As a third grade teacher at a bilingual elementary school, you better believe we THROW DOWN for Cinco de Mayo. There’s an adorable musical program, a silent auction, raffle prizes, and, of course, a school-wide potluck that hosts mounds and mounds of real-deal, homemade, authentic Mexican food. It’s b-a-n-a-n-a-s, y’all.
While I’m always hesitant to dive head-first into the mountains of Mexican marvels (not always sure what exactly is hiding under that deep-fried tortilla), there’s one dish I always indulge in: the tamale.
Heck, tamales just look like little presents. I usually rip open that cornhusk like it’s Christmas morning and dive in. I would eat them if they were solely filled with the masa, but bonus points when you get to the spicy meat filling that seems to cut the richness of the masa. Oh mamacita…I’m salivating.
I can’t tell you when or where I had my first tamale, but I know it was a wonderful, magical experience for me, thus making tamales my FAVORITE Tex-Mex dish in the world. However, the exact contents of tamales- vegetable oil, soybean oil, flour- leave me a little cautious to pile these into mi boca (yes, I still retain some of my Spanish language skills from high school).
Not only that, tamales aren’t exactly simple to make. I bail out anytime you have to involve cornhusks in your recipe. Sounds like work.
When I discovered I can capture all of those tamale flavors in a giant casserole that takes about an hour to throw together AND cook, I was blue corn tortilla chips all in.
So, being your resident Healthy, Happy Texan, it is my job, nay my responsibility, to steadily and regularly supply y’all with healthier versions of Tex-Mex recipes.
With Cinco de Mayo just days away, I thought I’d share this frequent flyer of the HHT household with y’all as a way you and your people can celebrate a little healthier this year.
After nearly 7 years of cooking for the same man night after night, to say that every meal has been a winner would be a big fat lie.
From vegetable-based lasagnas where the veggie noodles were a bit too firm to homemade biscuits that resemble hockey pucks to bland soups, I haven’t won them all. I can remember one point when my husband looked at me with nothing but kindness in his eyes and confessed, “Ya know, I just need more meat with my dinner.” Meatless Mondays…that must be some kind of sick joke at our household.
Now one meal that is a SLAM DUNK every time I make it is this one I’m sharing with you. It’s one of those that is easy for me, makes large quantities, is filling enough to my husband to satisfy him, is healthy enough to please me, and it freezes like a champion.
I’m so excited to finally share my gluten-free, paleoish (cornmeal is a foggy area but it works for me so I’m game) tamale casserole with y’all.
To make this winner winner beefy dinner, you must have:
I’ve made this recipe in a ton of variations based on what I had on hand, who I was preparing it for, and what kinds of dietary needs I had at the time. For the meat, I’ve used pulled chicken, ground turkey, ground beef, and ground venison and all have been successes. Ground or pulled pork would be magical as well.
In terms of your vegetables, I always include peppers and onions, but I’ve been known to live on the wild side and throw in corn, beans (less of those these days as I’ve learned how they don’t play nicely with my digestive system...nobody wins that game, y'all), zucchini, summer squash, and spinach.
In the world of gluten-free cornbread mixes, there’s a TON of fantastic and pretty clean ones out there. A few words of caution, though: First, watch out for soy. Why in the world do we need it in cornbread?! Nonsensical if you ask me. Second, check the sugar content. Some of these cornbread mixes have sugar as their first ingredient. While I enjoy a sweeter cornbread (and my mister does, too), I don’t want to top my tamale casserole with cake in disguise. It's called cornBREAD not cornCAKE.
When serving your tamale casserole, you can garnish it with traditional Tex-Mex fixin’s if you desire. Cilantro, salsa, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, guacamole, and Greek yogurt have all found their way on top of my casseroles at some point over the years. Again, based on what’s in your fridge and what floats your boat, the sky is the limit.
And, as mentioned, this casserole freezes like a dream. Usually, Mr. HHT and I can't plow through the entire 9X13 in one week, so we eat half and freeze the other half for a hectic week (aka every week when you have a newborn).
Put this recipe in the line-up for your Cinco de Mayo fiesta this Friday. And while you’re at it, check out some of my other Tex-Mex recipes that would be smashing additions to your party! Ole!
Let's Chat: What are some of your favorite Tex-Mex foods? Any you want to challenge me to recreate in a healthier, more Paleo-friendly way? I'm always up for a reason to experiment in the kitchen!
Healthy Happy Texan
I'm a Foodie, Fitness Instructor, and Follower of Christ. Add a passion for teaching others, dark chocolate, bacon, and dogs -- and that's me in a box.
Come on, let's live a little!