Shhh! Don’t tell the world, especially Texans, but I don’t much care for tamales. I’m not a bread person, so tamales for me often have more wrapping than filling. I’d reverse that ratio. On the other hand, I think polenta is great. So several years ago I made a tamale pie that used polenta instead of masa—a true blending of Mexican and Italian cuisines, but heavy on the Mexican side. You could rightly call it Tex-Mex. It is high on my list my all-time favorite dishes. I haven’t made it in a while, but it’s on my “let’s cook this” list. Sorry for the fuzzy picture. Because I haven't made this recently, I didn't have a picture and had to snatch one off the web.
This recipe is a lot easier if you use the prepared rolls of polenta, available in most groceries, rather than trying to cook your own. Use the traditional flavor rather than that with herbs added—this dish will take your flavors in another direction, away from basil for instance.
Tamale pie with polenta
1 lb. ground sirloin, as fat-free as possible (try using ground buffalo)
1½ Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 16-oz. bottle medium hot salsa (Pace picante preferred)
1 15-oz. can refried beans (original flavor)
1¾ c. chicken broth (preferably Better than Bouillon)
½ c. chopped cilantro
2 1-lb. rolls prepared polenta, sliced ¼ inch thick
3½ c. shredded sharp cheddar
Brown beef, breaking up clumps. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir briefly. Add salsa, beans, and broth. Simmer until thick, about 10 minutes. Add the cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste.
Layer half the polenta in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Top with sauce and 1½ c. cheese. Top with remaining polenta and then remaining cheddar. Bake uncovered at 350° for 35 minutes. Let it sit a minute before serving.