A healthier tamal casserole

Pati Jinich is one of my favorite Mexican chefs. I love how she blends here Mexican cuisine with American that makes it more than just Tex-Mex. It is in a world of its own. One of her creations is a tamal casserole. I love because it’s better than a tamale pie because it’s actually made with masa harina. That’s stuff that makes the dough in tamales. In casserole form, it’s less work. The recipe is less than healthy. The filling she used for her Meaty Tamal Casserole is not too bad, but it lacks a lot of vegetables and vitamins. It’s also over 800 calories per serving. Yikes! I know I can do better. I have made the original and it’s amazing, but I want to still make this recipe in a much healthier way. Here are the original stats:

Here’s what I changed:

  • I deleted the added salt to lower the sodium
  • I made all of the stock vegetable stock of the low sodium variety to reduce the sodium.
  • I replaced the ground turkey with textured vegetable protein and lentils to make this vegetarian.
  • I cut both the vegetable shortening and the masa in half to reduce the calories while still keeping the tamal in the casserole.
  • I am replacing the dry peppers with canned chipotle peppers
  • I am adding vitamins by adding a vegetable medley.

Here are the final stats:

Tamal Casserole Stats
Vegetable Medley Stats

Here are the final recipes:


Vegetarian Tamal Casserole

Serves 14


  • 5/8 cups vegetable shortening 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2.5 cups corn masa flour for tortillas or tamalessuch as Maseca brand
  • 2.25 cups low sodium vegetable broth


  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oilplus more for the baking dish
  • 1 medium white onionchopped (about 1 cup)
  • 6 cloves garlicchopped
  • 10 ounces textured vegetable protein
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea saltor to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth


  1. Place the vegetable shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until it is light and airy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the baking powder; on low speed, gradually add the corn masa flour and the broth in alternating additions, making sure each time that the addition is well incorporated. Beat for about 10 minutes to form a masa dough that is homogeneous and fluffy. Let the dough sit at room temperature while you make the filling.


  1. Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring continuously, until the onions are cooked through and beginning to brown at the edges. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, less than a minute.  Add the broth, chipotle, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, black pepper, oregano, lentils and textured vegetable protein.  Bring to a boil and  reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Use a little vegetable oil to grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or the equivalent.
  3. Spoon half of the prepared masa dough into the dish, forming a bit of a lip on the sides and gently leveling it out; don’t press hard. Spoon all of the filling on top. Cover evenly with the remaining dough. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour or until the masa is completely cooked and the top appears to be firm. Remove from the oven and let it sit, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Vegetable Medley

Serves 14

  • 1/2 pound green beans
  • 1 pound broccoli, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 4 large red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • cooking spray

Spray a skillet over medium heat with cooking spray.  Add all of the vegetables.  Add in the spices and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes.


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