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Tomato-Free Tamale Pie

  • Author: Tessa
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 6 to 8 large servings 1x


Slow-cooked, subtly spiced cornmeal. Simple black bean stew filling. Who says comfort food can’t be healthy?



Tamale layer

  • 1 1/2 C cornmeal (may be labeled as polenta)
  • 6 C water, vegetable stock, or a combination
  • 2 T vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 T chile powder

Pie filling

  • 2 T vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 C diced celery (3 to 4 stalks)
  • 2 t minced garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 t ground cumin (or more to taste)
  • 2 t chile powder
  • 2 C frozen corn kernels (preferably organic), thawed
  • 3 C (about 2 15 oz. cans) black beans, drained and liquid reserved
  • 1 t sea salt (plus more to taste)
  • 1 can (about 15 oz.) sliced California black olives, drained
  • 1 C grated white cheddar cheese
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, scallions, guacamole, and salsa


  1. Bring water or stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the cornmeal. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, maintaining a vigorous simmer. Stir almost constantly. When thickened to the point that it’s slightly difficult to stir, transfer mixture to a heat-proof glass or metal bowl that fits securely over the same saucepan. Add oil, salt, and chile powder and mix to combine. Rinse the saucepan (it needn’t be spotless), fill with water so that the bowl, when set over the pan, sits just above the water. Bring water to a simmer, set bowl of cornmeal over it, and cover. The cornmeal will continue to cook without need for attention as you prepare the filling, 45 minutes to an hour. Stir once or twice during that time.
  2. To make filling, heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium. When shimmering, add onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook about 5 minutes, until onion starts to brown. Meanwhile, add enough water to the bean liquid to total 1 1/2 cups and set aside. Add garlic, oregano, cumin, and chile power to onion mixture and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add corn, beans, reserved liquid mixture, and salt. Bring to a simmer, raising heat if necessary. Cook 30 to 40 minutes, occasionally stirring and using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to break up some of the beans. Once bean stew is done (it should be reduced but still pourable), remove from heat and season with more salt as needed.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 (F). Spread half the finished cornmeal in a 9 x 13″, or slightly smaller (see notes), pan or baking dish. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes until slightly solidified. Spread half the bean filling over the first tamale layer, sprinkle with all the olives and 1/2 cup cheese, then cover with remaining filling. Stir remaining cheese into cornmeal mixture, then spoon it over the filling and spread gently with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Bake for about an hour until bubbling. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve topped with sour cream or other desired fixings.


As written, the recipe is gluten-free and meatless/vegetarian.

For optimal flavor and color, use a mixture of water and vegetable stock to cook the cornmeal. Using all vegetable stock will taste great, but the color of the finished product will be on the brown side.

I used a 9 by 13″ pan, and you can see in the pictures that the cornmeal layers are thin and don’t quite reach the edges on the top layer. For thicker tamale layers that completely cover the filling, use a slightly smaller pan–just be sure it’s deep enough!

The assembled pie can be refrigerated up to a day in advance. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before baking as directed.

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

  • Cook Time: 60 mins
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Comfort Food