Tamale Pie

It’s starting. Every once in a while, there’s a brief sense that fall is peeking around the corner. The way the morning sun hits the trees, or a crisp smell of evening air. It’s not overwhelming, but there’s not doubt that before we know it, it’s going to be time for jeans, hoodies, football, apple cider and pies. I’m not one to wish time away, but after so many days close to triple digits this summer, I’m more than ready for some cooler weather. Which is why, a few weeks ago, when my Chief Culinary Consultant and I were flipping through one his mom’s old cookbooks and saw a recipe for tamale pie, I was more than excited to make it. Astonishingly enough, I have never had, much less heard of, tamale pie before we happened upon that page. I’m living in a serious shell. What could I possibly not love about a chili-like filling baked with a layer of cornbread on top?! It’s quite possibly the most genius dish ever invented. Cornbread is the perfect accompaniment to chili, which makes this recipe all the more perfect. Summer be damned, bring on the chili!

I first attempted the recipe that we found in the cookbook, but the top cornbread layer ended up a complete disaster. We were able to salvage the filling and used it to make impromptu tacos. It was good, but I wasn’t in love with it. I immediately began working on round two, because the concept of the recipe was so spectacular, I knew there was a better way. In the end, I never came across a recipe that sounded like the one, so I started building my own based on my favorite flavors, ingredients and, most importantly, what was ripe in the garden! The result is one absolutely phenomenal dinner. You just can’t beat all of the bright and bold flavors in the beef filling, topped off with a thick layer of cornbread. Genius and delicious.

Two quick notes on the recipe:

  • I included black olives in the recipe for two reasons: (1) they were in almost every single tamale pie recipe that I came across; and (2) my mom and Chief Culinary Consultant love them. However, I personally don’t like olives (that’s putting it mildly) and think this dish would be just fine without them, so I included them as an optional ingredient. If you love ’em, add them! If you’re a fellow olive hater, you can totally leave them out.
  • I used Monterey Jack cheese, but cheddar would also be great in this recipe, or a combination of the two. Feel free to substitute and experiment with your favorite or what you have on hand.

One year ago: Cream Cheese Brownies
Two years ago: Salted Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
Four years ago: Pain Ordinaire Careme (A Daily Loaf)
Five years ago: Italian Stuffed Peppers

Tamale Pie

Yield: 8 servings

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


For the Filling:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1½ pounds ground beef
1½ cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 can (14.5-ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup sliced black olives (optional)*
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1 cup shredded)

For the Cornbread Topping:
1½ cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Making the Filling: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil until hot. Add the onion, green pepper and jalapeños, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the ground beef to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Once the meat is browned, add the onion mixture back to the pan. Stir in the corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin and salt. Stir well to ensure that the spices and the tomato paste are evenly distributed. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand while preparing the cornbread topping.

4. Make the Cornbread Topping: Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients over the cornmeal mixture and stir together until barely incorporated.

5. Assemble & Bake the Pie: Stir the olives and shredded cheese into the beef mixture and pour it into a 9x13-inch baking dish, smoothing the top. Pour the cornbread batter over the filling, using a spatula to spread it into an even layer. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the pie to rest for 15 minutes before serving.


59 Responses to “Tamale Pie”

  1. Jessica Kwon on August 7, 2012 at 1:19 am

    haha, fellow olive hater here too! I don’t think i’ve come across any recipe that can mask the taste and texture of the olive yet. However, I will give this a try!


  2. Amy Tong on August 7, 2012 at 1:20 am

    What a clever idea. I always afraid to make Tamale. Turning it into a pie sounds like a plan. Your Tamale Pie looks perfect and beautiful. Can’t wait to try it.


  3. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on August 7, 2012 at 1:47 am

    I love olives!! My hubby, however, hates them 🙂 This looks like such a great recipe!


  4. Victoria on August 7, 2012 at 2:16 am

    I love tamale pie!! Yours looks SO good! I’ll have to try it very soon. I agree on getting glimpses of fall, I am posting snickerdoodles! Lol


  5. Sabrina Williams on August 7, 2012 at 3:09 am

    OMG, my mom have been making tamale pie’s since I was a toddler. It’s so good!


  6. Maura @ My Healthy 'Ohana on August 7, 2012 at 3:54 am

    Beautiful, I love how thick that cornbread layer is!

    I used to not eat any olives, but I’ve gotten to the point where I actually like them on pizzas and cooked in certain dishes 🙂


  7. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers on August 7, 2012 at 6:18 am

    What a fantastic recipe!!!


  8. Jennifer on August 7, 2012 at 7:01 am



  9. megan @ whatmegansmaking on August 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I’ve never had anything like this before! Definitely sounds like a winner 🙂


  10. Cyndie on August 7, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I have been making tamale pie since I found the recipe in a 1978 Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. I make it several times during the fall and winter. I love it, and it’s even better the second day. I serve it with a green salad and of course, some nacho chips. I’m going to give this one a try, too. Thanks


  11. Ali @ Gimme Some Oven on August 7, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Ha – I’m anti-olives too. This looks amazing!!! LOVE tamale ingredients…and all the better in a pie!


  12. Alexis Franzi on August 7, 2012 at 9:50 am


    This tamale pie looks to die for! Our readers over at Mr. Food would flip over this for sure. We’d love for you to submit a similar recipe to The Search for the Ultimate Weeknight Meal, offering a grand-prize to one lucky blogger who will tape a segment to air on national TV! If you’re interested, check out our contest page for more details. http://www.mrfood.com/Editors-Picks/Search-for-Ultimate-Weeknight-Meal-Blogger-Contest

    Alexis Franzi
    Editor, Mr. Food


  13. Annie @ Annie's City Kitchen on August 7, 2012 at 10:44 am

    This looks insanely good!! I can’t wait for fall and this will absolutely be on my fall recipe list. I don’t think I can think of single person I know who wouldn’t drool over this.


  14. Cathy J. on August 7, 2012 at 10:57 am

    This sounds great. My mom use to make this too when I was a kid and I always loved it. I can’t wait to give it a go.


  15. Kathi on August 7, 2012 at 11:09 am

    For some reason the photos didn’t show up on my email this morning. Glad I came to the website to see the photo of this delicious dish. Such memories!


  16. Jamie on August 7, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I use a similar recipe (from Elise at Simply Recipes) and as a fellow olive hater (and raisin hater, her recipe calls for raisins), I substitute a can of drained pintos for both. Oh, and I use the “fire roasted” diced tomatoes, too. I can’t wait for it to get cooler here (Dallas) so we can start with the warm comfort foods like Tamale Pie!


  17. Catalina @ Cake with Love on August 7, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Very nice, I have to try this for my husband, it looks like a fun and delicious dinner!


  18. Trish on August 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Oh I have Fall fever too! This looks wonderful. Can’t wait for the temps get cooler to make it 🙂


  19. Katie @ Blonde Ambition on August 7, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I love making tamale pie! It’s totally versatile, I throw in whatever I have at the moment I decide to make it and it’s different every time!


  20. Mi Vida en un Dulce on August 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Here in Peru we call this “pastel de choclo” or corn cake. We make it with meat filling, but also with local cheese. There is also a sweet version, which I really don’t like, but is very popular, it has raising and is made with “chancaca” or molasses.


    • Melody Gardner on January 6th, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks! That is a very interesting comment.


  21. Angelyn on August 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Yum!! Looks delish!!


  22. Debra on August 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    This is a must try. Thank you for finding the right way to do it.


  23. The Kitchen Witch on August 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    This looks great! I’ll add it to my list to try this week!


  24. Jessie on August 7, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    That looks so good! I wish I had a piece right now, with extra sour cream… 🙂


  25. Amber, RD on August 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    This looks great! I have a similar recipe I love that has a sloppy joe base with cornbread baked on top of it: http://thefoodierd.blogspot.com/2012/03/makeover-monday-reduced-fat-sloppy-joe.html
    This sounds like a great change up!


    • Michelle on August 9th, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      Oooh, I have been wanting to make homemade sloppy joe’s!


  26. Kevin (Closet Cooking) on August 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    That tamale pie is looking really taste!


  27. Nikki @Pennies on a Platter on August 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    We love this kind of meal! Especially the cornbread topping! 🙂


  28. shelly (cookies and cups) on August 8, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I LOVE tamale pie!


  29. Casey on August 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I am glad, I am not the only one, making some of the winter food although, it is still hot. I made soup which I said, I would not do until September.

    Now, I think, I will make this for dinner. Thanks.


  30. Bijou on August 10, 2012 at 12:10 am

    This looks awesome — I have eaten this dish (minus the jalepeños and cumin) since childhood. My mom and grandmother always made it, and they call it Miser’s Meal. My husband is CRAZY about that dish, and being the jalepeño lover he is, I know he’ll flip for this version!


  31. Tracy on August 10, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Oh my goodness Michelle, this looks absolutely divine (and I am also more than a little tired of this heat and ready for fall!). I too tried a recipe from a cookbook for tamale pie that didn’t live up to my expectations, so I can’t wait to try yours! Yum!


  32. Denise on August 10, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    I loved it. I made a few adjustments. I did not have any jalapenos, so I added a small can of diced green chilies. I thought that the jalapenos would have been too hot for the kids to eat. Great recipe.


  33. morri on August 14, 2012 at 6:46 am

    Call me crazy, but I made this dish for one reason only – I had an open jar of tomato paste that I had to use quickly (that, and the combination of ingredients sounded promising). And for once, I almost didn’t tinker with the recipe… the key word being “almost”. One thing I’d like to tell anyone attempting to tackle this recipe is: don’t be afraid of the spices! At first I was taken aback: two TABLESPOONS of chili powder? But the truth is, ground meat takes to spiciness well, and the topping is very mild, so don’t hesitate and bring on the chili! I did, however, cut the amount of salt down to 1/2 of a teaspoon. All in all, it was a great dish – hearty, filling, full of flavours, not too salty, and with a perfect spicy kick. Thanks for posting this!


  34. Mehdi Lamrani on August 17, 2012 at 3:55 am

    LOVE, LOVE. Simply delicious. All of my favourite ingredients put together nicely. The polenta topping is a great substitute to any rice or other starch. Will be made again and again now. Many thanks for the post.


  35. JC Marc on August 18, 2012 at 12:38 am

    I love your version of Tamale Pie. Yours is so much lighter than the Tamale Pie I grew up with – and your is very flavorful. I grew up on tamale pie made from masa and lard (ugh-heavy, heavy). I will try this as soon as I can turn on my oven. (115 degrees here on the AZ desert) Can’t wait to try this.


  36. Jasmine on October 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    This recipe looks great! quick question, i have a package of Martha White mexican corn bread in the cupboard, you think if i prepared that according to package and put that on top of the filling instead that would work out ok?


    • Michelle on October 10th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Hi Jasmine, Definitely, just make sure that it’s for a 9×13-inch pan. If it’s only for an 8 or 9-inch square pan, you’ll need to double it.


  37. Nicole on October 28, 2012 at 1:10 am

    I just made the Tamale Pie yesterday for a potluck dinner. It was a success! Everyone loved it!


  38. Gladys on January 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for having a “real” recipe as far as the corn bread part goes as I looked for other recipes and was so disappointed to see them giving boxed mixes for the corn bread instead of a recipe. Most boxed mixes have a recipe already on the box. What is the point. what a relief to see your recipe. I’m making it tonight.


  39. Grace on February 21, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Quick Question–Do you think that this can be made a day before it will be served or do you think the cornbread will get soggy? Looks fabulous!


    • Michelle on February 21st, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Hi Grace, I did eat this as leftovers and while it was still good, it definitely wasn’t the same as fresh baked.


  40. Gina on March 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    This looks delicious. I can’t wait to try it.


  41. Whitney Rude on April 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    This is the BEST recipe and now on the cold days my boyfriend only wants me to make this! Everything is great and I had added 1 can of kidney beans which made it that much better. Also to make it easier on myself I used 1 cornbread mix from a box!


  42. Suzanne on April 15, 2013 at 12:07 am

    This was delicious! I was having the same experience — so many tamale pie recipes and none of them looked just right. Until I found yours! I only had a pound of ground beef, so I added a can of pinto beans. Worked out great. The toddler loved the filling (funny little dude doesn’t much go for bread) and the grown-ups loved the whole thing. Thank you!


  43. Pili on June 25, 2013 at 7:30 am

    I made this and it is the best cornbread topping recipe i have tried for tamale pie. It is the most like the one in ‘The Joy of Cooking’ which I used to make 20 years ago. Many of the recipes on the web result in a dry or heavy crust, but this one is light and fluffy inside, and crunchy on the outside – delicious!


  44. Zainab on September 11, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Is this mildly spicy or very spicy? I’d love to try it but I don’t want to end up with something too spicy that some family members won’t be able to eat. I would cut out some of the peppers if it’s a very spicy dish but if it’s mild, then it should be fine


    • Michelle on September 12th, 2013 at 10:42 am

      I would definitely say this is only mildly spicy.


      • Zainab on September 13th, 2013 at 3:28 pm

        Thanks!!!! I definitely want to try this next week


  45. CAZ on October 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    This was just the recipe I was looking for… in particular for the topping. I like to also use half ground turkey and beef… and add black beans into the base… Thank you for this!!


  46. Ally Hall on October 28, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Ok. Since I made the Guinness Beef Stew last week and was amazed, thought I’d try this next. This was very yummy and flavorful. A little bit of heat but nothing overwhelming. I did use 2 large jalapenos. I’m a sucker for cornbread and this was so good on top. Nice and thick. I used Bob’s Red Mill brand cornmeal which I liked the texture of. I thought the ground meat filling would be dry since there wasn’t much liquid but was surprised when it wasn’t. I did leave out the olives since hubby is an olive hater. I served this with roasted butternut squash with browned butter and freshly grated nutmeg. Fall, yummy goodness with 5 star taste at 2 star price.


  47. teachermrw on December 27, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Very tasty! I prepared this dish for my family for Christmas Eve. Will make it again!


  48. Vivian on June 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I found this on Pinterest a couple weeks ago and finally made it last night. I accidentally read 4 TBSP cumin instead of 4 tsp cumin, so it was a bit heavy on the cumin … as you can imagine … yet still yummy!!! The only other tweak was poblano pepper instead of green bell pepper and half the cheese. I did put olives. My, really delish! Lovely flavour combination. Thanks for a great recipe.


  49. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup on July 21, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Do you know if you can use Masa Harina instead of Corn Meal? I know that Masa is for tortillas and CM is for corn bread, but I think I’m going to give it a try. I’ll come back and let you know how it goes. Thanks for the recipe.


  50. Lisa on September 8, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Has anyone tried freezing this as a make ahead meal? Would you freeze after assembly or bake, cool and freeze?


  51. Melmarie on October 8, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    This Tamale Pie Recipe is wonderful with or with out the Olives. I have made this recipe several times both ways and it is always accepted. Thanks to this recipe. When I am told this taste great I refer the person to this site ( http://www.browneyedbaker.com/tamale-pie-recipe) Lots of great recipes waiting to be tried.


  52. Melody Gardner on January 6, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Tried this casserole and would rate it fabulous. I had picky eaters over for dinner and there was barely enough left for my husband’s lunch for work. Of course, being me, I can’t leave anything alone without my touch. I added toasted ground cumin and ground ancho chili powder to the cornbread mix. I also put a little cheese on top of the meat and then on top of the cornbread. I baked it in a 400 dg oven, which at first I thought was a big mistake because it got a little brown and crispy. That made it all the better for taste and texture. In the future when I make tacos, I am going to double or triple the meat and freeze packs of it so I can thaw them and make this quick casserole. I also used really good authentic stone ground cornmeal, which always makes a difference. Good job on this recipe. KUDOS TO YOU!


  53. Valerie on April 2, 2015 at 9:52 am

    This is the 3rd recipe I have tried for tamale pie and this chili base is the winner! I thought the cornbread was a little dry, but that’s the only thing I will do differently next time.


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