Tamale Casserole

Some of the greatest ideas in life are the simplest ones, take for example the Tamale Casserole. Being the son of a Tamalera, I know tamales and when I laid my eyes on that concoction in the aluminum pan, I questioned it and it’s taste. Low and behold I was surprised by it great taste and ingenuity. Curious about the casserole, I asked the chef about it and she told me that it was a recipe her grandmother created back in the day. Chimatli dates it back to the ’50s, but this is the first time I laid eyes on something so clever and tasty. 

This particular casserole was of rajas and it had monterey jack and goat cheese making for a unique combination to say the least. The japalenos gave it a nice kick too and some extra flavor. Again letting my curiosity got the best of me and I asked how she prepared the casserole. In a nutshell, you take masa and put it on the bottom of the pan, add your toppings of choice and lay another layer of masa on top of that. Pop it in the oven for about 90 minutes and bingo bango, a tamale casserole. Over the holidays I’ve been exposed to a variety of tamale variations including vegetarian tamales. For years I thought that rajas, chicken red/green sauce, pork red/green sauce and pineapple and strawberry were the only ones available. My pallet is forever changed and I’m grateful to have been exposed to such culinary delights.

15 thoughts on “Tamale Casserole

  1. Great story. I just wanted to add that for generations my family, from Yucatan, has made a large tamal. It was always presented in a large cake pan lined and covered with banana leaves and baked in the oven. The masa has a golden color to it (likely from achiote) and is fluffy, similar to sponge cake and is filled with varying things like different meats, vegetables or even a combination.

    This post brings back fond childhood memories…

  2. Maybe it was good but I’m against the concept of this dish, it should be boycotted and picketed! Down with casseroles!
    Signed, Committee Against Casserole Anything!

  3. Interesting – my African American mother and my Louisana Creole grandmother both made variations on this dish. My mom said she learned to make it from a Latina co-worker and my grandmother said she picked it up while working for LAUSD. I wonder how popular the dish is/was.

  4. My Chicana grandmother did indeed make this dish along with other 50s favorites such as turkey ala king, fruitcake and pineapple upside cake.
    While the above dish does look pretty good, I’m inclined to join C.A.C.A. too…

  5. What ? Por que ? I’m all about equality and freedom of expression, specially when it comes to food. I can understand where you guys are coming from but it’s food !!!!! Can’t we all just get along and bask in the tastiness of the tamale casserole !?

  6. I have to say that I’m reluctant to place the “casserole” title on the dish I used to eat growing up. It’s a giant tamale for sure, but formed in the days before ovens and cake pans were around. Before fondue was in fashion, even.

    I’m with El Random Hero on this one. You can’t deny the (potential) glory of this creation.

    *roller8* proceeds to bask in the tastiness…

  7. In New Mexico and Texas this dish has been around forever and known as tamale pie. I’m not a purist and whatever your stroke it’s fine with me.
    And casseroles include some delicious variations and keep a lot of hungry people fed, in fact almost anything cooked up in those aluminum containers is a kind of casserole.

  8. DQ, we also called it “tamale pie”. My grandma’s version reminded me of her capirotada, cause she’d throw in whatever she had in the fridge.

  9. In response to people’s reminiscences of tamale casserole or tamale pie or whatever your family called it: You don’t realize how lucky you are! Growing up, I was subjected three or four times a year to my mom’s 1950s Betty Crocker version. At least the versions you all mentioned had actual tamal ingredients. The one I was forced to eat (if we kids even hesitated or made a face my always grumpy-bordering-on-furious father would bonk us on the head with the heavy end of a table knife) consisted of corn meal, tomato sauce/paste, canned stewed tomatoes (YUCK!), ground beef and a can of corn kernels and black olives thrown in for good measure (or punishment, I’m still not quite sure). Not a single chile to be found anywhere. There was no careful layering either, but instead it was homogenized into a uniform food product so that each lingering bite contained a little bit of all the above mentioned ingredients. Whenever I came to a whole stewed tomato or an intact black olive it took will power to not cringe (or cry out!). Then it was scooped out of the pot and plopped onto your plate cafeteria style. SPLORCH! What kind of sadistic monster concocted this disaster of a dish? I think if this was served at a state prison a riot would ensue. There were many other prison-style dishes regularly served up to us kids (“S.O.S.” was a memorable one, the name of a dish and a distress call all rolled into one, perfect!) but that’s another story.

    On the topic of tamales-inspired dishes, I can never forget (no matter how much I try to blot it out) “Friday Tamale Nights”. This consisted of three “XLNT Brand” (trust me, they weren’t) beef tamales dripping wet on the outside (my mother never did get the hang of steaming) but dry on the inside due to their impervious shiny white plastic wrappers which always reminded me of disposable diapers. What was inside the wrappers also reminded me of what diapers are for. Once you got your ration of “tamales” out of their diapers you then presented your plate to my father who proceeded to put a generous scoop or two of canned chili con carne of the “without beans” variety on top of your not so excellent XLNT “tubes o’ goo”. Yum yum with no comments nor complaints, yes sir. If you’ve never had the displeasure of trying this unique food product (I so envy you!) the “masa” is a flavorless, gummy crud that simply acts as a container for the brown goo inside. The beef filling (aka “brown goo”) had the consistency and flavor of salty toothpaste. I’m sure there was a tragic side dish to accompany this hideous misstep of meal but I’ve somehow successfully suppressed any recollection of it.

    Count your blessings folks! If tamale casserole like the one described in this post is the worst dish foisted upon you as a child you are one lucky S.O.B.

  10. mmm love me some comfort food.

    and BOBO..wow damn could it be pay back for hard labor with you? lol
    so now are you a chef? 🙂

    im guessing your not very close to your mom.

    looks like your jefa was mother of the year.

  11. Is there someplace on this website I can get a copy of this recipe? it looks wonderful and exactly what I am looking for.

  12. EL RANDOM HERO, can you tell me what oven temp. should be, you didn’t mention it, I would like to try the recipe. Thank you,


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