Vegetarian Tamale Pies

This vegetarian tamale pie recipe is easy to throw together if you use prepared polenta and canned beans. Top with sour cream and enjoy!

Vegetarian Tamale Pie

Mexican is quickly becoming one of our favorite styles for cooking. Somehow various combinations of beans, tomatoes, peppers, and cheese never seem to get old!  We’ve recently upped our game and started trying to cook dried beans. While it requires a little advanced planning (the gene for which we both naturally lack), we found the sacrifice is worth the taste. We loved these vegetarian tamale pies as a new way to experience Latin flavors outside of a quesadilla. They might be one of my favorite Mexican-inspired recipes we’ve made yet, especially since they come in their own personal dish (if you don’t have au gratin dishes, any small oven safe dish will do).

This vegetarian tamale pie recipe is very easy to throw together if you use prepared polenta and canned beans, but it’s just as fun to make your own from “scratch” – and tastes better too! It’s a great option for dinner guests that’s impressive, but not too labor intensive.

What is a tamale?

Making traditional tamales requires a lot of time and effort, but the end product is spectacular. Essentially, a tamale is masa (corn dough) that’s been filled with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables, wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed. The filling typically features salsa or mole, which is a Mexican sauce that’s usually made with peppers and cinnamon. To eat a tamale, you should first remove the corn husk. Then, top it with salsa or enjoy it as is!

We’ve obviously taken quite a few liberties with these vegetarian tamale pies. Polenta has been used in place of the masa, and we’ve packed the polenta on the bottom of au gratin dishes to act as the crust for this recipe. Store-bought salsa and canned pinto beans cut down on the prep time for this recipe, as does pre-shredded cheese.

These vegetarian tamale pies are best eaten right away, but they keep nicely in the fridge for up to three days. If you keep the pies in the au gratin dishes, you can reheat the leftovers easily in the oven. Otherwise a few minutes in the microwave will do the trick. Sprinkle the leftovers with fresh cilantro and a dollop of sour cream to add some life back into the dish.

Looking for more vegetarian Mexican recipes?

Looking for savory pie recipes?

This vegetarian tamale pies is one of our fan favorite recipes. If you’re looking for some more savory pie recipes, here are a few on our website and around the web:

This recipe is…

Vegetarian and gluten-free.

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Vegetarian Tamale Pies

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (39 votes, average: 3.87 out of 5)

  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x


This vegetarian tamale pie recipe is easy to throw together if you use prepared polenta and canned beans. Top with sour cream and enjoy!


  • 6 au gratin or small oven proof dishes (or one 9 x 9 baking dish)
  • 1 cup cornmeal for polenta (or prepared polenta, about two 18 ounce tubes)
  • 3 cups pinto beans, cooked (or canned)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend (or a mix of Monterrey jack and cheddar)
  • Sour cream to serve


  1. Make the polenta. When it is done, spread a layer evenly in the bottom of each dish. For a firm polenta as the base layer, prepare the polenta in advance and refrigerate for 1 hour or more prior to baking.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Chop the cilantro. Drain the can of diced tomatoes and 1 1/2 cups salsa to remove excess liquid. If using canned beans, drain and rinse the beans.
  4. In large bowl, coarsely mash the beans with a fork. Add 1 cup corn, tomatoes, salsa, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 cup cilantro. Mix to combine.
  5. Spoon the bean mixture on top of the polenta. Top each dish with cheese and remaining cilantro.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes until heated through. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving. Top with sour cream to serve.
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Keywords: vegetarian tamale pie




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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.


  • Reply
    February 25, 2011 at 11:12 am

    YUM! I am most definitely making these for dinner. :-)

  • Reply
    foodies at home
    February 27, 2011 at 2:33 am

    I love that you used polenta in this recipe! And yes…it is good to think outside the tortillas!

  • Reply
    February 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    i love the combination of flavors and textures. it would be a cinch to toss in some seasonal veggies too – squash, zucchini, etc. saving this to my online cookbook ( immediately!

  • Reply
    February 28, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Beautiful! Bookmarking this one :)

  • Reply
    Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum
    February 28, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Holy pictures. I love your photographs, and I love your recipes. I’m still thinking about that sweet potato and black bean enchilada dish… I have it bookmarked, and now I’ll have to add this to my bookmarks as well. Beautiful!!

    • Reply
      March 1, 2011 at 2:25 pm

      Thank you for the nice comments! Those sweet potato and black bean enchiladas were pretty delicious – now I’m thinking about remaking them too!

      Also, checked out your blog — I love your photos and overall design! :)

  • Reply
    March 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    I love Mexican food and this looks so incredibly good.
    I would add some green salsa to it too.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    I just found your blog through foodgawker and wow, those photos are amazing! Love the mexican recipes too! I will definitely be coming back for more!

  • Reply
    Ashley @perfectleypeared
    March 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    OMG this looks absolutely amazing!! i love pies and this just makes my day!

  • Reply
    March 3, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I just made this for dinner and it was fantastic. I didn’t have pinto beans, so I used half black beans and half kidney beans since I had them in my pantry. We ate it with sliced avocado on the side. I’m happy I doubled the recipe since now I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Yum!

    • Reply
      March 4, 2011 at 10:47 am

      Great – I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Any type of beans you have work perfectly in this recipe (though for some reason I particularly enjoyed pinto beans). Thanks for trying it out!

  • Reply
    March 8, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Made this last night for dinner and loooved it. Thank you! I love having recipes like this on hand that will be flexible with what I have. I followed the recipe yesterday but in the future, I can see adding different beans, adding vegetables, using pepperjack cheese, etc, etc. Thanks!

  • Reply
    March 9, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I love simple dishes that pack major flavor! And the individual ramekins are super cute!

  • Reply
    [email protected] Southwest
    March 10, 2011 at 4:12 am

    Really great recipe! It takes all the greatest parts of tamales and leaves the rest!
    Congratulations on the top 9!

  • Reply
    March 10, 2011 at 5:03 am

    I made some squash & bean tacos the other night and have some of the filling left. This looks like the perfect recipe to use it up, I’ve never cooked Mexican with polenta before. Thanks for the new idea & congrats on Top 9!!

  • Reply
    March 10, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Hey, I love this! Great use of local ingredients in a tasty way. Out in the Northwest, we’ve discovered some mills that do small production, including Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point, OR. What a difference fresh makes… Thanks!

  • Reply
    Marianne @ Meal Mixer
    March 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Those look terrific! Awesome use of ingredients that most people have hanging around, too. : ) I think I’ll make this for lunch!

  • Reply
    March 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Yum. Love your veggie take on tamale pie.

  • Reply
    March 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I made this for dinner tonight, and it was a huge hit! The husband has requested that it be added to the top of my “go-to” recipe list. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • Reply
    March 15, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Wow, these look so amazing! I’ve been looking for new ideas to add more vegetarian meals into my family’s meal plans. This looks like a great one to try out. Thanks so much. I just became a follower of your blog. I really like it!

    Best wishes,

  • Reply
    March 18, 2011 at 7:05 am

    This is such a wonderfully simple idea for weeknight suppers. Thanks!

  • Reply
    July 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Someone “pinned” this today over at Pinterest and I’ve gotta say, I’m glad they did so I’d get to see it. Looks so yummy – definately on my to do list.

  • Reply
    August 7, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Wonderful! I made this last night for my husband and three little ones, and it was loved by all. I thought it might be too spicy for my 16 month old daughter, but she loved it as well! I used your polenta recipe for the base, and it was fantastic as well. My husband was a huge fan of the polenta, and he suggested that I try some other recipes with polenta. My dad loves traditional tamales, so I plan on making this for him next time that he visits. I am sure he would enjoy it as well. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

    • Reply
      August 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it! Polenta makes a great base for any summer-time grilled veggies :)

  • Reply
    [email protected] Gluten Free A-Z
    November 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I love the polenta base for this tamale. I am now following you. I would love it if you followed me back

  • Reply
    November 14, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Where did you get those baking dishes? I have been looking for something like those for a while.

    • Reply
      November 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm

      Hi! They were a gift – but I believe that they are “au gratin” dishes from Crate and Barrel.

      • Reply
        November 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm

        Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    November 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Want to make this, but don’t know how to make polenta.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I want to make this but need suggestions on how to cook beans from scratch. I’ve tried a few times because I know it’s cheaper and healthier but every time, they seem to take much longer to cook then the package says. Any tips?!

    • Reply
      November 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm

      Great question! We’re actually still working on our preferred method for cooking dried beans, and we have been hoping to post on this for a while! Thanks for the reminder :) What type of beans are you trying to cook? I have a few reference materials that could help, but it’s different for each type of beans. Let me know!

  • Reply
    November 23, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Just made this for dinner. My husband said only give me a little – thinking he was not going to like…well he went back for seconds! Great refreshing meal to eat before Thanksgiving.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    We loved this dish. I substituted creamed corn and I think it made the dish too loose. I also put it all in a big casserole dish and baked it that way. My polenta was slightly lumpy, and tips to avoid that for next time (We’re definitely making this again)

  • Reply
    January 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    For Daphne above, I made pinto beans, soaked them a full 24 hours. Drained and rinsed them then refilled the pot to 2″ over the beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to 2 (low) and simmer with the lid on for 2 hours. Mine turned out perfect. I have not tried them before this.

  • Reply
    February 26, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Just wanted to stop by and let you know that I made this recipe tonight and everyone really loved it! I’m looking forward to left overs for lunch tomorrow! :) Thanks for a great recipe!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    I made this for guests, and they loved it. I only used one 18-oz. tube of polenta instead of two, and it was plenty.
    I love your recipes and photos. Thank you for sharing!

    • Reply
      March 28, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      You’re welcome!! Thanks for trying them out! :)

  • Reply
    May 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I found this recipe on Pinterest and served it to some guests, it was a huge hit! Good Job!

  • Reply
    June 1, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Does it freeze well? I really want to give it a try but there is only my son and I, so would love to freeze the leftovers.

    • Reply
      June 1, 2012 at 8:16 am

      We’ve never tried freezing. I think that they’d probably be OK though.

  • Reply
    June 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks. Will try and let you know.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Saw this on Pinterest and in my kitchen making now! However have a question: ingredient list calls for 1 1/2 cup salsa, but in directions only mixing in 1/2 cup. Where am I missing the other cup?


    • Reply
      June 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Great catch! I’ll update the recipe to say 1 1/2 cups salsa. Sorry that I just saw this comment – you probably had to proceed with the recipe without it! How did it turn out?

  • Reply
    July 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Can not wait to do this! I would like to make ahead and freeze. Can you advise me as to how to freeze…at what stage.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Made this for dinner tonight (I didn’t have canned tomatoes, so I had to substitute fresh, diced cherry tomatoes) and I used kidney beans because that’s what I had. Cooking it in a round deep dish pie pan. Love how versatile this is! Can’t wait to eat it!

  • Reply
    December 18, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I just made this recipe for a party this weekend. It was amazing – everyone loved it. Thanks so much!!

    • Reply
      December 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      Awesome! Glad you enjoyed the recipe. Did you just serve out of a standard baking dish?

  • Reply
    Charisse Scott
    January 28, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    About to bake mine now. I am a bit concerned because the salsa made it really wet and mushy. Will cooking it evaporate some of the liquid to makeit a bit more dry?

    • Reply
      January 28, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      Hi Charisse! I’m not sure if you’ve already baked your tamale pies, but yes, the cooking will thicken some of the liquid. However, if you’ve used very watery salsa and are worried about it, you could try straining a bit of the liquid off (sometimes I do that with salsas that are more watery than chunky). Let me know if this helps and how it turned out!

  • Reply
    February 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Wow!! I made this tonight and my boyfriend and I loved it. You know when you see something that sounds good, and then you are a little surprised when it is actually as good as you hoped? That is this dish!! I used fire roasted tomatoes with adobo, hot salsa verde, and premade polenta with quinoa. We just ate and I already am looking forward to lunch tomorrow. :) Thanks for sharing this!

    • Reply
      February 17, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Oh, how wonderful! Thank you for letting us know, Jen! Your additions sound perfect. Now I want to try it that way too! :)

  • Reply
    February 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Dont have pinto beans DARNIT!

  • Reply
    March 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Gonna make these for dinner next week! I love that these can be made in little single-serving sizes, so I can add some ground beef for the carnivores :)

    Question though: do you think one of these would fill someone up after some salad/appetizers or would it need some sort of side to be satisfying as a meal?

    • Reply
      March 14, 2013 at 8:18 am

      So glad you’re planning to try these! We ate them as a main course. I think that after salad and appetizers, they would definitely be a filling enough meal! Though you may want to plan 2 servings for a hungry eater :)

  • Reply
    July 4, 2013 at 9:31 am

    This looks great. I love that you cooked these as individuals in soup bowls; I always forget about presentation when it comes to making casseroles.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Made these tonight. I think adding the cheese in only the last 10 minutes would be better…the cheese was hard to get through, but the taste was fabulous. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Reply
      July 24, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      Thanks for this feedback! We may have to go back and verify the timing since it’s been a long time since we made this :) Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    September 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    I just made this tonight it seemed very soupy and mushy. The flavors were good but the texture was not desirable. I was confused about the desired consistency of the polenta…mine came out soft and I think it would’ve been much better firm. The directions made it seem like refrigerating it after making was an option, not required. But now I’m wondering if that would’ve helped the polenta set so it was firmer. Can you help me out with the specifics about the polenta? I used the recipe you linked to but still felt like I failed.

    • Reply
      September 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

      Hi Laura! Sorry for the late response on this. I’m sorry that the consistency didn’t work out for you. We did refrigerate the polenta so that it firmed up prior to baking. I have just updated the recipe to be more clear about that! Thank you for this feedback. If you’d like to try it again, I would refrigerate the polenta for at least 1 hour or more before baking, and see if this comes out better. Let me know if this works!

  • Reply
    March 9, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    I just found your website. I will be making these Vegetable Tamales this week for my family. I also noticed you live in Indianapolis! I grew up there – great city. I now live in Colorado but go back to Indy at least once a year. Thanks for sharing your recipes.

  • Reply
    Melissa French, The More With Less Mom
    May 30, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Hi! I linked to this recipe in my June Real Food Monthly Meal Plan article. I love that this is a pretty, pantry recipe. Thanks for posting!

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