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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 :)

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