Tamale pie

Contributed by Food for health editors

Tamale pie

This is a great vegetarian recipe for a cold winter evening meal. With the addition of a nice salad, you have an easily prepared and delicious meal.

The crust has a wonderful buttery taste — everyone will swear you put in a couple of tablespoons. Buttermilk and light oil is the combo that gives the buttery crust flavor. This is a great counter to the spicy heartiness of the pie filling.

The recipe is adapted from one found in the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook. The book is filled with great-tasting reduced-fat versions of the famous restaurant’s recipes. This version has a bit more spice than the original and uses yams instead of carrots.

There is a bit of chopping involved, but most can be done while other ingredients are cooking. It is easily adaptable and a great dish to play with — cheese can be added to the crust and for meat-eaters, a bit of cooked ground beef adds some extra flavor. Don’t be afraid to innovate. Add a bit of this or that, depending on your own tastes and interests.  Throw in a can of corn or sliced olives, or substitute carrots for yams.

Servings: 8


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano (Mexican Oregano’s strong flavor is best)
  • 3 bell peppers, medium, mix of colors (red adds sweetness and color contrast, while green adds zest)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds and white membrane removed, chopped finely,
  • 3 medium sized zucchini, quartered and chopped
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes (15 ounce can, do not drain)
  • 2 medium-sized yams or 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 cups cooked black beans without liquid – either a 15 ounce can (drained) or see recipe below for better texture
  • Cilantro (optional) 1/3 bunch, stems finely and leaves coarsely chopped
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste


  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 egg whites, beaten
  • 1/2 cup nonfat or regular buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons oil, safflower, or sunflower works best, but any light vegetable oil will do (do not use peanut oil)

Optional crust version

  • Add 4 oz grated cheddar cheese over the crust batter.
  • It may not be compulsory, but it makes it very special and you’ll love it.  Skip it if you plan to use processed low-fat cheese — why bother?

Bean recipe

  • 1 cup dried black beans
  • 2 tablespoons dehydrated onion
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Cover dried black (turtle) beans in a bowl with 1-inch water for 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Transfer hydrated beans with soaking water to a saucepan. Add water to cover beans plus 1 inch. Add onions, celery seed, and salt. Bring to boil.
  3. Reduce to simmer for 20 to 25 minutes then set aside to cool.
  4. Warm the olive oil at medium-high heat, in a large, heavy frying pan. Add the onions, reduce to medium heat for about 10 minutes until beginning to brown, stirring occasionally.
  5. Next, add garlic and continue to cook for 5 minutes, remember to stir. Then, toss in bell and jalapeño peppers and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add yams and zucchini, cook for another 5 minutes, stir and then add cumin, coriander, and oregano.
  7. Mix in tomatoes and beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until vegetables are cooked, but not soft. Add fresh cilantro if you like — chop up about half a bunch of leaves and mix into filling after removing from heat.
  8. Taste and set aside to cool slightly while preparing the crust
  9. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  
  10. Use a 2-quart nonreactive casserole dish — the best one is a high wasted, soufflé type dish; or if you use a low-slung casserole dish, you’ll need to double the crust. Spoon in the filling mixture with a slotted spoon to within one inch of top.  You can add some liquid, depending on taste and consistency. There will likely be some filling leftover, it makes a wonderful side dish or can be added to eggs for a scramble.
  11. In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  12. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites. Mix buttermilk and oil gently into egg whites.
  13. Even more gently, using a spatula, fold the egg/buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients.  Use large, full sweeps and stir just until mixed.
  14. Pour the batter directly on top of the filling in a casserole, using a spatula to cover.  The crust will not be thick and should not go over the rim.  It is at this point that the optional (but desirable) cheese can be spread over the crust.
  15. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is golden.  Check often in the last 5 to 10 minutes; it can brown quickly. 

Nutrition information (per serving)

  • Calories: 260
  • Total fat: 6 g
  • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 620 mg
  • Total carbohydrate: 43 g
  • Dietary fiber: 11 g
  • Total sugars: 11 g
  • Protein: 11 g