A vegetarian twist on an American classic, this vegetarian tamale pie is a one-pot dinner made with black beans, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, and corn and then topped with a cheesy cornbread-ish topping. This gluten-free, vegetarian dish with big flavors feeds a crowd and is much easier to make than traditional tamales.
Let me start with a disclaimer - this vegetarian tamale pie has very little to do with its partial namesake – the tamale. Actually, this is one of those recipes that are born out of a necessity. Dr. A and I love to try small local restaurants and Mexican restaurants are definitely on top of our list. During our Pacific Northwest days there was this awesome restaurant called Molcajetes that served fresh tamales. The restaurant had pork tamales on the menu but since we don’t eat pork, the sweet lady that owned the restaurant would make us vegetarian tamales. The best thing ever!
Tamales vs. Tamale Pie
Pork tamales, I believe, are the ones most commonly found on restaurant menus. But what is a girl who does not eat pork, supposed to do? While searching for options to recreate the tamale flavor magic that I so vividly remember from Molcajetes, I stumbled upon a recipe of tamale pie. That’s how the recipe of this vegetarian tamale pie was born. Think of tamale pie as a American classic. A filling made of ground beef, some veggies, seasoned with Mexican inspired spiced and topped with a pie crust of sorts. Only that the pie-crust is made of masa to resemble the steamed package of goodness that a traditional tamale is.
I tried a few different ways to make the crust for this vegetarian tamale pie – using corn meal, instant masa, and ready-made corn mix. The one that I liked the best and resembles a tamale masa the most is the instant masa and that is what I am going to use in this recipe today. So presenting a perfect, healthy, nutritiously balanced, vegetarian, one pot, weeknight meal. Phew!!
All good things start with onions and garlic, don’t they? So does this vegetarian tamale pie. Start with sautéing some chopped onions and garlic in avocado/olive oil in an oven proof/cast iron skillet. Proceed to add chopped peppers – green, red , yellow or whatever you have on hand. Add corn – fresh or frozen – not canned. I used some frozen roasted corn. After the veggies are a bit soft, add chopped tomatoes – again fresh or canned is your choice. Season the vegetarian tamale pie filling and prepare the topping. Mix all the ingredients to make a wet, sloppy mix. Gently spread it over the filling and bake for 35-40 minutes. Serve with avocado crema and desired toppings like chopped onions, tomato, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
Here’s your handy dandy printable:
Vegetarian Tamale Pie (Gluten-free) || Meatless Monday
- 2 tablespoon avocado/olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 3 medium cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 Zucchini chopped
- 1 Serrano pepper minced
- 1 cup corn kernels
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin preferably from roasted whole seeds See Notes
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander preferably from roasted whole seeds See Notes
- 3 teaspoon chili powder See Notes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 15-ounce can black beans drained and rinsed
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes See Notes
- ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves and fine stems minced
For the Masa Crust:
- 2 cups corn masa
- 1 teaspoons baking powder
- Salt to taste about 1 teaspoon
- 3 tablespoon salted butter melted
- 2 – 2.5 cups warm water you can also use vegetable broth See notes
- 1 cup Colby jack cheese
For the Avocado Crema:
- ½ cup sour cream (or greek yogurt)
- ½ avocado
- ½ serrano or thai chili pepper
- ½ lime juiced
- Salt to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Set a cast iron or another oven-proof skillet on medium high heat. See notes.
- Add the oil and once it’s hot add the garlic and chopped onion. Sweat the onions for a minute before adding the bell pepper, and serrano pepper.
- Cook until the peppers have softened, about two minutes. Then mix in the zucchini, corn, tomatoes and spices. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the drained and rinsed black beans, add salt and black pepper. Stir well, adjust seasonings, add chopped cilantro and turn off the heat.
- Meanwhile, mix the masa, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add in the warm water (or broth) and butter. Whisk until smooth. Then stir in the cheese.
- Pour or scoop the corn masa batter evenly over the top and spread to the edges of the pans. You might have to gently spread it. If the batter is to thick to spread, add a little more water.
- Bake for 30-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the corn batter comes out clean.
- While the vegetarian tamale pie is baking, blend all the ingredients of avocado crema together and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
- Spoon out the pie and serve warm with avocado crema and desired toppings!
Key Recipe Tools and Ingredients:
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This recipe is perfect for Meatless Monday or any other day of the week! If you make this Vegetarian Tamale Pie be sure to leave a comment and let me know how you liked it! Snap a photo and share it on Instagram with the hashtag #thekitchendocs or share on Facebook, too.