Vegan tamale pie recipe with cornbread topping filled with lentils, kidney beans, corn, and black beans in a creamy enchilada-inspired tomato sauce is a crowd-pleasing plant-based meal.
Why make a pie for dinner?
Savory pie recipes are comforting one-dish meals that are hot, out-of-the-oven satisfying. This is also a surprisingly easy recipe to make because it essentially breaks down into making the lentil and bean filling and then topping it with the cornbread crust.
Adding a crust or topping is a great way to bring even the simplest dishes or leftover stew to the height of culinary delight. Perhaps it’s the surprise the lies underneath or adding the ‘bready’ part on top rather than on the side.
What you need for the filling
Consider the filling in two parts. The first, cooking the lentils and then adding everything else. Here’s what you’ll need:
Onions and green bell pepper – If you practice oil-free sauteing, as we always do, you probably perk up when you see green pepper. The natural moisture of bell peppers makes it a breeze and limits the stickiness.
Cumin, coriander, and chili powder – I use homemade chili powder because I know exactly how hot it is. Mine is also salt-free. This is my way of saying, ‘adjust as needed depending on what kind of chili powder you use.
Canned green chilis – If you can get your hands on a small can (7 oz./198 gm.) of chopped green chilis, this is where you want to use them. Green chilis have a mellow, smoky flavor, different from fresh, and will less heat.
Green lentils – Green lentils hold their shape when simmered and then baked in the pie. Brown lentils would serve the same purpose; however, you won’t get this result with red lentils, so they wouldn’t make the best substitute.
Vegetable broth – Vegetable broth or water is the best way to cook the lentils because it allows them to move more freely as they simmer. That’s why we wait until after to add the sauce.
Tomato sauce and maple syrup – Once the lentils are cooked, finish the mock enchilada sauce with the tomato sauce and maple syrup or another liquid sweetener.
Red kidney beans, corn, black beans – It wouldn’t be something chili without beans and corn. The differences in flavor and texture of the two kinds of beans keep things interesting, but you can use any beans with this one. Aim for 2 15-ounce cans or 3 cups of beans. Don’t forget the corn. The bright sweetness and firm kernel texture are hard to beat. You can also use pinto beans or white kidney beans. Just search your pantry and go.
A cornbread 'lid'
You can gather the ingredients for the crust while the lentils simmer with plenty of time left over for a few twirls around the kitchen. Here's all you'll need:
Flax egg – the reliable flax egg, a star of vegan pot pie crust, serves as the super-binder here. Be sure you use ground flax seeds (2 tablespoons), combine it with 6 tablespoons of water, and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes.
Cornmeal – Use yellow cornmeal, not the more refined corn flour. That’s where all the flavor will come from. You could also use polenta, although, in most places, cornmeal is easy to find.
Whole wheat flour – Whole wheat is our plant-based ‘go-to’ flour. You can also use Masa Harina with is gluten-free.
Baking powder – Baking powder is the leavening (raising agent). Baking powder helps to create an airier texture.
Salt – I tried this crust without salt, but I prefer adding ½ a teaspoon. If you are salt-free, then you likely won't notice if you leave it out.
Apple sauce – Did you know that apple sauce can be used as an oil replacement in baking? Yep – in certain circumstances, cornmeal crust is one of them.
Plant milk – Oat, almond, soy, whatever you fancy.
Jalapenos – A sliced jalapeno is likely more vanity than flavor as it’s just one. I mixed half the slices in the batter then added a few on top for show.
- Make the flax egg (ground flax and water) before you start cooking. This allows it time to thicken. You can mix together the rest of the dry ingredients before cooking. Wait to mix in the wet ingredients until you are ready to top the filling. Otherwise, the cornmeal batter can get very thick.
- Be sure to give the lentils time to cook until they are tender. Green lentils hold up to extra cooking time, so if you happen to add too much water, just allow the pot to simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Turn this into a quicker weeknight meal by making the filling a day ahead. Store it in a baking dish or transfer it to a bowl and keep it in the refrigerator. If you are using a cast-iron pan, I don’t recommend keeping it in there overnight as it can degrade the pan. The filling can also be frozen and then thawed before adding the crust.
- The filling should be, at the least, room temperature before you add it to the oven along with the crust.
- The nature of the cornbread crust is such that it often cracks a bit as it bakes. It’s a result of the ingredients expanding and the baking powder. It can also happen when you have a thinner layer because you are covering a larger area. Don’t fret about a few imperfections. It’s going to taste fantastic!
- Most important of all is making sure the crust is done. The middle is the last to bake. Depending on your oven temperature, it can take more time. Be sure the crust is firm in the middle when you press on it. Don't be afraid to give it another 5-10 minutes. You can test it by inserting a toothpick in the middle. If it has batter on it when you remove it, you need more baking time.
- If you take the pie out, let it sit for five minutes, eagerly cut into it, only to realize the crust isn't completely done, you can put it back in the oven. Yes, I've done that before. No harm, no foul.
- Don’t add the cornbread crust until right before you are ready to bake the pie. If you mix the crust and leave it for a few hours, it may start to thicken. Mix in a few tablespoons of plant milk to thin it out if necessary.
Tamale pie is a beloved American creation that made a splash in the 1900s in the Southwest of the U.S. It quickly swamped home economics curricula to assure its longevity as one of American's favorite recipes.
Roasted fresh chilies or green bell pepper are appropriate substitutes for canned green chilies. Roast chilies in the oven, on parchment paper, or on a grill or open flame. Peel and dice the chilies.
To reheat previously baked tamale pie, place the pie in a baking dish and bake at 3250 (1600 C.) for about 20 minutes or until it is heated through. Cover it with foil for the first 15 minutes if you are concerned that the crust will become too brown. You can also reheat it in the microwave.
What to serve with tamale pie
Tamale pie is a meal unto itself, so you may only want to add a few toppings. Consider vegan sour cream, avocado slices, chopped fresh cilantro, pico de gallo, salsa, or a few black olives. Make a quick side salad if you're looking for more than just tamale pie. Check out a few of our favorites.
vegan tamale pie recipe with cornbread topping
Vegan tamale pie recipe with cornbread crust with lentils, beans, corn, and an enchilada-inspired sauce is an easy plant-based and oil-free meal.
- Prep Time: 20 min
- Cook Time: 70 min
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Yield: 8 servings 1x
- Category: Casseroles
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegan
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. ground coriander
- 1 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 cup uncooked, green lentils, rinsed
- 2 ½ cups of vegetable broth or water
- 2 cups of tomato sauce
- 1 tsp. maple syrup, date paste, or another liquid sweetener
- 1- 7 oz. (198 gm.) can of chopped green chilies
- 1-15 oz. (o gm.) can of black beans, rinsed and drained (1 ½ cups)
- 1 – 15 oz. (400 gm.) can of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (1 ½ cups)
- 1 cup of canned or frozen corn
- 2 Tbsp. ground flax seeds
- 6 Tbsp. water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup whole wheat flour, masa harina (gluten-free), or another flour of your choice
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 3 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
- 1 ¼ cups of plant milk
- 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced into rings (optional)
- If you are baking the pie right away, make the flax eggs by combining 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds and 6 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Set aside.
- To make the filling, heat a large skillet or oven-proof pot to medium heat. Add the onions and green bell pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes to soften the vegetables.
- Mix in the garlic, 1 tsp. cumin, ½ tsp. coriander, and 1 Tbsp. chili powder. And cook for another 30 seconds. Be sure to stir the garlic so that it doesn't burn.
- Add the green chili, lentils, and vegetable broth. Be sure to stir the bottom of the pan to release anything sticking to the bottom. Bring the ingredients to a low simmer, then cover the pot and cook the lentils for 20 – 25 minutes until they are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
- Turn off the heat at this point and then mix in the tomato sauce, maple syrup, kidney beans, corn, and black beans. Taste the filling and add salt, pepper, or additional spices as desired.
- Transfer the filling to an oven-proof casserole dish if necessary.
- Before making the crust, pre-heat the oven to 4250 F. (2200 C.).
- In a medium bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flax eggs, plant milk, and applesauce. Mix everything until you get a smooth batter (a few lumps won’t matter).
- Mix in half the jalapenos if using.
- Pour the batter over the filling and spread it evenly over the top. Add the remaining jalapenos if using.
- Place the baking dish in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 30-40 minutes until the crust is brown and firm in the middle.
- You can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. If no batter sticks to the toothpick when you remove it, the crust should be done.
- When you remove the pie from the oven, allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into it.
- You can make the filling a day before baking the pie. Wait to add the cornmeal batter until you are ready to bake it.
- Be sure to start baking with a pre-heated oven to ensure the crust bakes evenly.
- Green or brown lentils are best for this dish. Red lentils will not hold their shape as well. If you choose not to use lentils, add an additional can of beans or more corn.
- It's critical to allow the flax eggs time to thicken (at least 15 minutes). You can make them before starting the filling and set them aside until you are ready to use them.
- If you do not have canned green chilies, you can roast a few mild green chilies in the oven and dice them. If you omit the green chilies, use additional chili powder or another half of a diced green or red bell pepper.
- You may notice that the crust will crack as it bakes. This is a perfectly natural occurrence as the batter expands. It won’t interrupt all the flavor of the final dish. A pie with flavor and character - what a delicious idea.
Keywords: vegan tamale pie