I’m just going to start this out by saying that I LOVE tamales. They’ve been a Shelton-family favorite for over 30 years. I grew up on 300 acres, about 20 miles from the nearest town, in the heart of the Ozarks, nowhere near authentic Mexican food. But, as luck would have it, Dad’s sister, my aunt Mary, lives in El Paso and we used to take an annual road-trip to visit her for Thanksgiving. From the time I was about five years old, I remember getting dozens of the succulent, savory, meat-filled envelopes of sweet, corn masa and gobbling them up, right alongside turkey leftovers. Admittedly, this casserole isn’t quite the same as those bags of corn-husk-wrapped gold we got from Gussie’s, the Mexican bakery down the street, but it sure comes close enough to feed my craving. Plus we’re using wholesome ingredients and veggies, two things I never associated with the “real things”.
Here’s what you’ll need:
For the filling:
- 1/2 to 1 lb. ground beef (or turkey, or replace with another can of beans to make it meatless)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 small bell pepper, diced
- 1 can kidney beans, undrained
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tomato, diced (or use canned, or Rotel)
- 1/2 c. frozen corn (or a 7.75 oz. can, drained)
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 T. cumin
- 2 T. chili powder
- Diced jalapeño, canned chipotles, or whatever you like for a little heat, if desired
- 1 t. salt
- 2 T. red wine vinegar
- 1 c. grated cheese, divided
For the cornbread:
- 1 c. cornmeal
- 1 c. flour, all or part wheat, whole, rye, etc. ( I used 1/2 c. AP flour and 1/2 c. whole wheat flour)
- 1/2 t. salt
- 2 t. baking powder
- 3 T. melted butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 c. milk
Start out by turning the oven to 425F. Then, in a large skillet or pot, cook the hamburger until mostly browned and then add the onion and bell pepper with a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until the peppers are tender and the onions are translucent.
Next, add the spices (and chiles, if using), garlic, corn, tomatoes, and beans to the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium-low. Taste for salt and spiciness and adjust accordingly.
Turn off the heat and stir in the black olives and half of the cheese. Set aside.
Prepare the cornbread batter and spread half of it in the bottom of a sprayed 9×13 baking dish. Then, spread the meat and veggie filling over the batter. Finally, spread the remaining batter over the top of the filling as evenly as possible. Because the batter can be kind of thick, I usually have to evenly place dollops of it and then spread them together with a spatula.
Bake for 15 minutes. Take it out, top it with the remaining cheese, and bake an additional 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.