Saturday, March 12, 2011

Recipe For Tamale Pie Loaf Becomes Mexican Polenta

I don't often cook from cans.


This recipe, adapted from my mother's tamale pie loaf - much of the ingredients from cans - had been calling to me since I tried making it several years ago, and failed.

My mother's recipe calls for cornmeal cooked in milk, the ratios of which made me wince: 1 part cornmeal to 1 1/2 parts milk. She said the resulting mush would be stiff (and inedible - my words) and she was right. So maybe it was the recipe . . .

Undaunted, and lacking cornmeal, I used polenta and made my ratios 1:3 which worked well.  The cooked polenta should be rather stiff because you're going to be putting a lot of wet ingredients into it to make the finished dish, but it should not be stiff as a hair brush nor have the texture of that white paste we used to eat use in elementary school.

My addition of eggs lightens this to almost soufflé level.  And, if I were making this in late summer with plenty of fresh corn and peppers on hand, I would roast the corn, char the peppers and use them instead of the canned varieties. And quite possibly I would use fresh diced tomatoes.

But it's still winter, so in my mother's tradition I've used many cans.  And let me tell you, this rendition of tamale pie, which I have dubbed Mexican Polenta, is light and flavorful and was a hit with the potluck goers for whom it was intended.

Search through your cupboards, people, you're gonna need some cans.

Christine's Mexican Polenta
Adapted from her mother's recipe for tamale pie loaf
2 cups polenta
6 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped fine
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped fine
4 whole canned chilies, chopped into small dice (or 1 7-ounce can diced green chilies)
1 can whole kernel corn
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, fire-roasted is best
1 tablespoon Grandma's Chili Powder (it's what my mother always used)
1 whole chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
4 eggs, well beaten
1 generous cup grated cheddar or Jack or a combo of both
1/2 teaspoon Cholula hot sauce
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oven to 350-degrees
Bring the water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil.
Whisking constantly, stir in the polenta and whisk until combined.
Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the polenta, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it leaves the sides of the pot and starts to stick to the bottom.
Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter until melted and incorporated, stirring up any polenta that has stuck to the pot.  Set aside.
Melt the remaining 2 teaspoons butter in a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions and garlic until they are soft and slightly golden brown.
Add the diced chilies, adobo chile, and the chili powder and stir for another 30 seconds or so.
Add the tomatoes, corn and hot sauce and stir well to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.
Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the sauté into the waiting polenta. Mix well.
Adjust seasonings to taste.
Allow mixture to cool for about 10 minutes, then stir in beaten eggs, mixing thoroughly, then stir in cheese.
Put mixture into a well oiled 9 x 13 inch baking pan, spreading out to the edges, and bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until top is golden brown and springs back when you poke it with your finger.

To transport to a potluck party, cover the baking dish with foil and place in a cardboard box slightly larger than the dish.  When you arrive at your desitnation, cut the polenta into serving-sized squares.


Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved


  1. This sounds great, it sounds similar to one that the old lady next door in Davis used to make.

  2. Good idea adding the eggs. Green chilies are one of the things (along with Jolly Ranchers) that I always bring back from the US. And I have polenta.....

  3. This recipe looks fantastic! I may try it for our Cinco de Mayo party. Can this be served at room temperature or is it only good when hot?

  4. So, you cook as well as your mom! Great to have those recipes from the family..... Looks so moist~


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