Not exactly authentic, but this low carb, grain-free tamale pie will satisfy those Mexican food cravings! It’s a new family favorite in our house.
The first time I tasted a real tamale was at a feast dance at Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. I have to admit, I’ve had some interesting experiences in my day. After I finished my BA at the University of British Columbia, I was offered an internship at an archaeological center in southwestern Colorado. This was actually where I met my husband, who had just finished up his own internship and liked the place so much he took a job working at their front desk. We made plenty of day trips to interesting places in the Four Corners area, and pueblo feast days were high on our list of activities. Feast Days are, as you might imagine, when a pueblo community comes together in celebration of their culture and heritage. They are typically open to the public and can give you a fascinating glimpse into a rich and complex society.
As students of anthropology and archaeology, these trips were very special to us. The traditional music, the dances, the multi-story adobe structures, it was like having some of my university textbooks come to life. And because some of the archaeologists had friends in the Zuni community, we were honoured to be invited into people’s homes and “feasted”, as it were. We were plied with food and drink, and it was there that I first spotted the corn-husk wrapped tamales. Canadian Gringo that I was, I had absolutely no idea what they were. As far as I knew, tamales were little red cinnamon-flavoured candies. But one taste of a real tamale and it was love at first bite.
Fast forward a few years later and I was a graduate student at Arizona State University. Tamales were everywhere, from the truly authentic kind sold on the corner by a man whose wife made them by hand, to the ho-hum frozen kind from Trader Joe’s. They no longer seemed like a delicacy to me but I still loved them. And I was charmed to discover that many Arizonians had a tradition of eating tamales on Christmas Eve. Many would even cross the border into Mexico to pick up “real” tamales. I could definitely see the appeal.
Fast forward about a decade and diabetes put tamales on the naughty list for me. All that lovely steamed corn dough is not exactly diabetes-friendly. But I have since discovered that coconut flour can be made to taste quite a bit like cornbread. And while I am not about to go to all the trouble of filling and wrapping and steaming tamales (from all accounts, it’s a lot of work to make real tamales!), I figure I can get a little of the same great flavours in a tamale pie. Cook some ground beef or pork with spices, top it with my recipe for low carb cornbread, and there you have it. Low carb tamales! Sort of. I apologize to my Pueblo friends for the lack of authenticity. All that really matters is that it tastes good, right? It’s a new family favourite in our house!