Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solutions: Tamale Pie!
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
In the spirit of this month’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations, I decided to revisit a favorite dish of my own childhood, which I continued to make occasionally as an adult until I had to start counting carbs. The Tamale Pie, with its very high starch-to-sugar scoring co-star ingredients of cornmeal and canned corn, has not been seen in my kitchen for years. So a Cinco de Mayo theme provided me with the perfect excuse to figure out how to still enjoy those tamale pie flavors again using a more glycemic-friendly list of ingredients. At least that was the thought process of this culinary-misinformed gringo, who has since learned that the tamale pie is about as Mexican as Irish stew.
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
The history is somewhat hazy, though the recipe for a tamale pie does appear in the 1931 edition of the Joy of Cooking. That recipe basically consisted of covering up a simple ground beef chili with a corn batter and baking it until crisp. The dish enjoyed a spike in popularity during the 1950s in a culture that was just beginning to develop an appetite for faster food preparation. Like my frazzled mother, who had her own version of this dish that mixed the corn meal right into the meat mixture for the final bake. Back then the tamale pie was supposed to be a short-cut to the very tedious preparation involved in making a batch of authentic corn husk wrapped Mexican special occasion traditional dish. Though this “authentic imitation” of Mexican cuisine without the fuss did not resemble its namesake in taste, texture or appearance whatsoever!
Still, one cannot deny or easily forget the flavors of childhood--even if the nationality of some of those tastes got muddled along the way. So here is a low-carb version of the usual tamale pie. It has a much thinner top crust by subbing almond meal flour for most of corn meal. If you want a "cornier" crust, increase the number of TBS of corn meal called for in the recipe. If you do this, be sure to decrease the amount of almond flour by the same amount of additional corn meal and also add one tablespoon of water for each tablespoon of corn meal added; the extra liquid will help maintain the batter’s creamy smooth texture.
However, be aware that adding more corn meal for flavor does come with a glycemic price tag. As the recipe is written below, each of the six servings has 6.5 grams of carbohydrates plus 3.5 grams fiber for a total of 10 grams carbohydrates. Figure that for every tablespoon of corn meal added to this recipe there will be 1 gram of extra carbohydrate added to each serving!
It should also be noted that I opted for MILD versions of several ingredients where there were more spicy alternatives. According to personal preferences this whole recipe could certainly be kicked up a notch. Specifically, both of Melissa’s Hatch chili powder and salsa as well as the variety of fresh green pepper all could have been hotter. To each his or her own palate preference as a far as spice level of this dish. The only thing that needs counting closely for this recipe is the number of extra TBS of corn meal – those carbs add up faster. Enjoy!
Low-Carb Tamale Pie
¼ cup melted butter
¼ tsp sea salt
½ tsp garlic powder
1 teaspoon MILD HATCH chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
⅔ cup almond flour
3 TBS Corn meal (add to taste, 1 TBS = 1 net carb)
2 oz. whole milk
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
6 oz. shredded Queso Fresco Mexican cheese
In a large bowl blend all the dry ingredients into the almond flour, then mix in thoroughly the eggs, butter and milk; lastly, fold in the cheese and beat into a smooth batter. Set aside to rest while preparing the filling.
½ chopped Perfect Sweet onion
1½ lbs. ground beef
3 Poblano or Anaheim peppers, chopped
1 jar Melissa’s Fire-Roasted Red Bells, chopped
2 tablespoons HATCH Salsa
2 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 small can chopped ripe black olives (about 4 oz.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion and beef in a large skillet on medium-high heat until the fat of the meat has rendered out enough pull out with a large baster; then add the Poblano, Red Bell peppers, and the salsa. Simmer until the beef is cooked through.
Add the tomatoes, olives, salt to taste, then cook for 1 minute more.
Spread the beef mixture evenly into a 9 X 13 inch baking dish, then cover the meat with the biscuit batter.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350° for 20 minutes or until crust begins to brown. Cut into 6 individual square servings.