Happy Valentine’s Day! Like most commercialized holidays, I don’t get too invested in Valentine’s, but I do view it as a fun chance to celebrate with your girlfriends (like me, circa 2012) or do something special for your honey or loved ones. Like enjoy vegetable tamale pie together at home, distraction free.
I love the idea of simple, one-dish comfort food for Valentine’s or a date night in, like last year’s walnut pesto pasta or last week’s “disgusting” (one critic’s opinion) balsamic and brussels rice bake. To take it a step further, today I’m scaling the quantities back for two servings of veggie tamale pie, to make it so cute and romantic, obviously. You’ll end up with two pretty large individual pies, so it’s a plus if you’re comfortable pigging out in front of your sweetheart. That’s never been an issue for me.
The first time I made these pies for a loved one–my sister, when she came for a sleepover while Steve was away for work–I thought they were the greatest summer comfort food ever. Bonus: they’re easy to prepare even when you’re halfway into a bottle of rosé. I let the recipe, originally from America’s Test Kitchen, sit around for a while, but it surfaced last month as I combed through lists of recipe ideas. First of all, I had to introduce Steve to these healthy little veggie tamale pies. He’s a big fan of dinner when it comes in individual ramekins and there’s no fight for seconds. I also wanted to update the veggies. Zucchini is fine, but it really can be watery in this pie. Spinach or greens, however, wilt down beautifully and pack added nutrition, which, for me, equals extra energy and a problem-free tummy.
My only word of warning with this pie is to watch your spices! I recently restocked my chipotle chili powder, and I unassumingly used it in the first tamale pie test run. I couldn’t even finish my fireball of a pie, but I blamed a super spicy poblano, something I’d never encountered. Next time around, I tried green bell pepper but…same thing! What the heck??? It definitely wasn’t the green pepper heating up this pie. I texted Steve, “It wasn’t the poblano,” and he just knew exactly what I was talking about. Fortunately, I had a hunch that the chili powder might have been a contributor to the heat, so I took it down a bit on round two. This time, I could eat the tamale pie, but the flavor and heat were still not my cup of tea. In summary: know your spices. If you aren’t big on heat, go with a green pepper over poblano and the inexpensive brand of mild chili powder, or one that you know well.
Generally I’m not big on the concept of cooking for two–I love leftovers! It does come in handy when the fridge is already well stocked, though. If you have other favorite dinners that serve just two (Christina is a pro at this), let me know in the comments below–I could stand to learn a thing or two about it!
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Classic, make-ahead tamale pie in individual portions with some healthy greens thrown in. Perfect for date night at home!
- Butter or olive oil spray, for the baking dish
- 1 T olive or vegetable oil
- 1 C 1/4″ dice celery (2 large stalks)
- 1 small green pepper or poblano pepper, diced medium (see notes)
- 1 shallot, chopped small
- 1 t Kosher or sea salt
- 2/3 C frozen corn kernels
- 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, with liquid
- 3 C loosely packed mild greens (e.g., chard, spinach, baby bok choy)
- 1 t mild chili powder (or less; see notes)
- 1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro
- Ground black pepper
Pie “crust” batter
- 1/3 C all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
- 1/3 C finely ground cornmeal
- 1/4 t baking powder
- 1/8 t baking soda
- 1/4 t kosher or sea salt
- 1/3 C buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 T honey
- 1 T melted butter, slightly cooled
- Sour cream or avocado
- Scallions or pickled red onions
- Extra cilantro
- Grease two 2-cup ramekins (or a single pie plate) with butter or cooking spray. Preheat oven to 450 (F). Heat oil in a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat. Add celery, green or poblano pepper, shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until softened and shallot is lightly browned. Add corn and tomatoes with juice and simmer until warmed through and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add greens and chili powder and cook for another minute, until greens are wilted. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro, 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste), and black pepper to taste. Fill each ramekin with about 1 1/2 cups of the filling (there will be a little leftover filling).
- To make the top crust, whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder and soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl. Measure the buttermilk into a liquid measuring cup, then add the egg and honey and beat with a fork. Whisk buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients, then drizzle in butter while whisking.
- Pour crust batter evenly over both pies. Bake ramekins on a cookie sheet on the middle rack about 13 to 15 minutes, until crust is set and light golden brown. Serve with sour cream or avocado, scallions or pickled red onions, and extra cilantro.
Both poblano pepper and some chili powder may be spicy, and I ruined this dinner for myself with both during testing. To play it extra safe in the spicy department, go with a green bell pepper and be sure your chili powder is mild.
I loved the flavor of Trader Joe’s fire roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles, if there’s a location near you!
The ramekins are very hot when they come out of the oven! I like to serve them as pictured: in a shallow bowl, with a paper or cloth napkin beneath, so no one gets hurt eating them.
The recipe easily doubles for four. Make it in four ramekins, or in a small casserole dish.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Best Ever Cooking for Two.
- Prep Time: 35 mins
- Cook Time: 15 mins
- Category: Hot dish
- Cuisine: Tex Mex