Simple Tamale Pie Recipe

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This easy tamale pie is zesty and filling, featuring polenta, pinto beans, and chipotle seasoning. You won’t miss the meat in this one!

Ever made tamale pie? This easy tamale pie is seriously tasty and one of our favorite crowd-pleasing vegetarian main dish recipes. The concept: a layer of polenta is covered in Mexican-spiced beans, corn and tomatoes, then covered with cheese and baked in the oven. This recipe we’ve spiced it up with our favorite fire-roasted tomatoes, and some chipotle powder. Make sure to get ahold of some chipotle powder for this recipe; it adds an essential complexity without too much heat. We first tried this recipe several years ago for some dinner guests , and it was a hit all around.

Now, there are lots of variations on a tamale pie. Some of them have a bean filling on the bottom and cornbread on the top, others like ours use polenta on the bottom. The recipe that we based this off of used storebought prepared polenta in a tube, but our recipe uses fresh polenta that you refrigerate to harden. Some tamale pie recipes use meat, and others are vegetarian. There are so many variations: but this is our favorite!


  • 6 small ovenproof dishes (or a 9″ x 9″ baking dish)
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 15-ounce can Muir Glen diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 15-ounce cans pinto beans (or 3 cups cooked)
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
  • ½ cup salsa
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican-blend cheese
  • Sour cream, to serve


  1. Bring 4 cups water to boil in a medium sauce pan. When the water boils, whisk in the 1 cup cornmeal, adding small bits at a time and whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue to whisk until the polenta begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Reduce the heat so that the polenta bubbles slowly. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. When done, spread a layer of polenta evenly in the bottom of each dish. Refrigerate for 30 minutes prior to baking. (This step can be done ahead; just refrigerate until ready to bake.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Drain the diced tomatoes to remove excess liquid. Drain and rinse the beans. Chop ½ cup + 2 tablespoons cilantro.
  4. In large bowl, mix together beans, tomatoes, ½ cup of the cilantro, 1 cup corn, ½ cup salsa, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder, 1 teaspoon oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
  5. Remove the dishes with polenta from the refrigerator, spread the bean mixture on top of each, then top with shredded cheese.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes until heated through. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the remaining cilantro, and let cool a few minutes before serving. Top with sour cream to serve.


The polenta in this recipe has a soft texture similar to grits, a unique twist on the cornbread traditionally used in a tamale pie. Chipotle powder is essential for flavor here; if you can’t find it, substitute hot sauce to taste.

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