Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Frito Pie

Just because you're making good food choices doesn't mean you can't enjoy comfort food. Ian Knauer updates a classic.

Ditch the Fritos. Keep the flavor. (Photo: Ian Knauer)
Ian Knauer is a regular contributor to TakePart. He worked for ‘Gourmet’ and is the author of the IACP Award–nominated cookbook ‘The Farm.’

The hot, sticky days of August are well behind us, thank goodness, and in their place are the cool, calm mornings and evenings of fall. This is my favorite time of year. I love sweaters. Anticipation of the season’s first fire is constant, and the thought of cozying up with some long-cooked venison followed by my mother’s version of comforting apple cake, served warm, gives me warm fuzzies.

But we’re not quite there yet. Hunting season (although it’s open for bow hunters) hasn’t opened for rifle hunters yet (which is how I hunt), and the apple trees, while looking about ready to drop, need a couple more weeks. A few more cool nights and warm days will get us there, but not yet.

Still, I am craving comfort food, and not just any comfort food, but the worst (or rather, the best) kind: Frito Pie.

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I know what you’re about to say in the comments section. While it is cheap and delicious, Frito Pie is not sustainable. Oh, but it can be.

One of my favorite ways to cook is to take low, everyday junk food and elevate it, by way of top-notch ingredients, to a dish that is not just delicious, but one that I can be proud to make and serve. When it comes to Frito, or in this case Tortilla Pie, all it takes is some grass-fed beef and a little Tex-Mex know-how.

I recently discovered Wyebrook Farm, where they are raising cattle in pasture (along with pigs and chickens) and selling their meat at the farm to cut down on fossil-fuel shipping. These are the kind of farms that we should be supporting and this one is only about six miles from where I live. Find one near you and buy your meat from them. Then with your locally-raised, grass-fed beef, make some tortilla pie.

Tortilla Pie

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 pound dried kidney beans

water

2 dried guajillo chiles

1 dried ancho chile

5 garlic cloves

1 medium tomato, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 clove

Fine sea salt

Finely ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound ground grass-fed beef

Organic tortilla chips

8 ounces grated organic cheddar cheese

Fresh cilantro leaves


Directions:

Soak kidney beans in water to cover for at least 8 hours. Drain beans then cover with fresh water in a medium pot and boil until tender, about 45 minutes. Remove pot from heat, letting beans soak in cooking water until ready to use.

Discard seeds and stems from chiles, then toast chiles in a heavy skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chiles to pot with beans, submerging chiles in cooking liquid until tender, about 6 minutes.

Puree soaked chiles in a blender with garlic, tomato, cumin, oregano, clove and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then add poblanos, onion, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and sauté until golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in beef, breaking up large chunks with a spatula. Stir in dried chile sauce and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid is reduced, 5 to 7 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spread tortilla chips in a baking dish and top with chile. Sprinkle cheese over chile and heat in the oven until cheese is melted, about 6 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve.


Ian Knauer has traveled the world for Gourmet magazine, written for too many other magazines to list, cohosted three food television shows and written a cookbook, The Farm. @iknauer | TakePart.com


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