in-a-hurry tamale pie

As I type this, I just finished sobbing through The Help.

The verdict?

SO good. Rarely do I think movies are just as good as books, but this really was amazing. And Dell’s guest appearance? Love.

RIP Dell.

Anyway! Now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk dinner tonight. Whatcha havin’?

I really hope I can convince you in the next 100 words or so to make this super quick, delicious tamale pie! You won’t regret it. I made it a few days ago for girl’s night and everyone was shocked at how good it was. I don’t know if I was more taken by the fact that my friends were “shocked” the dinner I made turned out delicious, or that I already had all the ingredients in my kitchen to make this.

You see, unlike a “normal” tamale pie that usually consists of a spicy meat, corn and bean filling with a cornmeal-like crust, this easy vegetarian version features a bottom layer of polenta as a nice little twist.

Using polenta for the “crust” = less dishes to wash…and that’s okay by me! (even though my shallac manicure is still holding up quite nicely after one week, thank you very much!)

The best part is that it’s topped with lots and lots of cheese. Duh

Us girls cobbled it up alongside these cookies and champagne, of course. If that doesn’t include all the food groups, I don’t know what does.

In-a-Hurry Tamale Pie

serves 4

adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook (<—one of my favorites!)

Print this recipe!


1 polenta roll (sometimes found in the produce section of the supermarket)

1 15-oz can pinto beans

1 cup mexican cheese blend

1 ear corn (or 1/2 cup frozen corn), kernels shucked off the cob

1/2 cup salsa

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

cilantro, sour cream and additional salsa for serving


Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or 9-inch square pan) with a little olive oil. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl combine the corn kernels, salsa, pinto beans (and their juice—just dump the can in) and spices. Stir well to combine.

Slice the polenta into 1/4th inch slices. Cover bottom of skillet with overlapping slices. Pour bean mixture on top. Top with cheese.

Cover and bake for 15 minutes then remove and bake for an additional 15 minutes uncovered. Serve with minced cilantro, sour cream and salsa.


40 minutes



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  • Brittany @ Itty Bits of Balance
    August 22, 2011 at 4:43 am

    Is it bad that I’m tempted to make this for breakfast? 😉

    • Evan
      August 22, 2011 at 6:47 am

      not at all!!! Haha I was thinking the same thing. Add a poached or fried egg on top and a Salty Perro Rojo on the side, and I’m in heaven.

  • Cassie @ Back to Her Roots
    August 22, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Dell was also a pretty major character in a couple of seasons of Veronica Mars (well, the actor, not the character). LOVE that show.

    And this is totally going on next week’s menu.

  • Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga
    August 22, 2011 at 4:45 am

    The Moosewood Cookbook being one of your faves….everyone who knows how to cook always raves about that book. I should pick it up b/c it comes with high praise, clearly 🙂

    And sorry you had a cryfest over The Help. I havent read or seen it so have no idea.

    All I know it that fast, easy meals like yours make me happy 🙂

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat
    August 22, 2011 at 4:57 am

    I am still a polenta virgin because I figure I could never really get through an entire tube by myself unless I cooked it in a big-batch dish. This might just work!
    And although it made you cry, I’m glad you enjoyed The Help! I read the book but haven’t seen the movie yet. I get really restless with long movies so I think I’ll wait till it comes out on DVD!

    • RhodeyGirl
      August 22, 2011 at 7:24 am

      FYI Angela… you can cook polenta from scratch and make just as much as you need for yourself. It only takes a few minutes (and I think it tastes better too).

    • Sarah
      August 22, 2011 at 10:47 pm

      You can use polenta in a tube in so many ways! It’s really good in frittatas or omlets! I will do an italian version with a meat sauce over top of about 4-5 slices, or mexican version with black beans and cilantro. It refrigerates well! I say give it a go with this recipe or not!

  • Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine
    August 22, 2011 at 5:01 am

    I just learned to cook with polenta in culinary school last week and I’m now kind of obsessed with it, so the timing on this recipe is awesome. I’ve heard such great things about the Moosewood Cookbook (it’s like the Bible of vegetarian cooking, after all!)- need to get myself a copy!

  • Kristin @ Iowa Girl Eats
    August 22, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Ummm, might have to run to the store to get the ingredients to make this TONIGHT! Looks crazy good. 🙂 I cannot believe that I still have not read/seen The Help. Clearly I am so behind the times. I’m looking for a new book right now (just finished Sarah’s Key – gut wrenching) so this might be it!

  • Heather (Heather's Dish)
    August 22, 2011 at 5:03 am

    love the easy polenta crust…i heart tamales but haven’t found any i adore in colorado. tamale pie might be the next best thing!

  • VeggieGirl
    August 22, 2011 at 5:08 am

    AMAZING tamale pie recipe – a classic!

  • Molly @ RDexposed
    August 22, 2011 at 5:09 am

    You have me intrigued….

  • Baking N Books
    August 22, 2011 at 5:11 am

    I’ve heard mixed reviews of the movie. I think I’ll wait for DVD – it’s 2 1/2 hours! 😉

    How do you get inspiration or an idea of what you want to make for dinners or when you have girls’ nights? I get overwhelmed with looking at cookbooks, sites. Do you usually go what why types of tastes your seeking or look for something different like?

    Or if anyone else can answer personally, it’s appreciated as I’m curious!

    • Baking N Books
      August 22, 2011 at 5:12 am

      that’s *with what types of tastes” – oye. typing freeze.

  • Savannah @ Sweet and Savvy
    August 22, 2011 at 5:12 am

    Such a neat idea! Lots of cheese is a must, of course! 🙂 So this looks amazing.

  • Meridith
    August 22, 2011 at 5:15 am

    I’m kind of smitten with Moosewood, too. I just found their Low Fat Favorites cookbook for $1.98 at a thrift store!! 🙂 And I love that this recipe uses polenta. I always want to try using it for dinner but am never quite sure how to do it.

  • Khushboo
    August 22, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Man this looks so freakin’ good- LOVE polenta. Unfortunately it’s near impossible to find in Mumbai but I’m thinking potatoes might be a good substitute?

  • Tasha @ Voracious Eats
    August 22, 2011 at 5:21 am

    This looks SO incredible. It is so clever to use the polenta as a crust. I can only imagine the flavor/texture it adds to the dish as being out of this world. And can I get three cheers for fresh corn? I love that you included it here. YUM!

    I’ve read so many problematic articles about the racism in the book/movie The Help that it has more than put me off. Not sure I want to see it or read it now. Here is a link with some of what I’ve seen –

  • Kathryn
    August 22, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Oh wow, what a quick and delicious idea for tonight’s supper!

  • Ida
    August 22, 2011 at 5:35 am

    I wasnt expecting to like The Help movie nearly as much as I did, but I was really impressed! And Dell had a mean southern accent:)
    I love Amy’s tamale pie, but they are so $$- great to have a recipe to make my own. yum!

  • Hilliary@HappilyEverHealthy
    August 22, 2011 at 5:38 am

    This sounds great! I love that it is a vegetarian option for a tamale pie!

  • Kristin @ eat healthy. be happy. live well
    August 22, 2011 at 5:40 am

    I’ve never used polenta, but this definitely inspires me to try it! I think even just the filling would be good for tacos or something.

  • Lauren @ What Lauren Likes
    August 22, 2011 at 5:50 am

    Looks great!! I need to try polenta…..:)

  • Ashley
    August 22, 2011 at 5:50 am

    This looks delicious! Oh my!

  • Kait @ One Love Run
    August 22, 2011 at 5:50 am

    Dell showed up in the Help? Now I must see the movie ASAP! glad you liked it so much!

  • amy walters, aDESIGNdock
    August 22, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Jenna, this looks super scrumptious! Now, I may risk looking slightly foolish here, but what exactly is polenta?!

  • Kristen @ Popcorn on the Stove
    August 22, 2011 at 5:54 am

    I love that there’s polenta at the bottom of the dish. That’s so clever!! This looks so delicious!

  • Heather @ Get Healthy With Heather
    August 22, 2011 at 6:15 am

    I love your twist on this! Polenta on the bottom. I can’t believe I’ve never picked up a tube of pre-made polenta. Guess I gotta now, huh?

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen
    August 22, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Polenta rolls are the best for easy quick recipes. I might make a mini version of this for dinner tonight because I already have half a can of pinto beans open in the fridge!

  • katie @KatieDid
    August 22, 2011 at 6:21 am

    I was deciding between seeing the Help or Sarah’s Key yesterday. I have never read the Help but I LOVED Sarah’s Key (I think you did also if I recall), but I ended up not being abel to see either. I think I’ll have to read the book before I see the Help though.
    This pie is also free of gluten! I love love polenta but have never been sure how to cook with those rolls myself, thank you for the idea!!

  • Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum
    August 22, 2011 at 6:22 am

    I made a giant tamale pie for a group of 20 not too long ago and it was delicious. This looks like a perfect recipe for getting it done quickly! 🙂

  • Sally Anne @ PaleoRunnerGirl
    August 22, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Oh goodness gracious! I keep hearing all of my girlfriends say that they cried their eyes out during “The Help.” I hate crying in public so I may have to wait until it comes out on DVD!

    Do you recommend seeing in theaters? Maybe I could pick a really late showing!

  • Cait's Plate
    August 22, 2011 at 6:27 am

    There are so many good Mexican dishes floating around the blog world today! I just had it last night but I’m already craving it again now…ha.

    And oh my gosh!! THAT is who Stewart was! I knew he looked familiar and I couldn’t put my finger on it!! You just saved me from a lot of thinking, thank you 🙂

  • Emily
    August 22, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Yuuuuum this looks easy and delish! I love polenta! 🙂

  • Casey @ Pocket Full of Sunshine
    August 22, 2011 at 6:58 am

    This looks delicious. And reminds me of fall! Always a good thing 🙂

  • Joelle (On A Pink Typewriter)
    August 22, 2011 at 7:08 am

    What a cool idea! I love the thought of utilizing polenta like this- yum!

  • Liz @ IHeartVegetables
    August 22, 2011 at 7:11 am

    I’m literally texting my friends right now inviting them for dinner, because I want to make this but I don’t want to eat it all by myself!!!! hahaha

  • rebecca
    August 22, 2011 at 7:23 am

    I needed a quick and healthy dinner idea for this week and here it is! Thank you!

  • Morgan @ Life After Bagels
    August 22, 2011 at 7:56 am

    what exactly are pinto beans???

    PS – in the middle of The Help and would rather be reading it than working, had to lock it in the bedroom so I don’t sneak over to the couch in the middle of my work day 😛

  • Rachel @ The Avid Appetite
    August 22, 2011 at 8:08 am

    I love this idea! I adore tamales and this is such a fun and easy idea. Thanks for sharing!

  • Heather @ girlyeverafter
    August 22, 2011 at 8:27 am

    I cried throught The Help too. You’ve really done it with this recipe. Taking me back to my “maw maw’s house in NC as a kid eating fried polenta. Any mexican dish as a pie is ranked in my top 5!

  • Faith @ For the Health of It
    August 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Please keep these easy vegetarian dishes for large groups of people coming – I love volunteering to cook for my life group (aka “force a bunch of people to eat my food and give me feedback…muahahahaha!) but sometimes I run out of ideas. This one will be on the menu next time for sure!

  • Mary (What's Cookin' with Mary)
    August 22, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I really love these quick ‘n easy dinners Jenna. Your bbq chickpea pizza lasted about 15 minutes 🙂

    I like that you use prepared polenta. What a great way to save time.

  • Raya
    August 22, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I also saw The Help movie yesterday and cried my eyes out!!!! And I was telling my friends who hadn’t read the book that the movie really was as good as the book, for once!!!!!

  • girl in the pink
    August 22, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Mmm making this for dinner tonight. I always buy polenta at Trader Joe’s, but never know what to do with it! 🙂

  • Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray
    August 22, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Bookmarked! This looks great! I love that you used polenta, yum!

  • Katrina
    August 22, 2011 at 10:10 am

    This looks so yummy! Thanks for the great, fast, recipe.

  • Tracey @ Veggies, Cake and Cocktails
    August 22, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I actually can’t believe I’ve never heard of a tamale pie before! It sounds great!

    Do you think a person should read The Help before going to the movie?

  • d.liff @ yelleBELLYboo
    August 22, 2011 at 11:11 am

    This looks super good! Polenta is really easy to make if you can’t find it in the supermarket – all you need is corn meal, water and butter!

    • Urban Wife
      August 22, 2011 at 11:23 am

      Do you have a recipe on your website? I would love to make some from scratch. Thanks in advance!

  • Bev Weidner
    August 22, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Done. All over this. But not in a creepy way.

  • Urban Wife
    August 22, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Yay for another quick weeknight dinner recipe! Especially when it involves lots of cheese.

  • Andrea @ The Skinny Chronicles
    August 22, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Brilliant. I’ve had a polenta roll hanging out at my house for way too long and haven’t known what to do with it! You’ve just given my polenta a new life. Thank you thank you thank.

    P.S. LOVE the outfit in the last post…especially the shoes. Way to rock the pears.

  • Diana
    August 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I love Moosewood!! And I love polenta!! And now I’m hungry…and I just ate. Thanks for sharing!

  • Michelle
    August 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Genius idea for using the polenta as the crust!

  • Mauimandy@The Grains of Paradise
    August 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Great idea! I’m totally making this!

  • Traci
    August 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I must be weird because I didn’t even come close to crying during The Help this weekend! I thought it was great but I loved the book more.

  • Carissa
    August 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    I’ve never had tamale pie, nor have I been tempted to make it. But this looks delicious! I love the addition of polenta.

  • Kristen (inspiredbydooce)
    August 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    That looks delicious except…you lost me at bean juice. The thought of using the stuff in the can grosses me out (I can’t stand the smell). Do you think I should add water or broth if I drain and rinse the beans? I’m worried it would be too dry.

    As usual- thank you for the cooking inspiration.

  • Ranjani
    August 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    This looks so good! I’m a newish reader but this blog is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. Your cooking style seems similar to mine and all your food looks delicious!

  • Michaela
    August 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Wow. This looks awesome. It’s perfect for my vegetarian seester.

  • Amanda @FancyOatmeal
    August 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Your photos are beautiful!!!

  • Marci
    August 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    That looks really delish and creative with the polenta rounds. I LOVED Dell’s guest appearance! It took me until I got home to place him from Private Practice. What a cutie. And about your other post on Jaycee Dugard–did you read Room? I’m sure others commented on that too.

  • Ashley @ The Drunk Squash
    August 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    I want to try this recipe! I love the idea of making it with a polenta crust

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  • Kelsey
    August 22, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    dear jenna, even though i’ve been reading your blog for years, i hardly ever comment but you mentioned moosewood and i had to chime in. consider this your personal invitation to visit the finger lakes of new york! me and my adam will be your personal tour guides. stay in ithaca, which is super hippie (in the best way possible), eat some moosewood, stop by wegmans, hike the falls, see the changing leaves, get an “ithaca is gorges” shirt, and visit our wine country. october is the most perfect time to come. please?

  • Kelsey @ aslolife
    August 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Yum! I’m always looking for new ways to use polenta or hide the fact that it’s in the meal from my husband!

  • Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)
    August 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Wow this looks awesome. I have never actually made polenta but I am tempted to try! I bet my hubby would like this too.

  • Andrea
    August 22, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Just made this for dinner tonight (minus the toppings because we are lazy and poor). SO GOOD!! I just had two servings and I regret nothing. My husband doesn’t even like polenta that much and he had another serving too.

  • Andrea
    August 22, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Update: three helpings. And….I still regret nothing.

  • HLS Hangover
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  • Liz
    August 22, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I loved the movie & book of The Help. I knew they wouldn’t be able to fit everything from the book into the movie, and I usually don’t like film adaptations of book, but this one was the best I’ve ever seen!

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  • Becci
    August 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    I have been making this same recipe for years! It is one of my family’s big favorites:-)

  • Ingrid
    August 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    for some crazy reason i couldn’t find polenta ANY where! so i made my own and had this tamale pie for dinner and it was amazingly delicious and quick. think this one will go into regular rotation! so fast and easy! thanks for another winning dinner idea 🙂

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  • Laura
    August 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I made this as soon as I saw it posted but made one tweak. It wasn’t as “quick” but i think work it for the spicy crazed person, like myself.

    I sauteed 1 chopped onion and two chopped jalapenos and added it to the pinto bean mix.


    • Mel
      September 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      I am making this for dinner tonight…and am totally going to add an onion after reading this! Great idea.

  • erica
    August 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    made this tonight….DELICIOUS!!!

  • Amy-Nutrition by Nature
    August 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    This looks so delicious, I should not be reading food blogs late at night! I have never used polenta before, have to give this a try!

  • Jessica @ Dishin' About Nutrition
    August 25, 2011 at 7:39 am

    I just saw this over on IHeartVeggies blog and am definitely going to try this on my not-so-vegetarian friendly BF!

  • Mari
    August 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I made this for dinner a couple nights ago for my husband, and we were both so impressed! Delicious! I was super impressed by the corn. Perhaps we just had a very sweet ear of corn, but the I was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness and texture the corn added. We’ll definitely been making this again! Thanks!

  • Becki @ Becki's Whole Life
    August 25, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I love this recipe. I always buy the polenta rolls and never have anything to make with this. this is a great meatless meal option – love it!

  • AppGal
    August 27, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Just had to come over here and tell you…made this tonight for dinner (actually have HAD the Moosewood cookbook for years but didn’t know about this recipe till you pointed it out!)–amazing! What an easy and delicious meal. Will definitely be putting this into the rotation from here on out!

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  • Mary Catherine
    January 31, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Making this for the third time tonight – LOVE it!

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  • Nicole
    March 18, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Thank you for this recipe. I am making it for Sunday dinner. I plan to serve it with guacamole and mangos as sides. Can’t wait to see how the polenta tastes as the ‘masa’. Such a neat idea — thanks again!

  • Allison
    September 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Just made this for dinner tonight and it was amazing!!!! Such a good recipe.

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