Mexican Pie (“Tamale Pie”)

Mexican Pie (“Tamale Pie”)
I adore Mexican food. Its sheer, happy simplicity and choice of vegetarian options including chillies, cheese dishes and salsas simply fill my heart with joy! Whether you like your food mind-blowingly hot or comfortingly mild, the colours of the rainbow shine through the dishes, from fiery red chillies and plump, shining tomatoes, to sunshine-yellow cheeses and glistening green avocados and peppers. Mexican food is nourishment made with love and a real celebratory sense of self. This is my kind of soul food!

Chilli topped with cornbread is nothing new. The concept has been around since chihuahuas were worshipped by the Aztecs, or something like that. This recipe has been inspired by a multitude of Mexican recipes, most of which are meat-based. It is frequently referred to as “Tamale Pie” in America, but a true tamale dough is made with masa harina – infrequently found in the UK and is not the same as cornmeal, no matter what anyone says – and making actual tamales is a fiddly, lengthy process involving corn husk wrappers and a giant steamer. My version uses cornmeal and is vegetarian, easy to make, and pleasingly economical as it makes full use of storecupboard essentials. My daughter adores this smooshed up a bit with a dollop of sour cream to take the heat out of it.

This makes a big ole pie that can feed 4-6, adults, depending on portion size. 
You will need a 2 litre (approx) pie dish. I use a 26cm round Pyrex dish.


For the chilli:
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
100g sliced peppers (I use frozen, you can use 1 fresh pepper is you prefer.)
100g sweetcorn (Frozen or tinned is fine)
100g veggie mince (frozen)
1/2 – 1 tsp dried chilli flakes, depending how hot you like your chilli!
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
80g dried lentils, rinsed thoroughly
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp black treacle (if you don’t have any, use 2tsp sugar)
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 x 400g tin of kidney beans
400mls water approx (use your empty tin of tomatoes)

For the cornbread topping:
100g fine cornmeal (also called polenta)
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cumin
1/2 tbsp sugar
200ml buttermilk (or use use milk with 2 tbsp lemon juice stirred in – allow to sit for a minimum of ten minutes if using this method. I rarely buy buttermilk, I tend to use this method.)
100g melted butter, slightly cooled
2 eggs
75g grated cheese (I like extra mature Cheddar.)

VEGAN UPDATE 2017: As the chilli itself is already vegan, you just need to tweak the cornbread topping, and it’s never been easier. Just follow the recipe for my vegan cornbread here: Southern Corn Bread

To make the chilli:

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Heat the oil in a large saucepan on quite a low heat and stir in the finely chopped onions and crushed garlic. Fry gently for five minutes until translucent and golden (don’t let them catch) then add the sweetcorn, peppers and veggie mince. Fry for another couple of minutes until the frost has gone then sprinkle in the chilli flakes and spices. Stir until everything is nicely coated and fry for just another minute, to release all those lovely aromas.

Now tip in the rinsed lentils, tomatoes, puree, treacle and cocoa powder, kidney beans and water (just fill up your empty tomato tin – it will make sure you you get every last bit of tomato out!) Give it all a really good stir, making sure those lentils aren’t sticking to the bottom. (You can transfer to a slow cooker at this point if you want: Cook on high for about 3 hours or low for about 5 hours). Otherwise, just bring to boiling point then reduce the heat and simmer on the lowest heat, partially covered, for around 25 minutes. Stir every five minutes and generally keep an eye on it.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180c/350f (or 210c/410f for vegan cornbread, see note above) for the cornbread topping. 

After 20-25 minutes, the chilli should have thickened nicely and the lentils should be done. Add a splash of water if you think it needs it. Carefully tip the contents into your pie dish and set aside while you crack on with the cornbread topping.

To make the cornbread:  (Click here for my vegan Southern Corn Bread recipe)

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
In a jug, lightly whisk together the buttermilk and slightly cooled butter. Add the eggs. It will probably look a bit lumpy – don’t panic, it is meant to!
Pour the wet mix on to the dry and stir everything until combined, just until you can’t see any dry bits. Do not beat it or overmix. This is a bit like making muffins – be gentle! You should have a lovely thick yellow batter.
Spoon this carefully all over the chilli then use a fork to help distribute it evenly. Smooth it out, scatter the cheese all over, then pop it into the centre of your oven.

Cook for approximately 35 minutes (25-30 minutes for the vegan version) or until the melted cheese looks nicely golden.
Serve immediately with salsa and sour cream or whatever you fancy. Warmed leftovers the next day taste amazing too!

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