Easy tamale pie: gluten-free and dairy-free

A few years ago, I made a version of tamale pie where I made tamale dough and put something in the middle (honest, I can’t remember; it might have been chili inside). I’m not sure why that went out of my rotation. More recently, I made a tamale pie as more of an experiment with black beans and salsa on the bottom and tamale dough on top. That was a huge hit.

I was in a “conversation” with another mom blogger on twitter about tamale pie and she asked if it was dairy-free too. One thing I don’t use is any cheese or butter because my daughter is sensitive to dairy. I know this would be really good with cheese inside but it’s not an option for us. So, I made it a little creamy with coconut milk instead.

It’s gluten-free in the sense that it does not have any gluten ingredients. However, when I was doing some research I found that some of the masa mixtures can be contaminated either in production or delivery. If you are Celiac or intolerant, make sure the masa is “clean” as this is one potential way gluten can sneak in. I used Minsa masa for tamales.

What I like about this recipe is the method; I am the queen of technique! The filling can be anything you want. I would suggest something that is not too dry so that the filling is still moist. The filling was kind of soupy but it was perfect after being cooked. The dough is really easy and even easier to make dairy-free. Once everything is measured, it took less than 10 minutes; maybe closer to 5. After the dough is prepared, get it in the pan right away and into the oven. Since it has baking powder in it, it will start reacting once the liquid is added.

The recipe for the filling made about a cup more than I needed but I didn’t mind as I saved that for another meal for one of my kids. If you want something even quicker, see the note below in the filling instructions. And of course, enjoy!

Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Tamale Pie 
(omit chicken for a vegan version)

1 teaspoon olive oil
1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
About 1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons salsa or pico de gallo (I used some I had leftover from a taqueria visit)

1 cup plain unsweetened milk substitute
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
2 cups corn, cooked, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro and/or 2 tablespoons salsa
Note: You can skip steps 1-4 and use about 2 cups of cooked chicken seasoned with some Mexican seasonings and/or add more salsa to the filling. Or, for a vegan version, omit the chicken, start on step 5, and add another can of black beans.

1. Make the filling. Heat a 3 quart sauté pan to medium (one that has high sides). Add oil and swirl in pan. Add chicken thighs. Sprinkle seasoning over chicken (salt, pepper, oregano, chili powder and cumin). Do not move chicken in pan.
2. After about 5 minutes, turn over and cook another few minutes.
3. Add broth and salsa (if you don’t have salsa, just add the broth), bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Cover and cook about 1 hour or until tender.
4. Remove chicken and cut up into bite sized pieces. Strain broth and use for next step. Reserve what is in the strainer and add to chicken. Cool.
5. While the chicken is cooling, thicken the milk substitute. I use coconut milk from the carton, not can, for this dish. Heat up the milk until almost hot. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with a tablespoon of cold water. Add this to the milk and stir. Continue cooking until thickened. Cool slightly.

6. In a medium bowl, add chicken, corn, black beans, cilantro, salsa, and coconut milk. Taste the filling and make sure it’s seasoned well. If necessary, add more salt, salsa, cilantro, or spices. Set aside. It should be “wet”. Remember, you might have extra filling.

Tamale Dough
3/4 cup shortening or butter, softened
3 cups masa for tamales (some brands might not be gluten-free; always check with the manufacturer)
2 teaspoons baking power
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 13”x9” pan (I used an oval baking dish that was slightly smaller).
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the shortening or butter until fluffy and smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients (masa, baking powder and salt). Slowly add the chicken broth and mix until fully incorporated.

4. Add the masa mixture to the shortening or butter. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or electric mixer, making sure all of the shortening is mixed in.

5. Place half of masa mixture in the bottom of the pan and spread evenly. Add enough chicken mixture to cover the masa and spread on top; reserve extra filling for another use. Top with the remaining masa mixture and spread evenly.

Top with a greased piece of foil and place in the oven. Bake 40-45 minutes covered. Dough should be cooked and mostly firm.
6. Let rest 5-10 minutes and serve.

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