Home » Dinner Dilemma ~ Tamale Pie

Dinner Dilemma ~ Tamale Pie

If I could give one DINNER DILEMMA tip it would be this:

Learn to improvise on recipes.

I think most people look at a recipe and see the specific ingredients and say oh I don’t have that, er um nope don’t have that either.  Take a closer look at the recipe and see how you can make it yours.  I have readers comment all the time telling me how they changed up one of my recipes, or should I say improvised!  I love that.  I am not offended in the least.  I want you to get around the table with your families!  That’s my passion, that’s my goal…if I can jump start that by giving you an idea of what to make for a meal, well then HOWDY!

If you don’t have a certain ingredient, then what is the next best thing.  Can’t find El Pato sauce then use enchilada sauce.  Only have whole canned tomatoes, not diced then use the whole and mash them up.  Don’t have a certain spice, well use another one of your favorite spices.  For example: no rosemary, use thyme.  No tarragon, use dill or cilantro.  No cumin use some chili powder.  Don’t have any saffron or it’s too expensive use turmeric. You get what I’m sayin’?

I want you to learn to trust your cooking, taste it, fiddle with it, and for God sakes always add salt!!

I understand, not all of you love food and cooking like I do.  It’s not your thing.  Eating is just what you do to stay alive. You eat to live. WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE? Just kidding. Well not really.  Who. Are. You. People.  I live to eat! I love to eat.  I know…some of you are my very bestest friends.  You know I love you.  I wish I had time to cook for you.  But I don’t.  So I’m hoping you read this and learn…..


I’m going to give you a super duper, easy peasy recipe to start with.  You can build on it, or leave it as is.  I hope you love Mexican food like I do.  Tamale Pie makes regular appearance at our dinner table. The original recipe is from Pam Anderson‘s (not that Pam Anderson!) cookbook Perfect One-Dish Dinners.  I’ve made it so many times that I don’t even look at the book anymore I just sort of toss it together.  It’s always good, and filling, and my family loves it.  Score!

1 pound of ground meat (This can be beef, chicken, turkey, pork, emu, camel…get what I’m saying any meat. If you like the meat you’ll like the end product. Use what you have on hand.)
1 16 ounce can of beans (Any beans. Black, Northern, Pinto. Or if you make your own beans 1 pound of cooked beans. You could even use a can of refried beans.)
1 16 ounce jar of salsa (Any salsa will do use what you have. 16 ounces = 2 cups)
1 cup shredded cheese (What ever you have. I have used sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, Colby Jack, plain old cheddar, white cheddar….)
Tamale topping
1 cup yellow corn meal
3 cups of water
1 tablespoon chili powder, if you have it


That’s it!  Five ingredients.

Now of course you can get fancy by adding garlic, onions, and peppers while browning the meat. Seasoning the meat with some cumin, and some more chili powder, or oregano.  Sprinkling the finished dish with chopped fresh cilantro, and serving with a side of guacamole, sour cream, and pica de gallo.

Just so you know we have eaten this dish simple with no bells and whistles and on nights when I have more time and the extra ingredients we have made it a Mexican feast.  Do what works for you.  This right here is easily a 30 minute meal or less start to table time.

I hesitate to give you a printable because I don’t want it to be a crutch for you, but I realize it may take you a few times of making this before it becomes second nature for you.  So here are a few step-by-step photos and a printable to get you started.


Brown one pound of ground meat, add in a can of beans (I usually drain and rinse mine, but you don’t have to for this recipe.), add 16 ounce jar of salsa.  Use your favorite, I have used salsa verde for this too! Let these ingredients simmer for about 5 minutes.


While your meat is simmering, bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil whisk in 1 cup of yellow corn meal.  Cook until thick, if you like add in 1-3 teaspoons of chili powder to corn meal mixture.


Spoon cornmeal over meat mixture. As you can see I put cheese underneath my cornmeal topping, this is how I made it my own.  We love cheese so I add it under the corn meal as well as at the end 😉


Smooth cornmeal over top of meat.


Sprinkle with one cup of cheese, and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and cornmeal begins to get a crust.  If you do not have an oven safe pan then you can transfer the meat to a casserole dish, cover with cornmeal, and cheese and bake it in the casserole.  Hopefully you have an oven safe pan because this eliminates dirtying another dish.


There you have it.  Dinner Dilemma solved.  We love to use tortilla chips as eating utensils for this casserole!  Who needs a fork, just scoop it right on the chip.  Mmmm so good!

I hope this helps you get an idea of how you can start to improvise with recipes to get dinner on the table.  If you have any advise or tricks I’d love to hear it!! Leave your 2cents below.  I would also love to have you as a guest blogger, if you have a recipe that is a go-to for busting the dinner dilemma blues, I would love to feature you!

Stay cool! It’s a scorcher out there.

xoxox, Sheila

Tamale Pie

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Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 6 servings


  • 1 1/2 pounds ground Chicken or Chicken breast cut into very small pieces ground beef or turkey also work
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon Chili Powder divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Cumin Powder divided
  • 1 16 ounce can Pinto Beans drained and partially mashed
  • 1 16 ounce jar store-bought Salsa 2 cups I used medium spice Pace chunky salsa.
  • 1 can Green Chiles undrained
  • 1/2 cup fresh Cilantro chopped and divided
  • 1 cup Cornmeal
  • 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack Cheese


  • Adjust oven wrack to upper middle position and turn broiler on.
  • In a 12 inch ovenproof skillet cook chicken over medium-high heat, salt to taste. Cook until chicken is no longer pink.
  • Stir in 1 tablespoon of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of cumin. Add drained beans partially mashed, chilies, salsa, and 1/4 cup cilantro. Cook to blend flavors for about 5 minutes.
  • In sauce pan, while meat mixture is cooking, bring 3 cups water, 1 cup corn meal, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon cumin to a bowl, stirring constantly with a whisk, so lumps do not form. Cook until thickens to mush.
  • Remove meat mixture from heat, sprinkle with monterey jack cheese, pour cornmeal mush over cheese, spread out with spatula to completely cover meat. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and remaining cilantro. Place pan under broiler for 5 minutes or until cheese melts and mush starts to form a crunch on top.
  • After removing from oven, let rest for 5 minutes, if you have time to wait! Serve with corn chips, pica de gallo, and sour cream.
Keyword beef, casserole, chicken, easy, easy dinner, quick meal, tamale, turkey
Tried this recipe?Mention @eat2gather or tag #eat2gather!

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  1. I was wondering can you jiffy cornbread instead of yellow corn meal? Thank you I wanted to make this for lunch and didn’t want to go to town

    1. It would defintly be sweeter, this is more of a tamale consistency and I think the cornbread would work it would be more like a bread topping, not as dense as the tamale. Let me know if you try it and how it turns out! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. This was the worse recipe I have ever made from a blog . It NEVER got done. The corn meal stayed raw. And I followed the recipe to the letter.

    1. I am so sorry that this recipe did not turn out for you, I have made this dish so many times with out fail, and not had one poor review till now, it comes from a one of my favorite cookbook by a very reputable chef. Sorry your ingredients were wasted and you family was disappointed. I appreciate your input and that you took the time to let me know.

  3. I always loved Mexican food but I have been diagnosed with multiple food sensitivities. I am gluten and corn sensitive in addition to many other things, including dairy. I can substitute the cheese with a cheese alternative but I don’t know what to substitute for the corn meal. Do you have a suggestion?

  4. I kid you not – I was staring at a canister of cornmeal in my pantry just this morning and wondering what the heck to do with it, I don’t cook with it often! This looks so good!!

    1. I’m pretty sure you better stock up on the cornmeal because your family, if they love Mexican food, is going to love this!! 🙂

  5. I think my kitchen is the only one ever not to have a “Grandma’s” cast iron frying pan….I am so regretting that I did not buy one at one of the Cracker Barrels I visited during the last 2 weeks! Woo hoo, summer driving!
    I will definitely remember this the next time I’m on the road… or maybe the web….
    Looks delicious I’m going to try this recipe once Satan takes his weather back!

    1. OH you really do need a cast iron skillet I use mine everyday! You can find them nearly every where, I recommend the Lodge brand. Safe Travels!

  6. I’m with Des, and I’m a winger when it comes to following recipes, always embellishing with a little more of this or that. Until it comes to baking and then I’m like a little puppy dog following mama. Love this recipe, I crave these tastes all season long.

    1. I’m pretty much a winger over all in the kitchen. I do stick closer to baking recipes, but I have to admit I’m a bit of a rebel with baking too! Thanks for stopping by! xox Sheila

  7. I love this because it is exactly how I cook. Long before I started blogging I would look at a recipe just to get an idea and go from there. I’d never measure. I’d just taste a long the way. Didn’t have an ingredient and I’d substitute something else. It’s what makes cooking fun! And you mean to tell me there are people out there that don’t live to eat?!?! I cannot comprehend 😉