When I was about 9 or so, my stepfather decided that TV was ridiculous, so he unplugged our set and put it in the corner. We didn’t watch TV for a few years. At around the same time, my mother got really into reading the Foxfire books and she bought a small flock of chickens. I know what you’re thinking – “Wow, what an idyllic childhood!” Ha! What it meant was that later in life, when I wouldn’t understand references to The Dukes of Hazzard, my friends would accuse me of being raised in North Korea.
Along with the no TV and chicken-raising thing, my mother became virulently anti-normal food. I mean, not only did we not eat Velveeta, but we also never had American cheese slices around. I took havarti sandwiches with grainy mustard for lunch to the fourth grade. No Steakums in our house, No spaghetti. No meatloaf. No casserole. It was homemade palaak paneer, brown rice, hummus, quiche… Alas, such deprivation!
Of course, now all that stuff I was so embarrassed by as a kid (humiliation is when your friends think your mustard contains birdseed) seems pretty normal. But I have to admit, I have a deep-seated love for all things seemingly American and seemingly Normal. Like anything made with cream of mushroom soup. And green beans in a can.
So when I found this at an estate sale,
I was really excited. Not only was it a mere 25 cents, but it also contained all kinds of really Normal American recipes, circa 1950-something. The first one I tried was the recipe for tamale pie.
What could be more stereotypical Normal American!? Well, maybe meatloaf, but I looove tamales, and this seemed like an easy way to get a tamale fix without all the labor of making real tamales.
The only problem was that the recipe wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be. I mean, Worcestershire sauce? In tamales? What? Also, it’s green chile season here in Colorado, so freshly roasted New Mexico Hatch green chiles can be bought on every other street corner. I had some in the fridge that I was dying to use. I also had a little leftover ground beef, an ear of Olathe corn, and some jalapenos and tomatoes from my garden. So I used what I had and didn’t follow the recipe exactly. But it still worked, and it worked pretty well.
Wedges of this, fresh from the oven, oozed cheesy goodness. The cornmeal layers were moist but not soggy, and the green chile flavor was heavenly. I could have mixed everything together into one big mish-mash, tossed it in the oven, and called it a day, but I love that regular tamales have a filling; I wanted this pie to emulate that. It was definitely no tamale from La Casita down the street, but it did make me feel like pulling out a TV tray and watching old Quincy reruns while I ate.
(The beauty of this recipe is that you don’t really have to follow it. Er, I mean, add anything you want, change the amounts of filling ingredients, put in enough cheese to cob up everyone’s arteries for days. Really, do whatever you want with it.)
1 cup cornmeal
3 cups water
1/4 lb ground beef (or more or less – or none – depending on your meat cravings)
1 cup roasted green chiles, diced
corn from one ear (I roasted mine first, then cut off the kernels)
1/4 – 1/2 cup tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 – 1 cup cheese (I don’t want to keel over while blogging about a cheese-laden meal, so I went on the lighter side with the cheese)
First, prepare the filling ingredients. Cook what needs to be cooked (like the ground beef), cut the kernels off of the corn cob, dice your tomatoes, cut up your onion, turn the record over (I went with a little Getz/Gilberto for this one). Mix everything (except for the cheese, water, and cornmeal) together in a bowl.
Next, mix the corn meal with one cup of cold water in a sauce pan and whisk it around with a fork (or, um, a whisk) until it’s smooth. Now, give it a little heat, maybe a low/medium amount, cook it for a minute or two, and then add the rest of the water. Isn’t this great? This is how I’ve started making polenta. I read somewhere that it’s a foolproof way to ensure no lumps! I works, I swear. Cook the cornmeal/water mixture, stirring often, until it’s nice – n – thick. You want it to be pulling away from the sides of the pan a little.
Now, coat a pie pan with a little bit of oil. Spread a layer of the prepared cornmeal over the bottom of the pan. Use about half of the mixture, maybe a little less. Over the cornmeal layer spread the filling that you’ve prepared, then add a heaping layer of cheese. Hmm, I guess you could probably mix the cheese in with the filling ingredients. I just wanted a definite, cheesy layer that would ooze.
Carefully, over the top of the filling, spread the rest of the cornmeal mixture. I plopped big gobs of it over the filling and then gently spread it around. That seemed to work well.
Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Slice and eat and think about how lucky you are that you didn’t actually grow up in North Korea.