Recently I reported on our meal in the student center at Fort Lewis College. The highlight was tamale pie, which of course does not contain tamales at all. The original recipe comes from the era of dumping in a can of this and a can of that plus some ground beef in order to wind up with a quick dinner meal for the family. I remember tamale pie as a great favorite during my childhood, but it has gone the way of most casseroles from the 1940s and 1950s – except in school and college cafeterias, of course.

The most amazing thing about the casserole was that the cornbread batter would sink into the very liquid filling and disappear, only to re-emerge magically as a crusty topping at the end of the baking time. The explanation for that is that the batter stays intact in the filling. It then becomes lighter as the baking soda goes to work and floats to the top. Akin to dumplings and bagels. You can minimize this phenomenon by making the filling so thick that the cornbread batter can’t sink. I prefer that, you can make your own choice by adding more liquid.

Here is my version that I cobbled together from things in the refrigerator that needed to be eaten. It seems like I am always cleaning out the fridge.


Cornbread Chorizo Tamale Pie



  • 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 Spanish chorizo sausages, sliced thinly (Don’t use Mexican chorizo as it is too spicy and greasy)
  • 6 snacking peppers, seeded and sliced thinly
  • 1 14.5 ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-3 teaspoons chili powder according to how hot you want it
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
  • salt and pepper


  1. In a dry medium sauté pan over high heat, sauté the corn kernels until they are fragrant with a light char. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the heat, transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.
  2. Clean the pan and return to medium heat. Add vegetable oil and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the chorizo and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the chorizo is heated through and the peppers are wilted.
  3. Add the tomatoes, water, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the charred corn and black beans. Stir and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. If the sauce is too thin for your taste, sprinkle the cornmeal over the surface, stir to completely incorporate the cornmeal and simmer an additional 10 minutes until the mixture is thickened to your liking. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.



  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • sour cream


  1. In a small bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder.
  2. In another small bowl, combine the beaten egg, milk and vegetable oil.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly until well-combined


  1. Transfer the filling to a well-greased 2 quart casserole
  2. Spread the topping over the filling
  3. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 425F for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned
  4. Remove from the oven, and let rest for 5 minutes. Divide into individual servings. Top with sour cream. Serve immediately while still warm.



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