By Rosie Hawthorne on November 4, 2022
Sometimes one can find treasure in the unlikeliest of places. A fortuitous stroke of serendipity led me to find a virtual treasure trove of discarded cookbooks at my local recycling center. One of the books I found was The Food and Drink of Mexico. The book is a find in itself. Besides being full of authentic Mexican recipes, you get an immersion in the culture, experience, and history of Mexico as interpreted through intimate stories relayed by the author. The exciting part, however, was that I found something inside the book. More treasure inside the treasure! I found a three-page hand-written recipe, folded and tucked inside, for Tamale Pie. I don’t know who actually wrote down the instructions, but whoever did attributes the recipe to someone named “Karla.” So, it being the season of thanks, I am thankful to Karla, for providing the recipe, to the Unknown Scribe, who recognized the recipe as worthy and took the time to write it down and preserve it, and also to the Philistine who threw all those books into the TRASH so I could find The Food And Drink Of Mexico with its hidden receipt.
Since I had a bit of a problem with deciphering some of the writing and with the directions being somewhat ambiguous, I followed my instincts and came up with my own interpretation of Karla’s Tamale Pie. And it turned out muy beuno. Also, this is not a tamale in the strict sense of Mexican cuisine, in that no corn husks are used to wrap the meat mixture and no steaming is involved. In addition, masa harina, which is traditionally used in tamales, is substituted with cornmeal, to make a polenta addition. So, Unknown Scribe and Karla, I hope I do you proud with my version of your Tamale Pie, which, now that I think about it, should really be called something else, since there are no tamales involved and no actual pie. Let’s just call it Karla’s Casserole.
Heat oil in skillet and brown meat over medium high heat. Discard juices.
Add in onion, pepper, and garlic. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring.
Add in diced tomato and corn. Heat through.
Stir in chili powder.
Taste test and season with salt and pepper.
I veered a little from Karla’s recipe here and added in a teaspoon each of oregano and cumin, because both those flavors work here.
Whisk enough of reserved corn liquid into the cornmeal to make a smooth, pourable mixture. Pour this into the beef mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring, about 2 minutes. Stir in olives. Remove from heat and prepare the polenta.
In a medium saucepan, whisk chicken broth into cornmeal over medium low heat until the mixture thickens and just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and continue whisking. Let cool a bit, then whisk in beaten eggs and Parmesan.
Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Spread polenta mixture evenly in bottom of dish. Spoon meat mixture over top, then sprinkle on the cheddar.
Bake at 350° for about 40 minutes, tenting, if necessary, for the last 10-15 minutes.
The polenta mixture will poof up in the center and you should have a nice golden color around the edges.
Since this is the Thanksgiving season and everybody wants to know what to do with all that leftover turkey, you could easily substitute shredded or chopped turkey meat for the hamburger here. The procedure is just a little different. Sauté the onion, pepper, and garlic in the oil, then add in the shredded or chopped turkey, giving it a stir just to heat through. Proceed with the rest of the instructions.
Enjoy and be thankful.
For any culinary questions, feel free to e-mail me at RosieHawthorne@gmail.com. Bon appétit! For more Rosie’s Recipes on the Outer Banks Voice click here