A person who loves tamales and never gets them, may perhaps be excused for making things up, in an attempt to get that masa and meat taste without soaking the corn husks and all that real stuff? The cheesiness of this shepherd's pie gone south is both literal and the other kind. It's not even original; I've seen similar casseroles in womens' magazines and elsewhere. What can I say except it's cheap, good, and easy. Oh, and fast-if you've already made chili earlier in the week, or have a frozen batch. I made it the first time because I had a very big pot of chili, and got tired of eating chili every night. Now, I make extra chili on purpose.I do like this stuff, and it's very warming and belly filling, as the days get chillier (or chilier?, ho, ho).
In the future sometime, I hope to assemble the ingredients, maybe recruit some other interested cooks, and try making real tamales. I understand it works best as a group project. Maybe for a holiday? Until then, the pie will have to be my pale substitute. This time, I used some chili I made with ground buffalo, pork cubes, and Dove Creek pinto beans, the latter from from my still endless sack. Though they are not as fresh as they once were (how did I ever think I'd use up that many dried pintos?) they are still noticeably fresher than the dried beans I get at the supermarket-or even from the barrels at the PA Macaroni Company in the Strip. Makes you wonder how long those beans have been around, eh?
I had some homemade hot sauce I made for posole. It was made with dried New Mexico peppers, and it goes well with the pintos. So I put some of that in too. If you are looking for a good chili recipe, you can find one here, at A Finger in Every Pie, along with some awesome cookies.
Or your favorite vegetarian chili would probably work, too. I'd miss the meat-meets-masa thing, myself, though. but if you are a vegetarian, I guess you won't. Make sure the chili isn't too soupy, or too dry. You want enough gravy-ish sauce to seep into the masa, but the pie should cut neatly when done- not be soupy.
Since I'm being inauthentic and clueless, instead of mixing my supermarket masa with lard, I just kind of make it into a mortar-like consistency, mixing it with chicken stock. Nothing against lard, but I prefer to use it in situations where I actually know what I'm doing. Like heavy cream and butter, it is too good to give up, but the health consequences of just tossing it in whereever probably aren't worth it.
To make this pie/casserole thing-this is what you do:
Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil an 8" square baking pan. (I prefer to use a ceramic one-it lets you cook longer and higher temp. without burning the crust. Emile Henry ones are nice, and do well with temperature extremes.) Mix 2 3/4 cups of instant masa with enough chicken broth (almost 2 cups?) to make a soft but grainy dough. Spread about half of it in the bottom of the pan. Spoon chili on top, nearly to the top of the pan. Cover the chili with pepperjack cheese, grated, or lay on deli slices-it will take 4. Cover with the rest of the masa mix.
If it won't go on smoothly, put on clumps, pour a bit more chicken stock over it, just to moisten it, and spread it carefully with a fork. Sprinkle top with a finely grated, drier cheese-I used a spanish one- parm or romano would work, and some chipotle chili powder, or smoked spanish paprika. Spray over all with olive oil spray. Bake for an hour, or until the chili appears to be trying to bubble through- whichever is longer. If it seems to be browning too much, cover loosely with foil.
Let casserole sit for 10 minutes, to kind of pull itself together, before slicing into squares to serve. Or you can serve it with a big spoon, right away, for maximal cheesiness.