Every Christmas growing up, someone made tamales. When it was my family’s turn, the tamale process was a whole-day ordeal that required everyone to pitch in. So it’s no wonder that I’ve never had the inclination to make tamales on my own. But then I learned about the tamale pie and it just made so much sense. Take the basic ingredients of a tamale and layer them like a casserole, as this poorly-taken photograph shows.
There are some dishes that I just hesitate to call recipes. Is it really a recipe if you can add anything you want?
So, start with a nice thick masa base. You’ll make it using masa harina, found in just about every Latino section of the supermarket. Masa harina is what makes corn tortillas and the filling for tamales.
After the masa base, you are on your own as far the toppings. Sometimes, I’m in the mood for red enchilada sauce. Sometimes I want green. Sometimes I have time to make the sauce from scratch and sometimes I open a can. The green casserole in the picture at the top uses a Creamy Poblano Pepper Sauce. Other times I have some left-over carne adobada or chicken tinga. Sometimes I shred chicken; other times I brown ground beef. Or, I just make it vegetarian like I did here.
Sometimes I sauté mushrooms, onions and garlic. On occasion, I’ll add roasted poblanos.
If I add cheese, I prefer gouda, queso fresco, jalapeño jack or habanero cheddar. Then, to finish it off in the most heavenly way, it gets a dollop of avocado salsa verde on top.
- 1 cup masa harina
- 1 cup chicken broth (you can use the liquid from cooking the chicken)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups of beans (pinto, black, Peruvian, kidney, etc. canned or freshly made)
- ½ onion, diced (optional)
- 2 chicken breasts (or any other meat)
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons chopped chipotles in adobo
- 1 cup cheese, shredded
- ½ cup avocado salsa verde
For the Filling:
1. Let’s start with the chicken. My favorite way to prepare chicken for Mexican dishes is to throw the chicken into the slow cooker with broth and chipotle peppers in the morning. I set the slow cooker on the lowest setting before heading off to work. If you are cooking it while you’re at work, I really recommend throwing in the chicken frozen to prevent dryness. Of course, you can also do this on the stove top.
2. Once cooked, remove the chicken from the broth and shred using two forks. Set aside the chicken.
3. If you are adding in onion, sauté the onions until translucent. Set aside with the chicken.
For the Masa Dough:
4. Next up, prep the masa dough. Mix together all the ingredients listed for the dough. For the chicken broth, I like to use the broth the chicken cooked in. The flavor gets so rich and it’s got the spice from the chipotles. You want to mix the ingredients until just mixed- be careful not to overmix. Spread the dough on the bottom of a baking dish.
5. Pop the baking dish into the oven. Bake at 350˚ for 20-25 minutes. It will be ready when the dough has started to firm up and is no longer wet. You don’t want to over-bake it though because dry masa is dull masa.
6. Once the masa dough is ready, take it out of the oven. Spread with the beans, chicken and onions. Drench the whole thing in sauce. You might have some sauce left over- freeze it for another day.
7. If you are using cheese, spread it over the top.
8. Put back into the oven for another 10 minutes.
9. Once out of the oven, cut into 8 pieces. If you are adding the avocado green salsa, add it right before serving.
Yields 8 servings
With chicken, no cheese or avocado: WW Points+: 6 per serving
Calories 234, Carbs 23, Fat 8, Protein 19g
With chicken, cheese and avocado: WW Points+: 8 per serving
Calories 300, Carbs 24g, Fat 13g, Protein 22g