry. For the pie, I prefer that the topping was more cornbread and less polenta.

    Overall, great recipe, very tasty.

  16. Mike permalink
    October 10, 2012 7:23 pm

    This turned out quite well. I’m looking forward to making it again!

  17. Jen permalink
    March 13, 2013 8:34 pm

    This was delicious! I misread the topping instructions and mixed together everything but the eggs before realizing I needed to cook it first. So I tried cooking it in the microwave – it worked GREAT! I have everything in a glass mixing bowl and set the timer for 5 minutes. Once the mixtured started boiling I stopped the microwave every 30 seconds or so to stir it and check the consistency. I think I ended up stopping after about 4 minutes. Also, I doubled the bean mixture and froze a bunch to use again at a later date. Thank you for such a terrific recipe. the polenta was great!

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