I sat up and saluted that story. The chile-onion-garlicy aroma of Frito Pie still hung in the air and the taste lingered on my lips as I read. I’ve been making Frito Pie for twenty years, though I had no idea what it was. I got the recipe from my grandmother, who lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the title on it was Chile Chip Casserole. Her eccentric concoctions were legendary. I assumed this was another one of them, though it seemed less bizarre than usual for her, and she seldom wrote recipes down. I assumed she had made it up, because when I was growing up in New Mexico, Mexican food was a staple in our family’s diet. Although we generally stuck to the traditional New Mexico red chile and cheese stacked enchiladas or rolled tacos, we did innovate in later years.
Perhaps I’ve innovated the most. Though this recipe was an instant hit from the first time I made it, I probably never did follow it to the letter. I use whatever tortilla chips I have on hand, because I can’t even remember the last time I purchased Fritos, a mainstay of my childhood diet.
One mention of Frito Pie could pass from memory in a flash. But a couple of days later I say it again, probably in a blog, and again somewhere else the day after. Today in a blog update post from RssFwd (new owner of Blogarithm), I saw a link to redRavine and Ybonesy’s story, The Cult of Frito Pie.
In this storm of stories about Frito Pie that has hit with such strength and focus, it has grown obvious that Frito Pie is indeed a cult; one I didn’t realize I belonged to. Part of the cult ritual is posting your own Frito Pie recipe, or in my case, Chile Chip Pie. Though I’ve never included a recipe in this blog, there’s a first time for everything, and recipe-story combinations make delicious reading. You see my well-worn copy of her recipe below. I scanned it rather than typing because there is something special about saving it in her handwriting.
I have no idea how that page got so yellowed and stained. It isn’t like I pull it out to cook from! In fact, I generally make this from left-over chile by stirring in “enough” onion, cheese and tortilla chips, and who needs a recipe for that? But that's exactly what she urges in her closing comment: “You can vary this to use what you have on hand —”
Here is my “from scratch” version as I make it for company:
One pound ground beef
One large chopped onion
Two or three cloves garlic, minced and smashed
1 tsp. cumin
Chile powder to taste (amount varies on personal preference and type of chile)
1 Tbsp. all purpose flour
8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups drained, cooked pinto beans (home-cooked are best)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (longhorn is traditional, mild or medium cheddar, colby or Monterey jack also work)
1 cup sliced black olives
2 cups crushed tortilla chips (plain or flavored)
Shredded lettuce (optional)
Chopped fresh tomato (optional)
Brown beef, half the onion, and garlic in large skillet over medium heat. Add cumin, chile powder and flour. Cook and stir to mix flour and chile well. Add tomato sauce and stir as it thickens. Add water as necessary to make medium sauce (not runny).
Transfer mixture to large mixing bowl. Stir in beans, remaining onion, olives, and cheese. Add crushed tortilla chips. Place in two-quart casserole. Bake at 350° F for about 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Optional: top with shredded lettuce and fresh tomato to serve.
If I had a reliable local source of tasty canned enchilada sauce, I’d use that instead of the seasonings and tomato sauce. Unfortunately I live in one of the last places in America to lack a full offering of Mexican food ingredients.
Oh, my, I have some beans in the refrigerator, hamburger in the freezer ... I'm hungry!
Write now: about a cult recipe or traditional family favorite you’ve enjoyed through the years. Include your version of the recipe, the history of it, and how you came to start making it.