Frito Pie, Y’all!

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Would you believe that Frito pie is actually good for you? Well, it ain’t.

Frito Pie has been on my mind of late. The warm weather has me conjuring up thoughts of State Fairs and picnics and baseball games and other specifically American outdoor events that suggest foods eaten out of hand and foods that defy all conventional “healthy-eating” sensibilities. Frito Pie is one food that fits both criteria — it’s portable and well, disposable, and it’s virtually devoid of any redeeming nutritional value. However, it is super-yummy in all its gleefully white-trashy, grease-bomby way. I like it! It reminds me of my youth and my Southern ties, of hot weather and festival foods.

Now there’s a school of Frito Pie theory that suggests a baked casserole sort of construction, like some kind of bastardized Tex-Mex lasagna or ghetto-style enchiladas. Sure, you bake a bunch of Fritos (and no other corn chip is acceptable) with chili or ground beef with cheese and salsa and you know that’s going to be tasty treat. But to me that’s not really Frito Pie even if it kind of resembles a pie; to me Frito Pie is the so-called “walking taco” whereby you cut open a snack-sized bag of Fritos (the one and only) and you dump into it some hot chili (preferably beanless), some grated cheese, some sour cream and then maybe some other garnishes like jalapenos, hot sauce, chopped scallions, guacamole, etc. You scarf that down with a plastic fork (or spork, if you should be so lucky) and wash that down with an ice-cold PBR or Dixie (or Shiner Bock, if you should be so lucky) and that’s good eatin’, y’all!

For an afternoon snack today I made a totally delish Frito Pie. Because I had only a large bag of Fritos, I put it into a plastic deli cup and I ate it with a plastic fork. This presentation approximated the portability of eating out of a greasy plastic bag but was way neater. It went a little something like this….

  • 1 cup of Fritos dumped into a 16-ounce plastic container
  • 3/4 cup of basic meaty beanless chili put on top of that
  • 1/2 cup of grated “Mexican-style” cheese (jack & cheddar) scattered over the hot chili
  • 1/4 cup sour cream dumped into the container slightly off to the side
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh avocado, dumped into the container slightly off to the side
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro put on top
  • 1 tablespoon chopped green onion, on top
  • 1 teaspoon (or more!) hot sauce. I used Cholula, which is awesome.
  • stick a plastic fork in it
  • eat!

So, if you’re hankering for something that isn’t remotely healthy, try some Frito Pie. You can’t live on vegan kale salad alone, ya know!

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But it sho is yummy!

I’ve included a basic chili recipe. This is simple chili not meant to be eaten as a main course but to go on top of hot dogs, burgers, and things like Frito Pie.

Basic Chili:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red or green bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup beer
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

To make the chili melt the butter with the oil in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Turn heat up to high and add the ground beef. Season beef with salt and pepper to taste and brown well. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes until softened. Add tomato paste and cook that, stirring around, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Sprinkle the flour over the beef and onion mixture and stir well. Add beer and cook until the alcohol smell has dissipated. Add all remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine. Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I like to cook it gently for at least an hour until everything breaks down nicely and the excess water has evaporated. Keep in mind that this chili is better the next day, so plan ahead if you can.

Simple Veggie Medley: White Corn + Peas + Green Beans

Fresh, glorious veggies!

Sometimes the simplest veggies are the best, the easiest to make, and the most satisfying. I make basic veggie mixes like this several times a week; the only requirement is good and fresh vegetables. I’ll usually saute them in a combination of olive oil and butter, season them with salt and pepper and perhaps a little garlic or minced shallot. Maybe I’ll throw in a basil leaf, a fresh bay leaf, or a thyme sprig into the pan to infuse a hint of fresh greenery into the mix. Occasionally I’ll add a couple of tablespoons of white wine to the pan just to kick up the acidity a bit and breathe a little life into it.

This particular medley was made of fresh green peas, good green beans, and fresh white corn. The corn was good, but not stellar like the stuff we’ll be getting mid-summer, the green beans were fresh and firm and tasty, and the green peas were fresh and tender and sweet.

I blanched the green beans in salted water until just cooked through and then I dropped them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. I shucked the fresh peas and then steamed them for three minutes until they were tender but just under-cooked. I added them to ice bath. After a couple of minutes I drained the beans and peas and kept them, in a strainer, off to the side while I cut the corn kernels off of the cob. I then cut the green beans into two-inch lengths. I had about one cup of each veggie. I also minced one large garlic clove and pulled out one fresh basil leaf.

I heated a sauté pan over high heat. After it was hot (but not quite smoking) I added a couple of tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. I swirled the two fats together until the butter completely melted and then immediately added the corn kernels. I cracked some black pepper and scattered a bit of kosher salt over the corn. I then flipped the pan the few times to move the corn about and then added the garlic. I tossed the pan again to mix the corn and the garlic and then added a slug of white wine to the pan (perhaps about a quarter cup of Sauvignon Blanc) and then let that steam up to infuse the corn.

I added the green beans, the peas, and basil to the corn. I mixed it all together well, reduced the heat to medium, and cooked the medley another minute. I killed the heat and tested for seasoning. It needed a tiny bit of salt, but otherwise it was perfect. And perfectly delicious!

So simple, so yummy.

A note: if you can’t find fresh peas, use frozen peas. They’re perfectly acceptable and honestly one of the only frozen vegetables I ever cook. I find that the best way to defrost them prior to cooking is to pour the frozen peas into a large bowl and cover with a couple inches of water. Let them sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes and they’ll be ready to sauté, as is.