Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solutions: Almost 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:
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.
Both the Index and Load scores should be checked to determine how a food affects the metabolism. A parsnip, for instance, has a very high glycemic index (97) but the fiber in a parsnip slows the conversion of its starch to glucose, so its glycemic load score is a very “digestible” 10.
As a diagnosed carb counter, one of the foods that I miss the most at this time of year is the holiday tamale. I even had built up a reputation amongst friends for my own special recipe of this traditional Mexican delicacy [the secret being in the flavoring of the masa flour] before my blood sugar put a stop to those many hours of blissful, though glycemicly ignorant, tamale construction. Frankly, the memories of those tamales are still so mouth-wateringly vivid to this day that I have no interest in coming up with a more glycemicly acceptable substitute for fear of muddling those distinctive taste recollections. However, when faced with those annual tamale cravings this year, I suddenly remembered another “like” dish from my childhood that had no such flavor allegiances connected to it – the tamale pie! So I decided that the dish would be fair game for a low carb make-over with hopes that the dish might offer a teensy bit of that tamale flavor, at least in the filling, that annually stalks my taste buds!
The origins of tamale pie are vague at best. A recipe for a cornmeal-crusted casserole with a filling made of tamale-like ingredients first appeared in a 1911 cookbook of Southwest recipes, which claimed the dish had Texas roots a.k.a. early Tex-Mex? By the 1950’s the dish had morphed into an Americanized casserole with many canned ingredients synonymous with the times. That was the concoction I remember being served as a kid. While sharing some ingredients with the traditional tamale, the dish definitely was born in the U.S. and is considered imitation Mexican food by Mexican cuisine connoisseurs. Still, the dish serves nicely as a starting point on my way to enjoying at least some of those tamale flavors without the cornbread or masa flour wrap. Alas, those days are done.
The traditional tamale pie centers around its cornbread crust; be it above or below the filling, cornbread is key. Unfortunately the first three ingredients in this admittedly delicious component is also listed at the very top of the glycemic scale and therefore must be avoided – cornmeal, white flour and sugar! Since a cornbread isn’t cornbread without the corn, time to get over it and find a tasty alternative, not a duplicate. That is, I have used a trusted combination of coconut and almond “flours” in the past for both a low carb pie crust and pizza dough; for this dish, I simply added a few fresh green chile peppers diced fine right into the mixture and baked it while preparing the sauce and filling. The Anaheim chile pepper was chosen mostly because of a preference for flavor over heat. There are hotter green peppers that could be used, though I like the fresh green pepper taste that the Anaheim offers. The combo was so flavorful, I forgot about the cornbread!
While most tamale pie recipes call for a few cans of store-bought enchilada sauce, making a batch of homemade, starting with a fresh tomato purée, tastes so very much better and takes very little extra time considering the flavor dividends. Besides, we’ve already been forced to take the corn out of the crust; a tangy sauce of fresh tomatoes gives the palate something else to relish in its place! Increase the measures in the recipe and store the leftover sauce in a glass jar for up to two weeks in the ‘frig!
The formula for the chicken filling part of this dish is admittedly a bit rudimentary by design. Since this part of the preparation involves chicken and seasonings, I recognize that most everyone will choose his or her favorite supporting condiments anyway! No doubt professional prejudice is a factor here, but I prefer either Melissa’s flavorful Pico de Gallo or Hatch Pepper seasonings; lime and Pico de Gallo is a favorite seasoning for fresh fruit in Mexico, though it works great with shredded chicken. I chose to top this pie with a pre-grated mix of several Mexican cheese varieties that I happened to spot while shopping for ingredients and liked the results. However personal preference may decide on a singular variety, like a sharp cheddar or Jack cheese.
All in all, since my days (and nights) in the kitchen soaking corn husks must stay a memory, this dish was able to satisfy some of those culinary cravings without spiking my blood sugar. I’ll take this facsimile as a reasonable compromise!
Almost Tamale Pie [no cornbread]
6 tablespoons butter, melted
⅓ cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
½ cup fresh Anaheim chile, small diced
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup almond flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 oz. Butter salted
¼ tsp cayenne pepper, ground
2 tsp dried oregano
3 tsp cumin, ground
2 tsp coriander, ground
2 tsp onion powder
1½ TBS Agave syrup
3 medium tomatoes, pureed
½ tsp each salt & pepper to taste
2 cups cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 TBS Pico de Gallo or Hatch Pepper seasoning
1 cup favorite cheese, grated
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Avocado slices (garnish topping)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter, cream, and eggs. Then add in the green chile, both flours, agave, salt, baking soda and stir well to combine. Spread this mixture into a 9-inch pie pan with non-stick spray. Bake @350° for 15 minutes; it should be just set on top.
For the enchilada sauce: Place the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add in all the ingredients, except the puree, and sauté for 3 minutes. Pour in the tomato puree and simmer for about 5 minutes to infuse the spices. Set aside until assembly.
Place the cooked and shredded chicken in a bowl. Mix thoroughly with lime juice and seasonings of choice. Set aside until assembly.
When the “cornbread” is cooked through remove from the oven and use a fork to poke holes all over the bread. Drizzle the enchilada sauce over the top of the cornbread, next spread the seasoned chicken over the sauce, cover with grated cheese and sprinkle with cilantro. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Plating: serve hot with toppings of choice like sour cream, hot sauce and/or avocado slices.