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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

When it comes to vegetarian dinners, various combinations of beans, tomatoes, peppers, and cheese never seem to get old in our house! We’ve recently upped our game and started trying to cook dried beans. While it requires a little advanced planning, we found the sacrifice is worth the flavor.

Why we love this recipe: We love 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. Once the corn husk is removed, it’s eaten plain or with salsa.

Tips for making vegetarian tamale pies

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.

Storing leftovers

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.

More vegetarian Mexican inspired recipes

Here are a few more vegetarian Mexican recipes you might enjoy:

Dietary notes

This vegetarian tamale pies recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between a tamale pie and a tamale?

Tamales: Traditionally wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, tamales are individual pockets filled with savory ingredients and steamed. They often require more prep work for the dough and wrapping.

Tamale Pie: A casserole-style dish inspired by tamales. It layers similar savory fillings (often ground beef, cheese, or vegetables) with a cornmeal crust (instead of individual husks) and is baked.

Can I make a tamale pie ahead of time?

Yes! You can assemble the casserole completely and refrigerate it overnight. Bake it when you’re ready to serve.

What can I serve with tamale pie?

A simple green salad, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, or refried beans are all great accompaniments.

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Vegetarian Tamale Pies

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  • 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 ½ cups salsa
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ 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 ½ 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, ¼ teaspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon oregano, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ 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

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Melissa French, The More With Less Mom says:

    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!

  2. Jen says:

    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.

  3. Laura says:

    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.

    1. Sonja says:

      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!

  4. lynna says:

    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.

    1. Sonja says:

      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!

  5. Lauren says:

    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.

  6. Taylor says:

    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?

    1. Sonja says:

      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 :)

  7. Cassidy says:

    Dont have pinto beans DARNIT!

  8. Jen says:

    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!

    1. Sonja says:

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

  9. Charisse Scott says:

    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?

    1. Sonja says:

      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!

  10. kelly says:

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

    1. Alex says:

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

  11. Suzanne says:

    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!

  12. Vickie says:

    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.

  13. Jennie says:

    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?


    1. Sonja says:

      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?

  14. Eleny says:

    Thanks. Will try and let you know.

  15. Eleny says:

    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.

    1. Alex says:

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

  16. Colleen says:

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

  17. Debby says:

    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!

    1. Sonja says:

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

  18. Allison says:

    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!

  19. Shana says:

    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.

  20. Shana says:

    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)

  21. Angela says:

    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.

  22. Daphne says:

    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?!

    1. Sonja says:

      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!

  23. Anonymous says:

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

  24. Cara says:

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

    1. Alex says:

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

      1. Cara says:

        Thank you so much!

  25. judee@ Gluten Free A-Z says:

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

  26. Erica says:

    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.

    1. Alex says:

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

  27. Maggie says:

    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.

  28. Marisa says:

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

  29. Mandy says:

    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,

  30. outoftheoven says:

    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!

  31. alyce says:

    Yum. Love your veggie take on tamale pie.

  32. Marianne @ Meal Mixer says:

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

  33. Sortachef says:

    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!

  34. Natalie says:

    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!!

  35. Sandy@Everyday Southwest says:

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

  36. Tiffany says:

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

  37. Carly says:

    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!

  38. Aimee says:

    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!

    1. Sonja says:

      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!

  39. Ashley @perfectleypeared says:

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

  40. simone says:

    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!

  41. Ella says:

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

  42. Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum says:

    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!!

    1. Sonja says:

      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! :)

  43. Bala says:

    Beautiful! Bookmarking this one :)

  44. laura says:

    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!

  45. foodies at home says:

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

  46. Nicki says:

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

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