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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!

Easy tamale pie

This post was created in partnership with Muir Glen. All opinions are our own.

Upon graduating college I remember my frustration that every job opening wanted an applicant with X years of “experience”. Now, I get it. Experience is precious, and only attainable through simply doing life — all the messy, hard, stretching, painful parts of it. Mistakes, and successes, hammer home lessons that only experience can give. In the past five years we’ve ruined more recipes than we can count, burned pizzas, caught a chicken on fire (my favorite), and spattered our kitchen in neon orange carrot soup. But we wouldn’t give it up for anything. It’s experience that helps us create great recipes: like this easy tamale pie.

Easy tamale pie

How to make tamale pie

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!

How to make tamale pie? Here are the basic steps:

  1. Make the polenta: whisk cornmeal into boiling water, then simmer for about 20 minutes.
  2. Pour the polenta into serving dishes and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (This part can be done up to 2 days ahead.)
  3. Mix together the filling: pinto beans, tomatoes, corn, salsa, spices, and cilantro.
  4. Spread the filling on the polenta and top with cheese.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes at 350F.
How to make tamale pie

How to serve this easy tamale pie

This flavorful Mexican-style vegetarian main dish been a winner in our household for years. You can make it for any occasion in any season, so it’s thoroughly adaptable. It does take a bit of forethought to make the polenta and refrigerate it before hand, so be sure to plan ahead. Also note that the polenta has a texture of grits and not the texture of cornbread, which is traditionally used in a tamale pie.

Here are a few things we’d suggest serving with this easy tamale pie:

Easy tamale pie

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Did you make this recipe?

If you make these vegetarian tamale pies, we’d love to hear how they turned out. Leave a comment below or share a picture and mention @acouplecooks on Facebook or Instagram.

Mexican vegetarian main dish

Looking for savory pie recipes?

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

How to make tamale pie

This recipe is…

This easy tamale pie recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free.

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Easy Tamale Pie


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  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
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Description

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


Ingredients

Scale
  • 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

Instructions

  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, ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder, 1 teaspoon oregano, and ½ 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.

Notes

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.

  • 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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25 Comments

  1. Laura Baldwin says:

    I`m so glad that I found your blog :) There is so hard to find good vegetarian recipes and this, I can say, it`s brilliant. My whole family is vegetarian and we enjoy this very much. So now you have new fans :) Thank you

    1. Sonja says:

      So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading :)

  2. Hollie says:

    This was my first time making a recipe from your blog, and I enjoyed it for the most part!

    The cooking was relatively easy, and packed a pretty nutritious punch per bite. I couldn’t find chipotle powder at my grocery store, so I subbed this chipotle-garlic grilling blend instead. I think that may have been why my dish came out a little blander than expected. For other people who can’t get their hands on the chipotle powder, I would add some crushed red pepper flakes or maybe a little bit of cayenne pepper. Once I did, the flavor problem was fixed pretty easily!

    1. Sonja says:

      Yes, the chipotle powder really gives the dish some life! I agree that some hot sauce or red pepper flakes would be a good substitute.

  3. vivian says:

    I made this tonight for dinner and it was wonderful. I forgot the corn, but it was still good. I love the idea of polenta with Mexican flavours, and it totally makes sense. Very filling, and not at all difficult. Thanks for a great recipe!

    1. Sonja says:

      Vivivan, thanks for making it — so glad you enjoyed it!

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