The tamale dates as far back as 6,000 B.C., when it was a nutritious staple of Aztec warriors on the move. Today, wrapped in corn husks, or other non-edible natural wrappers, tamales are filled with masa (corn dough) and a meat or vegetable filling, making them both sustaining and portable, as well as a delicious holiday staple.
While making tamales can be a social event, the process can be labor intensive, relying on many hands to prepare hundreds of tamales in sessions lasting as long as a couple of days. First, a slow-cooked tamale filling is made. Corn husks must be soaked, rinsed and cleaned. A smooth, spreadable corn dough is prepared from masa harina (corn meal). Next, tamales are assembled by spreading masa onto each of the corn husks and adding a couple tablespoons of filling. Each tamale is then folded and secured with a tie, like a little gift to be opened. The tamales steam for about 15 minutes, or until the masa is no longer sticky. Ideally, you have a lot of guests, along with an extra freezer to store the leftovers from all your hard work!
In this recipe, you have the flavor and texture of tamales in a comforting baked pie that’s ready in an hour and enjoyed in slices. A hearty, savory filling of seitan, black beans and tomatoes cooked with traditional mexican seasonings is layered into a pie pan. Over the top, a corn bread batter is layered. The pie is then baked, forming a crispy corn crust over a bubbly, rich filling.
Here’s what the cornbread top looks like once it comes out of the oven.
(Note: The filling itself is also delicious on its own, served with brown rice or quinoa).
In this recipe, the pie filling appears below. For the cornbread topping, I used this Vegan Cornbread recipe, divided in half, from the Post Punk Kitchen. After you prepare the pie filling below, you will make a half-recipe of this cornbread batter. But rather than baking the cornbread according to instructions, you’ll pour the batter over the pie filling.
- 1 T vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno (seeds and ribs removed, minced)
- 1 T tomato paste
- 2 t chili powder
- 1 t ground cumin
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 8 oz package of seitan, cubed, diced
- ¾ c cooked black beans
- ½ c frozen corn kernels
- ½ t salt
- ¼ c sliced black olives
- ¾ c shredded non-dairy cheese
- Garnish: plain, non dairy yogurt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large saute pan, heat vegetable oil. Add onion, garlic and jalapeno and saute for about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, chili powder and ground cumin and cook another minute. Stir in tomato and green pepper and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in seitan and black beans and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in corn and salt and cook an additional minute. Remove from heat. Stir in black olives and non-dairy cheese.
- Prepare half of the vegan cornbread batter recipe (linked above) for the topping. A half recipe covers the dish nicely. (Simply divide all of the amounts of the ingredients in half and prepare in the same manner to combine the wet and dry ingredients). I found the batter a bit thin, so I added an extra ¼ cup of cornmeal to reach the consistency I liked. Set batter aside, and do not bake it according to the cornbread recipe's instructions.
- Transfer bean mixture into the pie pan. Press mixture down firmly and out to the edges
- Pour the cornbread batter evenly over the top of the pie, smoothing out any lumps or bubbles.
- Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes or until the cornbread topping is cooked and a fork test comes out clean.
- Cut into slices and serve with plain, non-dairy yogurt.