Tamale Pie ~ Beef, Chicken, Turkey or Veggie

Maybe your mom or grandma made this for you when you were growing up?

Mine did.
And my mom added a secret ingredient which made her Tamale Pie stand out from the rest. I'll tell you about it below.
Usually using ground beef as the filling ~ but there is no reason you cannot use chicken, turkey (either ground, or cooked and shredded) or vegetables if you prefer.

This time I made it with lean ground beef and lean ground pork. But you might keep this in mind because it's a great way to utilize some of that leftover cooked turkey from Thanksgiving.

The other ingredients are diced yellow/brown onions, corn (I use frozen), tomatoes - canned diced or stewed (older versions of the recipe just call for tomato sauce but I like the chunks), fresh minced garlic, chili powder, oregano and cumin. Bell pepper (or diced, canned Ortega chilis), and Salt & Pepper.
Add chili flakes if you like, but I like this recipe mildly flavored.
My mom's secret ingredient?
A teaspoon or just a little more of cider or white vinegar stirred into the filling during the last few moments of simmering. It piques the flavors beautifully.
Some incorporate beans into the filling; kidney, black beans or even chili beans work well.

Oh, and I forgot to mention black olives. Nothing fancy, just good old California black olives from the can; they are mild and don't compete with the other ingredients.

Some versions sandwich the filling between the cooked cornmeal, but my mom always placed the prepared filling in a deep casserole then topped with the cooked cornmeal with no bottom layer of cornmeal, and that's the way I prefer it. I used finely ground Italian polenta this time and made individual size servings.

Then baked until hot and bubbling, you can sprinkle with grated cheese during the last few minutes if you like. Serve additional grated cheese, and sour cream at the table if you like.

Can be made a few hours ahead and refrigerated until time to bake.
My favorite tips for Tamale Pie~
  • Make it as mild or as spicy as you like.
  • Don't be locked into the ground beef version; you can use ground chicken or turkey.
  • You can also use leftovers ~ shredded beef, pork, chicken or turkey, or make it all vegetable.
  • Add beans if you like
  • And most importantly; you'll probably want to ramp up the seasonings for todays tastes.
  • Don't forget the cumin! :)
  • Mom's Secret Ingredient?
  • Stir in about a teaspoon (or a smidge more) of white or apple cider vinegar to the filling ingredients at the end of simmer time.

It is one of those casseroles that once you make it, you truly don't need a recipe ~ but here are a couple of links to recipes just in case you've never made this before. I always increase the seasonings because we prefer this casserole to be very flavorful.

Tamale Pie recipes:


  1. Oh man...I am speechless....I really love how you present your food.

  2. My Mom never made this for me but I wish you would make it for me...that looks so good Mary!
    Comfort food...I could use it today!

  3. I have never had this before but I am going to have to make it-it looks so good!

  4. Mari, Gran pastel de tamal!

    What a great tamale pie and your mom's secret ingredient. I bet it adds a nice twist. This will be a perfect thing to have during the Thanksgiving weekend, when everyone is tried of roasted turkey. Many thanks...

  5. Hi Mari, this looks good! I like to put vinegar in my chili too...Chili that other people have cooked...not me. :)

  6. I want those bowls, I want this tamale pie, I want those spoons.

  7. Mari, can't wait to try making this with your moms secret ingredient! As always, I love your photos1 You are a real talent!

  8. What memories you have stirred! I haven't had tamale pie in years! We had it in the school cafeteria and my mom made it also. I think I should give it a try. Your recipe and ideas sound wonderful! thank you for sharing.

  9. Yummo...these look wonderful, very warm and heart warming.

  10. I have never heard of or seen a tamale pie before and this one sounds fantastic! What a great idea - and much simpler than making tamales. My daughter loves corn with anything, so she'll certainly be interested in making this easy version in her apartment kitchen at college. Thanks, Mari.

  11. I love tamale pie but don't make it very often. Your photos are gorgeous!

  12. Never made this but now I will! Guess what ? Your mom's secret ing..is mine for chili:)

  13. It looks delicious, comforting and reminds me of my mom. I definitely grew up with tamale pie. My Dad and I requested it often and my mom would serve just how you like it, filling on the bottom and a cornmeal crust on top - delicious :D


  15. Well, since my mom doesn't know how to cook and doesn't like to be in the kitchen, it is safe to say that she never made this for me haha.

    This tamal (singular of "tamales" is "tamal") pie looks perfect. I'm bookmarking this recipe ASAP! These photos are so tempting. This would be much easier and quicker to make than traditional tamales.

  16. A family favorite meal that I haven't made in ages. Thanks for reminding me how good it is. A bit of vinegar perks up the flavors of so many savory dishes. Thanks, Mari.

  17. I had an aunt who made this in the early '80's. Thank you for the inspiration - I'm going to make this & use that secret ingredient! Love the white bowls they are in!

  18. Looks like comfort food to me...and easy after all of the Thanksgiving cooking and baking. The secret ingredient is something I'll try. Thanks Mari...you always know what we need!

    Have a great Thanksgiving.


  19. You were a lucky young girl if your Mom made this for you! :D

    My mom made open face sandwiches which consisted of white bread (Wonder) topped with cooked bacon, topped with mozzarella cheese and put under the broiler.

    So weird I never remembered a vegetable or fruit or side dish - just that!


  20. Mari, this tamale pie recipe looks really good. This would be a great Sunday dish-providing warmth and comfort before beginning the work week. This is a keeper. Love the photos too.

  21. You have lots of good stuff going on in that pie! YUM YUM So flavorful!

  22. This looks great, I was inspired to make it and my beany version is cooking up right now. I've also made some tamales to go in the freezer for another meal. I love your blog and your photos are beautiful.


Thank you for your comments, friends ~ they make my day!

A Sampling of my food . . .


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