Easy Tamale Pie Made Healthy

One thing we have missed since living in South Africa is South American food. Our home town in the States had  a population of people from south of the border, and the cuisine readily available was magnifico. I am always on the look out for food that we can make with ingredients we have available, but it’s not always easy.

Tonight’s dinner was a first time shot at a recipe in my new Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that I was given as a gift this year (imported from the US, of course). It was a huge hit. Conversation around dinner was “You haven’t made this before…. please don’t stop”. 

A few alterations made it a little more nutritious and didn’t take away from the flavour or texture of the dish. Next time I will add more green peppers and maybe sneak in some extra grated veggies on the sly such as zucchini (marrows) and carrot.  I am sure that corn would also be a nice addition.


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tb. olive oil
  • 1 lb minced chicken breast (leave out for a vegetarian dish)
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder (more if you want extra zip)
  • 3/4 tsp cumin
  • Salt and Pepper for seasoning
  • 1 can kidney beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed
  • 1 can cannelleni beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed (substitute black beans if available)
  • 1 can pinto beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed
  • 2 c. tomato juice (or V8 style juice if available)
  • 1 can green chilies (I substituted one-seeded fresh green “Thai” chili, chopped fine)

Cook the onion, green pepper and garlic in the oil until softened. Add the optional minced chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook until no longer pink. Add tomato juice, cumin and chili powder and the undrained tin of green chilies (or fresh chopped chili as preferred) Heat through.

Transfer into a 3 qt casserole, or 9×13 pan. Heat oven to 400 F or 200 C.

For the topping

In a medium bowl mix the following:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Add to the above ingredients

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 egg

Stir until just moistened.

Grate in 2 oz cheddar cheese and 2 Tb chopped flat leaf parsley or fresh coriander leaves

Spoon over the top of the bean mixture and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and a splash of spicy salsa for some zip.

Finish as a meal with a nice side salad and you’ve got it made! Enjoy!


Things are about to get a little steamy

Now, now.. Don’t you go thinking the worst! This is a family blog 🙂

I am 7 weeks post surgery now and 6 3/4 weeks into my committment to permanently change my family’s lifestyle.

So far accomplished:

  • Water source improved and water consumption increased.
  • Soda pop reduced to a rare treat.
  • Juice as fresh as possible (though we mourn the demise of our standard issue juicer and are saving up for an industrial one).
  • Whole grains, seeds and nuts are a part of the daily diet and we are slowly replacing all those refined flour favourites with whole grain replacements.
  • Vegetables are a bigger part of our diet, and we are slowly getting everyone in the family on board. Even my darling Veggie-hater son is slowly coming around (slowly, mind you!).
  • Small container garden has been planted and is producing. First harvest of leafy greens is just around the corner.
  • Take-aways and convenience foods, are almost completely eliminated. I say almost because I have promised the kids that we are about changing our daily diet – and a very occasional pizza or chicken burger is allowed.
  • Red meat consumption is down, and we’ve found a source of free-range, hormone and animal by-product free chicken (Yippee!)

It’s great to see progress… but there is still so much ahead.  This has been all about gradual change, so this isn’t discouraging.  However, I don’t want to lose momentum!

Next on my list is to buy a steamer (ah! now you get it!)  I have done a lot of reading about the nutrients in our food. Some information I knew already, some information gave me greater clarity

Interesting to note: the 3 main enemies to vitamins and minerals are heat, water and oxidation

Oxidation: Vitamins A, C and E are most prone to oxidation. The longer food is stored, the more surface area that is exposed to air and light, the less Vitamin C there is likely to be.  Vitamin A and E are also victims of oxidation. Cool, dark storage helps to slow this natural process.

Heat: The degree of destruction depends a) cooking time b) whether heat is distributed evenly and c) most importantly the temperature.  20-70% of the nutrient content of leafy vegetables is lost in cooking

Water: Minerals and water-soluble vitamins leach into cooking water. The more water used and the longer the cooking time, the more this will occur. High temperatures can even destroy some of the vitamins, though not the minerals. Loss of nutrients in boiled foods tends to be around 20-50%.

Why steam? Steamed foods tend to keep the temperature at the core of the food lower for longer, retaining more of the vitamin and mineral content in the food. It doesn’t take much water to accomplish the cooking process – and anyone who has had steamed broccoli and carrots over boiled know the colour and flavour are so much stronger.

Why not microwave? In vegetables, there is little loss, because the microwaves vibrate the water content in the food. However, essential fats are rapidly destroyed, so it’s advised to not microwave foods with oils, nuts or sees.

Basically I feel that if I am going to the trouble to purchase organic food, grow what I can and keep my fridge stocked with fresh goodness – I want those precious nutrients! Our bodies need them – our cells demand them and I want to give my body all the fight it can have to ward off what attacks it.

Here are some great tips offered by Patrick Holford in his book The Optimum Nutrition Bible 

  • Eat foods as fresh and unprocessed as possible
  • Keep fresh food cool and in the dark in the fridge in sealed containers
  • Eat more raw food. (This is why I love juicing!)
  • Prepare foods cold where possible and heat to serve
  • Cook food whole as possible – saving slicing or blending before serving
  • Steam or boil with as little water as possible – and save that water for stock (Yum!)
  • Fry as little as possible and do not overcook, burn or brown your food

Did you say “organic”?

Let me start by explaining – Before moving to South Africa, I lived in Portland Oregon. That is Portland, land of all things natural. When the rest of the U.S. was busy buying dot.com stock and huge SUV’s, Oregonians were dabbling in alternative energy and pushing recycling. Recycling? Most were still trying to get a grip on Woody the Owl telling us to “Give a Hoot, Don’t pollute” by not throwing our candy wrappers on the ground. Available way before it was trendy were items that were “free-range”, “organic”, using methods that had the smallest “carbon-foot print” possible.

Then we moved… to Africa. South Africa is not exactly third world, however it’s thinking in 2004 was not exactly globally protective. I often got dirty looks when I hooted my car horn at the pick-up full of workers throwing their styrofoam lunch containers overboard.I admit, I abandoned for sometime my recycling habits as well as the energy spent in choosing my purchases according to environmental awareness, but even still missed the easy access to alternatives to the pre-packed, processed and steroid injected options available in the supermarkets.

Enter the big scare – my diagnosis – and my realization that my lazy lifestyle most likely contributed to my sickness. Voila! The motivation returned! Yes, it’s good for the planet, and it’s part of our being good stewards of all we have been so graciously given.. but the personal motivation got me off my backside at last.

South Africa does have one great advantage – the “supermarket” syndrome is fairly new. And this means we have Fruit and Veg markets, Butcheries and Bakeries who still specialize in what they do. So it is with this knowledge that I marched through my local “fruit and veg” on the hunt for what I thought would be not too difficult – organically grown veggies.

Alas, organic was not to be found, so in my “never say die” attitude, I decided I needed a garden. Problem? Yes.. I have no garden space… and where I do have beds, I have dogs – busy dogs, bored dogs…. naughty puppy dogs.


I do have however, one little corner of my property that is gated, and paved.. and this is where my little baby container garden was born. It’s by no means something that would make “Farmer Jones” proud, but for me… seeing it come to be has given me a sense of satisfaction that even finding the perfect Organic Farm couldn’t provide.

A work in progress, I already have bigger plans for next year including two raised beds and if I am really lucky to find someone to help, a vertical bed or two. And this year, I’m teaching Thuli, who helps me at home, to garden as well.

Only time will tell if the spinach, beets, beans and tomato grown will appeal to my veggie-hater son, but I am very pleased to say that I know where and how they were grown, and will be able to eat them without concern about what made them grow.