Taylor’s Tamale Pie – with or without “meat”

It’s 57 degrees here in the Twin Cities this morning, which means using the oven is not such a bad idea today. This hot dish (casserole for you non-Minnesotans) always disappears at pot luck dinners, even if it is a little spicy for Swedish taste buds. Thirty+ years ago, I was the appetizer cook in a fancy Mexican restaurant in Denver, working out of the Exhibition Kitchen in the main dining room. My favorite quick lunch was a simple tamale, but the only kind on the menu at El Torito was a beef version. I don’t eat beef anymore, so the following variations use turkey, chicken or beans. And a 9×13 pan is a lot easier to fill than all those little corn husks…

Tamale Pie (with ground meat)

1 pkg. Jiffy cornbread mix (just as good as homemade, with no measuring spoons to wash)
    + egg and milk, per package directions
1 c. frozen corn (or canned corn, well drained)
1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb turkey sausage
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 can tomato paste + 1/2 can water (or picante V-8 juice, if you have it)
2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped (or 1 can chopped chiles)
2 tsp. ground cumin (I’m guessing – I don’t actually measure)
2 tsp. chili powder (see above)
olive oil
1 c. shredded cheese – half cheddar, half Monterrey Jack

Put the corn out to thaw. In a large, heavy skillet, warm enough olive oil to coat the pan, and sweat the onions and the garlic over medium heat. Add the loose meat and fry it, stirring constantly to avoid chunks, and to incorporate the onion/garlic throughout the meat. Turkey has a lot of water in it, so cook this down until most of the liquid is gone. Add the cumin and chili powder (and the Anaheims, if you are using fresh peppers), stirring well to combine flavors. Add the tomato paste and just enough water or V-8 juice to make a thick sauce – about like you’d use for Sloppy Joes if they were a little runny. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally while you assemble the cornbread.Mix up the Jiffy cornbread, adding milk and egg according to package directions. Add the canned chiles (if you didn’t use fresh Anaheims) and half of the shredded cheese, along with the corn to the cornbread mixture.Pour the meat mixture into a buttered (or cooking sprayed) 9×13 pan, and top this with the cornbread mixture. Sprinkle the other half of the shredded cheese over the top, and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes (it depends on your oven, and how wet the sauce is), until the cornbread is golden brown.If you want to add the El Torito touch, sprinkle a combination of chopped tomato, green onion and black olive over the top of the casserole to garnish just before serving.

Chicken variation: Cook 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, seasoned with oregano, basil, thyme, and ground pepper, and one chicken bouillon cube, in the microwave (or on the stove, in about an inch of water). As the chicken cooks, remove it from the microwave and cut off the already-cooked portions occasionally, so they don’t get tough. Cut up the cooked chicken – to be authentic, you should shred it with two forks, but you can cube or chunk it for this recipe.Sweat the onions and garlic as above, add the cooked chicken (and all its microwave liquid, or 1/2 – 3/4 c. of the stovetop liquid) to the pan, and continue the recipe…

Meatless variation: Instead of ground turkey and sausage, use one can garbanzo beans and one can kidney beans, with a vegetable bouillon cube and some thyme. Throw in some chopped celery. You may want to add a can of diced tomatoes, adjusting the liquid with the tomato paste accordingly. Continue with the recipe…

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