Black Bean Tamale Pie
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.