RECIPE: Shortcut turkey tamale pie is comfort food in minutes

Turkey Tamale Pie. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Combined ShapeCaption
Turkey Tamale Pie. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Tamale pie is a comforting Tex-Mex casserole that combines meaty chili, vegetables and cornbread. According to Serious Eats, it’s been around since at least the 1930s and is a popular easy potluck dish. It’s often made with shortcut ingredients like canned beans, spice blends, chiles and tomatoes, so the dish is a prime candidate for a 5:30 Challenge makeover.

To cut down on the long list of spices in most tamale pie recipes, I like to use a can of flavorful chili beans in the filling. You can use any variety and spice level of chili beans you’d like — I like kidney beans with mild spice to keep things kid-friendly. Along with the beans, I use ground dark meat turkey in the filling, but any ground meat, such as beef or chicken, or even a meat substitute will work just fine. I combine both of these ingredients in an oven-safe cast-iron skillet with a bit of water and a touch of salt, and bring the whole thing to a simmer. (If you’ve got a few extra minutes, you can take the time to thoroughly brown the turkey before adding the beans; this step will take dinner into 5:35 Challenge territory, but you’ll develop a little extra flavor from the browned meat.)

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For the topping, I use a simple, plain corn muffin mix combined with milk and an egg. Dollop it on top of the chili mixture once it starts to simmer. The mix won’t completely cover the filling before it is cooked; leave the edges uncovered to allow for expansion. From there, all you need to do is pop the skillet in the oven to bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Take this time to gather toppings or make a side dish — I like to serve my tamale pie with jarred salsa, sour cream and fresh cilantro.

Turkey Tamale Pie
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • Salt
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can chili beans, undrained
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 (8.5-ounce) box corn muffin mix, such as Jiffy
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • On the side: Toppings, such as salsa, sour cream and/or chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • While the oven heats, heat the oil in a 10-inch cast-iron or another oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the turkey and a pinch of salt. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon, then pour in the beans with their liquid and the water. Bring to a simmer.
  • While the turkey mixture comes to a simmer, whisk together the corn muffin mix, milk and egg until smooth. Dollop the mixture over the simmering turkey mixture so that it almost completely covers the top.
  • Transfer to the oven and bake until the cornbread topping is firm and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot with salsa, sour cream and/or cilantro. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 564 calories (percent of calories from fat, 35), 33 grams protein, 59 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, 22 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 128 milligrams cholesterol, 980 milligrams sodium.
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