Do you ever eat something wonderful and can’t get over just how darned ugly it is? Food photography makes me laugh sometimes because it is the ultimate in what my husband would call “putting a pig in a dress.” Under no circumstances in the real world, other than photographing it for potential internet distribution, would I try to gussy up this casserole. It is what it is, and it is kind of homely. And, I like it that way. So this is tamale casserole in a prom dress. Now let’s get over the appearances and get to eating.
This is one of those dishes that is destined, with the giant bakers of chicken spaghetti and King Ranch Casserole, to be served to family we love and our sons’ football teams. Why? This is the kind of food on which growing boys will hurt themselves. And, they don’t care if it is ugly. You will try to put a green salad with it, but they will not care about that either. And these are some of the best foods going. Casseroles by nature are family or group affairs. Making a casserole means things are getting social. It means you are feeding families, teams, congregations and parties. I love casseroles. Some are awful, I’ll grant you. But I love the idea of them, kind of like I love the idea of pie. I’ve made a go of re-thinking a lot of my casseroles to get rid of the “cream of” element, and the quality of the food has gone way up, as has the likelihood that I’ll be serving these to anyone who wanders into my home, kings or thieves. I prefer the latter as guests, to be honest. But you get my point.
This is actually a combination of two casseroles, a chile relleno casserole and a tamale pie. The chile relleno casserole has an eggy topping and I was in the mood for a cornbread type of topping, so here we are. The bottom of the dish is covered in green chiles, an idea for which I give my beloved cousin Joey the credit. The chile relleno casserole that I monkeyed with here was hers. If you can get the canned whole green chiles instead of the chopped, do so. I found at least seven varieties and sizes of green chiles, but all were chopped so that is what I used here.
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 pounds ground beef
½ medium-size white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
3 cups water
1-½ cups corn meal
1 (14.75 ounce) can creamed corn
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 (7 ounce) can whole green chiles (chopped will do)
In a nonstick pan, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil and add the chopped onions. Saute the onions for three minutes. Add the ground beef and gently break it up and brown it in the skillet along with the onions. When the beef is just browned, add the garlic and the jalapenos and continue to cook for one minute. Add the cumin, chili powder and salt and stir to combine. Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Remove the skillet from the heat.
In a medium saucepan, bring three cups of water to a simmer. Using a whisk slowly add the corn meal and stir to minimize lumps. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the creamed corn. Once the corn is incorporated, stir in the egg. Then stir in the baking powder, salt, and cheese.
In a 9” by 13” casserole dish, layer the ingredients in the following order: green chiles, meat, cornmeal topping. Spread the topping so that you have a smooth surface.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.