Frito Pie, one of the great fun foods of the Southwest, consists of chile con carne (beef in red chile sauce) ladled over Fritos corn chips, and topped with shredded cheddar cheese and, if desired, raw onions. If you buy it, at a carnival or street fair, perhaps, the chile will probably be ladled right into a single-serving bag of Fritos. Ideally, the bag will have been placed flat on a plate and torn open on the side (not from the top, which would not provide enough surface area for the chile). If you make Frito pie at home, you’ll place a handful of Fritos on the plate, and put the chile on top. Homemade is better, and one reason is that you can decide how many Fritos you want to eat, then sneak a few more if you end up with excess chile. Frito pie starts out as finger food. You pick up a crisp Frito and use it to scoop up some chile. When you have eaten all of the dry Fritos, pick up a fork and attack the remaining pile of chile, which is hiding a pile of deliciously softened Fritos underneath.
The most famous version of Frito Pie was the one served at the lunch counter of the Woolworth’s on the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Woolworth’s is gone, but a successor restaurant still sells the same Frito Pie.) For Julie, though, the definitive Frito Pie was the one dished up in the school cafeteria 60 miles away in her hometown of Albuquerque. Frito Pie day was definitely a day to buy lunch, not bring it. As an adult, she sought to recreate the childhood favorite with a nod – albiet a slight one — to health concerns. This Frito Pie is light on the meat, heavy on the low-fat, fiber-rich pinto beans and the lycopene-containing canned tomatoes. If you are watching what you eat, make yourself a Frito Pie salad where crunchy vegetables stand in for most of the Fritos. Fill a dinner plate with crisp leaves of romaine lettuce that you have sliced crossways into 1/2-inch ribbons. Pile chopped radishes and jicama cubes on top of the lettuce. Top with a modest scoop of chile, a light sprinkling of cheese and a few crumbled Fritos.
When shopping, be sure to buy regular Fritos. The larger ones are too big to eat easily when laden with chile, and soften too slowly. The flavored ones compete with the flavors of this warmly spiced chile. And don’t even think of substituting tortilla chips! They will quickly go limp under the weight of the chile.
Cooker: Medium or Large Round or Oval
Machine Setting and Cook Time: Low Heat: 4 to 5 hours
1-pound lean ground beef
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons or more pure New Mexico ground chile, hot, medium, or mild as desired (not chili powder)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes in juice, undrained
1 (16-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (12-ounce) bag regular Fritos
8-ounces shredded mild or sharp cheddar cheese
1 medium white onion, chopped, optional
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the ground beef and garlic and cook until there is no pink, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat. Drain the meat and place it in the crock. Add the ground chile, cumin, tomatoes with their juice, and pinto beans; stir well to combine. Cover and cook on LOW for 4 to 5 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, place a handful of Fritos on a dinner plate. Top with a ladleful of chile and then some cheese. Garnish with chopped onion, if desired.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2005/2017, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2017
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.