January 10, 2006
Three Bean Tamale Casserole

Do you love tamales? That's a rhetorical question, of course. Everyone loves tamales, right? Here's a way to enjoy that tamale flavor in a casserole that'll feed the whole family and then some.

There are no two ways to say this, so I'll come right out with it. This recipe produces one metric boatload of food. Well, maybe not that much, but it makes a 9 x 13 casserole that could easily feed 12 people, or maybe 6 teenagers.

I start with a tamale dough crust, pile peppers and onions and vegetables on top, add beans and tomatoes and top it all with more masa tamale dough. There's not much fat to speak of for the size of the casserole, and plenty of flavors and textures to play across your tongue.

The Redhead was quite generous with praise for this dish. She liked the sweetness of the onions and red peppers, the spice of the poblanos and jalapenos, and the savory and tart melding of the beans and tomatoes. She suggested it as a possible main course for a casual dinner party. Hmm. Might have to take her up on that.

There's a lot of room for individual creativity here. Try this recipe as I've written it, then experiment with other fillings. There's no reason a pork, spiced beef, or even a chicken filling couldn't substitute or augment the recipe below. Heck, try a more unusual but traditional Mexican filling like spiced beef tongue. Then it'll be tasting you as you taste it.

One word of caution - I like my food with a little zing. This recipe has a little zing. It even has zip and zsa zsa zou. In fact my fingers are still burning a little as I write this the next morning after a shower. Best of all, however, it has a lot of healthy vegetables and beans (and vitamins!) in a corn crust you'll love to serve and eat.

Three Bean Tamale Casserole

Crust - 2 recipes of:
2 cups masa seca (also known as masa harina, a corn meal/flour, but you can't substitute cornmeal. Look for the real stuff.)
2/3 cup oil
1 tablespoons baking soda, divided
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups warm water

Bean mix:
1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained but not rinsed
1 15.5 oz can pinto beans, drained but not rinsed
1 15.5 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 jalapenos, minced
5 poblanos
3 red peppers
1 large white onion, diced
2 small "linda" zucchini
2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

Avocado slices
Chili powder

What we're making is a masa sandwich in a casserole dish - masa on the bottom, goodies in the middle, masa on top. The masa on the bottom will be moist, the masa on the top will be crunchy.

But before we do the crust, let's get the filling ready. In a large saucepan, empty out the can of stewed tomatoes, juice and all. Mash the tomatoes up a little with a potato masher. You don't want uniformity or a paste, just smaller chunks and a little thickness. Turn the heat on medium. Drain each of the three cans of beans well, but don't rinse them. Add the beans to the tomatoes and mix well.

Add a tablespoon each of garlic and onion powder and a teaspoon (or more) of chili powder, along with the salt and optional black pepper. Mix well and heat through for fifteen minutes to reduce the amount of liquid in the pot.

While the beans simmer, turn the kitchen vent or fan filter on. Cut the sides off the poblanos and sweet red peppers, removing the seeds, caps, and internal white membranes. Place the peppers face down over a gas flame or face up under a broiler on high. When the skins have turned thoroughly black, remove the peppers to a paper bag, and close the bag to let the steam loosen the skins. After about five to ten minutes, scrape the skins off with the back of a chef's knife. Rinse the prepared peppers to help remove any loose skin. You don't need to get all the black off, but get as much as is easy to remove.

Cut the peppers into long strips, running from the top to the bottom of the pepper, about 1/4" wide and set aside.

Dice the onion into 1/4" dice and set aside.

Linda zucchini are about half the length of a "normal" zucchini and a little bit pear shaped. Cut the ends off the zucchini, then cut it into wedges of approximately 1"-1 1/2" in length. You can substitute a more common regular zucchini. Just be sure to wash the vegetable thoroughly since many zucchini are waxed for supermarket display.

If you haven't already done so, mince the jalapeno. If you leave the veins and seeds in, it will be hotter. If you prefer a more mild meal, cut the white veins and seeds out of the pepper before dicing.

Now preheat the oven to 375 F.

Prepare one recipe of the masa by adding the masa, baking soda, garlic powder, chili powder and salt to a medium bowl and mixing well. Add the oil and warm water and mix until you have a dough the consistency of spackle or peanut butter.

Spread the dough in the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Pat the dough down with your hands to even it out and get it to cover the entire bottom of the dish. You can try patting it down with a spoon, but your hands are your best tool here and will make short work of the task.

Once that's finished, spread the roasted red and poblano pepper strips, raw onion, fresh jalapeno, and uncooked zucchini chunks evenly across the masa base. Spread the bean and tomato mix on top of that as evenly as possible.

Now make a second masa dough recipe the same as the first one. When it is the proper consistency, you'll see we have a problem in that you can't just dump the dough on top and then smooth it out without making one heck of a mess.

Instead, take a small fistful of dough and pat it out into a flat patty in your hands. Don't worry, it won't be a perfect shape of any sort, and bits will fly off as you pat. Get a thin disk of the dough going and lay it on top of the casserole. Repeat until you've both used all the masa and covered the top completely. If there are small holes, try to patch them, but don't worry too much about it being fully sealed or perfect.

Sprinkle the cheese on top of that and pop the whole casserole into the oven. Cook for 30 minutes until top is browned and cheese is taking on color. Let stand for five minutes before cutting.

Garnish with cilantro, avocado slices, and a sprinkle of chili powder over the entire plate.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at January 10, 2006 6:35 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Okay, yes, I am now regretting not bringing back the big heavy bag of masa you tried to convince me I would need when I visited in Chicago. That looks WONDERFUL.

Although. A little pulled pork wouldn't go amiss...

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 10, 2006 at 4:14 PM

Maybe if you're really nice I'll bring a bag with me from Chicago when I visit in February :)

Posted by barrett on January 10, 2006 at 4:17 PM

Aw, you're going to Paris next month! My mom just made tamales last week for the first time ever. I think there is leftover masa at her house for a go at this recipe!

Posted by Monica on January 11, 2006 at 10:30 AM
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