Southwest turkey tamale pie

Originally I was hoping to post a story on the NatGeoTV series Mars and two friends who had much to do with its creation and development, but it needs to wait until I reconnect with them. It’s not an easy story to write – the series is complex, and so was its creation – so I’m trusting my friends will help steer me in the right direction. Sometime next week, probably…

In the meantime:

Turkey (or Chicken) Tamale Pie – Wow!


I’ll say it again – Wow. This is real Southwest cookery at its most savory and people-pleasing, and it’s a blast to make – a “pie” of turkey (or chicken) with various veggies and spices, topped with a fluffy and lightly cheesy cornmeal crust. My wife made this, but it was a joint effort because I was right behind her with the camera.

My guess is your Thanksgiving turkey leftovers are long gone, but if they’re not, this is a terrific way to treat them with the respect they deserve – savory, spicy, comfort-food satisfying. Or skip the turkey and use a roasted chicken instead. The recipe comes from our American Southwest cookbook, but I’ve made some slight changes to increase the yield: the book told us this made 6 servings, and it didn’t come close. Four of us ate this to the last hydrocarbon molecule, and were begging for more. Alas, it was not to be, darn the luck!

So the following should be plenty for 4 hungry people:

For the filling:
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2/3 cup diced green peppers
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (about 14-16 oz.) undrained diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked whole kernel corn
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives
  • 3 tbsps. mild or medium red chile powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. each oregano and salt

There’s virtually no “heat” in this ingredient list, so feel free to throw in ground cayenne or red pepper flakes or chopped jalapenos, as it suits you.

For the Cornmeal Crust:
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tbsps. butter
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten, in a small bowl
  • 1 1/2 cups (about 6 oz) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Okay, the fun begins with the filling: Preheat oven to 375. Heat the oil in a large skillet (like a # 10) over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until onion is soft (but not brown). Add the tomatoes (and their liquid), diced turkey or chicken, corn, olives, ground chile, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook on low heat for about ten minutes, and add some chicken broth if it starts to dry out. Then turn it into a lasagna pan or casserole dish.

Now the crust (or topping, since it’s not “crusty”), and there are some surprises in here: Combine cornmeal and 1/2 cup milk in a bowl, mix well. Scald the remaining 1 cup milk over medium heat in a largish saucepan, then stir in the cornmeal mixture and cook it, stirring, until the cornmeal thickens – about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the butter and stir.

Now take a small amount of the mixture and stir it into the small bowl with beaten eggs, and mix well. Return the egg-meal blend to the saucepan and mix well. Now add the shredded cheddar and salt, and stir it in.

Spoon the finished mixture over the filling, covering the whole “pie.” Bake for 40 to 45 minutes – test the crust with a knife to make sure it comes out clean.

Bring the casserole or lasagna pan to the table on a trivet, and let people serve themselves!


There it is, for now.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.