Thursday, June 19, 2008

My One-Pot Meal: Tamale Pie

I'm participating in the "Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten-Free" Blogging Event for the first time! The theme is "One-Pot Meals." Maybe soon I'll actually get around to hosting an event...

In any case, tamale pie is my one-pot entry. It's a natural one-pot meal. You get your veggies, protein, and grain all in one whack. It's also versatile: I've made this recipe with meat, without meat, and vegan.

If you've never encountered a tamale pie, which I hadn't until I married the Science Teacher, it's not a "pie" in the crimped pan of flaky dough sense. There's a layer of chili on the bottom and a layer of cornbread on top. Of course, this is where your preferences come in--how do you like your chili? Beany? Meaty? Vegetarian? Lots of veggies? Just tomatoes and onions? So hot you may as well have rubbed a habenero all over your tongue?

The cornbread part is a whole other debate. Our tamale pies tend to have thicker cornbread crusts, but the Science Teacher's mom's version is of a thin-crust variety. And then the question of what kind of cornbread to make arises. Cornbread is a funny creature. Whenever I mention to anyone around here that I've made cornbread, I tend to end up in conversations like this:

Me: "I made cornbread last night--it was totally rainy-day comfort food!"

Other Person (surprised): "Cornbread? Really? How do you make it gluten-free?"

Me (somewhat bemused): "The same way you make watermelon gluten-free--it just is."

OP (persistently): "But how do you make it without flour....."

Sigh. I'm considering getting tee-shirts printed with the recipe. This is what I get for moving north to Vermont, the place where no one says "y'all" (except, of course, the Science Teacher, and he attempts to use it in the singular, as in when he addresses me with "Whatta y'all want for breakfast"--I don't even dignify such grammatical frippery with an answer) and all cornbread contains flour.

You see, I grew up with all-cornmeal cornbread. I have since discovered that there exists "Northern" cornbread, which is usually at least half flour and contains more sugar than its southern cousin, and "Southern" cornbread of the type I ate growing up (case in point, even the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special refers to their cornbread recipe as "Southern Wheat-Free Cornbread"). Check out the wikipedia entry on the regional differences in cornbread recipes.

Before I give you the recipe I use--which does change every time I make it--let me give some tips for tamale pie customization.

The Crust:
For the crust, you can basically use your favorite cornbread recipe. One cup of cornmeal/flour (not including the other ingredients) will yield a fairly thin crust; two cups a nice thick crust. You can simply adjust your favorite recipe for the amount of cornmeal/flour you need. The batter must be thin in order to cover the entire pie so you might need to add a little liquid to achieve the right consistency. Don't worry too much about it--cornbread is forgiving.

If you prefer lighter, cakier cornbread, use half cornmeal half gluten-free flour (brown rice, sorghum, or whatever you have on hand) plus a 1/2 tsp. of xanthum gum. Use 3-4 tbsp. of sugar, honey, or maple syrup per two cups of cornmeal/flour for a sweeter cornbread, or 1 tbsp. (or none) for a more savory cornbread.

You can also add shredded cheddar and chopped jalapenos, if you like.

The Chili:
Since you probably have your own favorite chili recipe (at least, I hope you do!), I won't make suggestions here. Just make sure that you have enough filling to balance out the crust you've chosen. Three cups of beans or a pound of meat plus veggies is probably enough for a 1-cup-of-cornmeal crust but not enough for the thicker crust.

Tamale Pie
As you can probably tell, tamale pie can be highly improvisational. Here's a starting place for your experiments! These recipes are inspired by those in Jane Brody's fabulous Good Food Book and Good Food Gourmet.

2 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. boiling water
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. honey
1 egg
2 tbsp. oil
1 1/4-1 1/2 c. buttermilk or yogurt

Chili Filling:
1 lb. ground buffalo
1 tbsp. oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 c. green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 c. kidney beans
1/2 c. black or green pitted olives
1 can of diced tomatoes
2-3 tbsp. tomato paste
1 bottle gluten-free beer or 12 oz. water
1 tbsp. gluten-free worchestershire sauce
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaping tbsp. chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
generous pinch of cinnamon or allspice

Mix 1/2 c. of the cornmeal with the boiling water. Stir until combined. Mix with the other liquid ingredients. Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl. Set aside until you're ready to pop the pie in the oven.

Brown the meat--if you're using it--rinse it in cold water (this gets rid of any grease), and set it aside. Heat the oil and saute the onion, green pepper, and garlic until soft. Add the cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon or allspice, and cook for about a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients, and cook for 20-30 min.

Transfer the chili mixture to a greased 2-3 qt. casserole dish (deeper is better as the cornbread will rise). Stir the wet crust ingredients into the dry ingredients, and pour over the chili filling. Bake at 350 for 30 min.


Carrie said...

LOLOLOLOL... I made this SAME dish two nights ago that I had planned to post for this event! LOLOL OKay, well my recipe was different, but the dish was still called a tamale pie! lol Too funny! This looks great and I love your addition of cocoa powder! thanks so much for participating!!

Anonymous said...

I've always made tamale pies with a top and bottom layer of "cornbread" (since I learned to do this in LA, I use masa and a traditional tamale dough recipe). With only a single layer, it just doesn't seem very tamale-like to me.

Yogurt Lover said...

I've always wanted to make a tamale pie. Looks delicious. I just might give it a try.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Really long time, no post--how are you doing?