Easy Tamale Pie

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

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

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


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


  • 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.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Keywords: Mexican, Easy Tamale Pie, Tamale Pie, Tamale Pie Recipe, Gluten Free, Vegetarian, 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
    September 21, 2015 at 8:00 am

    This post made me smile! I love seeing amazing bloggers like you guys show a little bit of where you started from – it gives me motivation to improve! And you really can’t go wrong with Mexican flavors, right? Lovely photos!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      Haha, your photos are miles ahead of where ours started! But thank you, that is kind of you to say :)

  • Reply
    September 21, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Love the new site guys! So clean and fresh and easy to use. Love that you’re taking the time to revisit some old recipes too – this sounds way too delicious to be lost in the archives!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      Thank you so much, Kathryn – that means a lot!

  • Reply
    September 21, 2015 at 8:29 am

    These look delicious! I love having a lot of good vegetarian recipes for when those times when friends drop by unexpectedly and you’ve got to whip something up!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 9:03 pm

      Thank you, Tori!

  • Reply
    Kathryn @ The Scratch Artist
    September 21, 2015 at 10:12 am

    The title of this post pulled me in like a magnet. These look delicious. And I love the sentiment you expressed about learning from experience. If I could share wisdom with the person I was five years ago I would say, “don’t sweat the small stuff” and much, much…much, MUCH more :-) I think it is a blessing to look back on who you once were and see all of the mistakes, mishaps, wrong-minded thinking, etc… If you see all of that now, it means you have grown. If you looked back and thought, “hey, I knew what I was doing five years ago.” Wouldn’t that mean you haven’t progressed much since then! Always growing, always learning. That is what I wish for in life.

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      I agree! After a while all those cliches become less cliche and more truth, right? (As much as I hate to admit it!) And yes, though it’s hard to look back, I actually love getting older because it’s a chance to look back on all we’ve learned about ourselves and this life…even if it can be embarrassing :)

  • Reply
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    September 21, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Love this refreshed version! It’s such a simple and satisfying meal. And I totally agree, chipotle powder is a great spice for the kitchen!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks, Katrina! Chipotle powder is a little more unusual, but we love it for an added kick :)

  • Reply
    Katie @ Whole Nourishment
    September 21, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    You describe the iterative process of life experiences so well. A tamale pie like this is total comfort food for me and it’s already getting to be that cool weather comfort food time here in Switzerland. Love your updated version on a classic!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Thank you, Katie! Yes, as much as I hate to admit it’s nearing comfort food weather in Indiana too :/

  • Reply
    September 21, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I love tamale pies (these look especially good)! and I love your new blog design!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      Thank you so much, Clem!

  • Reply
    September 21, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    5 years ago I was a junior in college. If I could go back I would tell myself to make sure to start forming good habits. I had this idea that once an opportunity would present itself (for creative work, friendship, career, what have you) then I would magically start to do everything right. But really what I needed to do was to put in the work and do it well, and then the opportunities present themselves. I would also tell myself to make sure that I work on maintaining relationships with friends, because keeping long-distance friendships takes an effort I didn’t realize, and that objectively hard times can also be subjectively good times. So much depends on attitude.

    What a useful exercise, to go back and reflect on what you wanted to know. And I imagine that it would be much the same with recipes. The old ones look tasty- but these look great.

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      I love this! Thank you for considering the question. I couldn’t agree more, especially about the attitude comment. It’s interesting how human nature can so naturally slide into the negative, but the conscious choice to live in a positive posture with gratitude can be transformational – both to life circumstances and character. Wishing you all the best in wherever life has you now! Thanks for commenting.

  • Reply
    Kelley Gardiner
    September 21, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Where does one buy chipotle powder? I don’t remember seeing any, but I haven’t been looking. Whereas I *do* have chipotles hanging out in the freezer…

    • Reply
      September 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm

      Hi Kelley! We bought it at our local grocery. You could definitely substitute a small amount of finely diced chipotle pepper or some adobo sauce (assuming your peppers are packed in them?). Maybe 1 half pepper or 1/2 teaspoon adobo sauce, then taste? The stuff is pretty potent; we just wanted to add a little bit of complexity to the overall flavor so you don’t need much. Let us know if you try it out!

  • Reply
    Jamie | The Kitchenarium
    September 21, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Oh my photos from five years ago, YIKES! I have been thinking about revisiting old recipes and think this post is fantastic. I haven’t had a tamale pie before but it is filled with all the things I love.

  • Reply
    September 22, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      September 22, 2015 at 8:43 pm

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

  • Reply
    September 28, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      September 28, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      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.

  • Reply
    Laura Baldwin
    September 30, 2015 at 4:25 am

    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

    • Reply
      September 30, 2015 at 8:57 am

      So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading :)

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