Friday, January 3, 2014

Corn Bread Tamale Pie

Joy of Cooking is probably the essential American cookbook (just as heavily used by Canadians, of course). Before the Internet made it easier to find out how long to cook turkey, or what to do with cauliflower, Joy of Cooking was giving us the low-down. It has appeared in many editions since 1931, not all of them equally popular. I have two radically different versions--one dating from 1975 and another from 1997.

I really like the 1997 version, which featured recipes influenced by many other cultures, as well as vegetarian dishes. But there are downsides. Gone are the boldface headings that made scanning the index so easy, and the sans-serif typeface that made the text so legible. Now I have to peer at fractioned quantities to see whether it is 1/2 cup or 1/3 cup of flour or sugar. Apparently in the wider world of middle-American cooking this edition is not popular--too chef-y, pretentious, and time-consuming. No shortcuts like using canned soup for a casserole sauce instead of making your own (!).

But I still like the older edition too and apparently the recent edition has moved back to this model. I regularly turn to it for inspiration and information, as evidenced by the broken spine and the index that is falling apart. I recently returned to it for a vaguely remembered meat pie with a corn bread topping that I wanted to adapt for vegetarian use.

This recipe is definitely not pretentious. It is a simple, tasty supper dish that looks attractive and freezes well.

Corn Bread Tamale Pie
Adapted from Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition
Serves 4-6

I replaced the ground beef with tofu that has been frozen, defrosted, and flavoured with soy sauce and spices. The texture of frozen tofu is completely different from fresh tofu. It becomes sponge-like, and after being drained and squeezed dry, it acquires a meaty texture that easily soaks up flavours. It's like homemade textured vegetable protein (TVP). Although I haven't tried it, I presume that commercially prepared TVP could easily be substituted for the tofu. And for meat lovers, you could just use ground meat (about 400 grams)

Instead of a can of condensed tomato soup, I use a can of tomatoes and some tomato paste. And I add more vegetables, including a chili pepper to give it some punch. If you don't like spicy food or your chili powder is spicy enough, you can omit it.

Since there is soy sauce in the tofu flavouring and salt in the tinned tomatoes, there should be no need for additional salt.

1 block firm tofu that has been frozen (375 grams, drained weight)
2 tablespoons soy sauce, low-sodium if possible
1.5 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chili pepper,finely chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 can tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chilli powder
1 cup corn, drained (canned or frozen)

Corn Bread Topping:
.75 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon sugar
.5 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoon baking powder
1 beaten egg
.3 cup milk
1 tablespoon oil

To prepare the tofu:
  1. Defrost the frozen tofu and drain it. Squeeze out as much water as you can, then tear the tofu into small pieces, continuing to squeeze out the water as you do so. Put the torn tofu in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, tomato paste, peanut butter, and spices. Add the mixture to the torn tofu and mix well so that all the tofu gets evenly coated and colored (more-or-less).
  3. In a large skillet, heat the oil then add the tofu. Cook it, stirring from time to time, until it browns. This will take 10-15 minutes.
This step can be done a day or two in advance if you want. Keep the prepared tofu in the fridge until it's needed.

To make the filling:
  1. In a large sauté pan (or pot), heat the oil over medium high heat, then sauté the onion and celery for a few minutes until the onion is soft. 
  2. Add the garlic and chopped red pepper, and after another minute add the chopped green pepper. Sauté for a few minutes more.
  3. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, corn, and prepared tofu. When the liquid begins to simmer, turn the heat down, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

To make the corn bread:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
  2. While the filling simmers, mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  3. In a smaller bowl, beat the egg and milk together.
  4. Add the egg and milk mixture to the corn meal mixture, stirring quickly to moisten all the ingredients.
  5. Stir in the oil.

To assemble the pie:
  1. Pour the tofu and vegetable mixture into a pie plate.
  2. Pour the corn bread batter over the top. Don't worry if some of it disappears into the stew. It will rise above it in the oven.
  3. Bake the pie in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the corn bread is done and beginning to brown.


  1. Nice to see you back! And funny you chose this topic, since I've been thinking a tamale pie might be just the thing right now. I used to do a vegetarian one from Diet for a Small Planet (unless it was Laurel's Kitchen). Would never have thought to look in Joy for such a thing, but whyever not, since it really is an American classic kind of thing. My Joy is probably older than yours; I think it's from the mid-late 60s. And, shoot, I seem not to have listed it on cookbooker yet, so I can't tell without going downstairs again.

  2. Thanks Kaye, It looks like 2013 was not a great year for posting, although I did try lots of new recipes. Just didn't photograph them all and they weren't all worth talking about. I'll try to be better this year ;>