30-Minute Vegetarian Tamale Pie


Tamale Pie

We all need great quick dinner ideas, right? This recipe fits the bill perfectly. I love a good tamale pie and, like many tex-mex dishes, it is easy to make vegetarian. It comes together super fast and is quite healthy since it does not contain any butter or oil.

Once upon a time, this recipe was inspired by an oddly-named dish in Vegetarian Times: Shepherd’s Pie. Shepherd’s pie has a mashed potato layer on the top, but the dish in the magazine had a cornbread topping. Definitely not shepherd’s pie. Cornbread topping is closer to a tamale pie. So started by I changing the recipe’s name. And I didn’t stop there.

The original recipe included some confusing elements like using the liquid drained from the beans in the dish. Now, this is a great idea if you make you own beans, but not if you’re using the liquid from canned beans. Ick. Second, the original recipecalled for a mere 6 tsp of a corn bread mix for the topping. This skimpy layer was barely enough to cover half the pie and certainly did not provide a good cornbread-to-filling ratio, which is crucial. I started out slowly increasing the amount of cornbread, but then I made a crucial measuring error one time and ended up with way more than I intended. However, this error turned out to be the key to the perfect ratio! I have since made a┬ácouple more changes and the resulting recipe barely resembles the original. This is a far better creation.

Vegetarian Tamale Pie 2

The one thing that I did keep from the original was the genius idea to use plain greek yogurt as the liquid part of the cornbread topping. This means that the resulting cornbread layer is remarkably low in fat since there is no oil or butter, but it very fluffy and flavorful. The greek yogurt also provides a nice tang akin to buttermilk, but is not assertive. You can even use extra yogurt as a sour cream-like topping. My husband LOVES sour cream. One time I ran out of it and scooped some plain greek yogurt into a separate container. He never noticed the difference. Since I told him this trick he is not so easily fooled and swears he can tell the difference, but I know better. Put some in a separate container if you need to and your family will use this healthier alternative without batting an eye!

I do want to give credit for the cornbread portion of this recipe. I modified this copycat recipe for Jiffy cornbread mix. I used to love Jiffy as I feel it’s the perfect Southern (sweet) cornbread, but then I discovered that it contains lard. Not so vegetarian friendly. Plus the Jiffy recipe uses partially hydrogenated lard, so it also has trans fat. This copycat recipe is almost as easy, and I know exactly what I am eating! I reduced the sugar, but other than that, I use this recipe as written.

30 Min Vegetarian Tamale Pie

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Serves 4


  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tbs. chili powder
  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 3 tbs. tomato paste (or ketchup)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tbs. sugar
  • 1 tbs. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Coat a 9-inch, deep dish pie pan with cooking spray or oil and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and chili powder. Cook till onions soften, about 4 min.
  3. Stir in tomato paste (you even can use ketchup in a pinch), diced tomatoes, and beans. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally while you prepare the cornbread layer.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in greek yogurt and egg. Mixture will be very stiff.
  5. Transfer the bean mixture to the prepared pie pan. Dollop the cornbread mixture on top, gently spreading to cover the beans.
  6. Bake at 425 F for 10-15 until the cornbread is golden. Serve warm with extra greek yogurt.