Chili Pie Delight

Frito Pie (with green onions substituted for diced white)

Frito Pie (with green onions substituted for diced white)

I don’t know if this is a regional dish, but from what I’ve read chili pie —or Frito Pie as it was called when I was a kid —is not universally known. This is a classic festival food, a staple of festivals, flea markets and food trucks. In the festival version I ate as a kid, a small bag of Fritos was slit down the side, then a scoop of chili was ladled on top, then grated cheddar cheese and finely diced white or yellow onions were sprinkled on top. Traditionally the proportion of Fritos to chili was about even and the portions were small so that it could be eaten quickly before the chips got soggy. I tend to overload the homemade version with chili which results in having to add more chips to get that characteristic crunch. When I was a kid we’d sometime make this at home using canned chili without beans. You can use chili with beans if that’s what you’ve got on hand, but it’s better and if you omit the beans. I have already written about the bean-no bean controversy and posted my chili recipe which is made with beans. I alter that recipe slightly when I make chili without beans, taking down the seasonings a notch because without the beans the amount of chili is less.

A note about nomenclature: This was always known to me and everyone I knew as “Frito Pie” for most of my life. Then at some point I started noticing “Chili Pie” instead of “Frito Pie” turning up on menu boards at festivals. I don’t know why the name was changed unless it’s some copyright or trademark issue about selling food with the Frito brand name attached to it. Fritos are unique and you really can’t make anything like Frito Pie unless you have that crispy corn crunch of original Fritos. Anything else is just chili with chips. 😉

Vegetarian Chili without beans

My Crockpot is a 6 qt: adjust recipe accordingly for the volume of your slow-cooker.

3 med (14.5 oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 cups water
2 pkgs. Smart Ground
2 med onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, run through garlic press (or finely minced)
3 Tbls chili powder or crushed dried chile petine
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp habanero powder
1 tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp cumin
salt to taste
1/4 cup cornmeal

First a few notes about seasoning. If you use 3-4 Tbls of regular store-bought chili powder you will get a mildly seasoned chili. If you’re unsure about the heat, this is a good place to start, adjusting amounts to suit your own taste. I like to either supplement store-bought chili powder (I use Mexene) with small amounts of additional ground dried chilis (such as ancho and/or habanero listed above) or when I have enough of them I just use ground dried chile petines which grow wild in Texas (and my garden). They make a good chili seasoning. Again, if you’re not familiar with them, use sparingly. The heat and general seasoning of chili is very much a personal choice and I encourage you to experiment.

Put all the ingredients—except the cornmeal—into Crockpot and stir well. The whole tomatoes should be smashed with a wooden spoon or otherwise broken up into smaller pieces. (Note: If you use canned diced rather than whole tomatoes the flavor and consistency of the chili will be substantially different.) Cover and set the Crockpot to High, which is 4-6 hours on most Crockpots. (You could cook it on Low for longer, but I never do.)

About an hour before the chili is finished cooking, gently sprinkle in 1/4 cup cornmeal, a little at a time, stirring as you do to prevent lumps. (This is a thickener.) This final step may be considered optional, depending on how you like your chili. More than 1/4 cup cornmeal can be used, depending on your preferences. Thicker chili seems to me to work better for things like Frito Pie and chili dogs.

My Crockpot is programmable and rolls over to “warming” after the cooking time is finished. If yours isn’t automatic and you’re not quite ready to eat, turn the Crockpot from High down to Low (or off) after 6 hours, maximum.

For Frito Pie, serve over a generous amount of Fritos with grated cheddar cheese and diced white or yellow onion on top (some people consider this optional because it’s just too onion-y). If you have green onions on hand, they can be used instead of the diced onion. It’s not traditional, but heck, we’re not using meat in the chili, so I think we can further bend tradition if you want to use green onion. 😉 For further thoughts on the whole chili tradition — and why I think invoking tradition is pointless — see The Chili Controversy. 😀

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Vegetarian Chili

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Vegetarian Chili in my 6 qt crockpot, ready to serve!

When I was growing up, chili came out of a can—until my mother got a crockpot. She started making chili occasionally from a recipe that I thought was in one of the two Crockpot cookbooks she had; I’ve since looked in those books but found no recipe even remotely like the rather bland original recipe, so perhaps my memory is wrong and the beginnings of this chili did come from some family recipe and I just don’t recall chili prior to the Crockpot, because with the advent of the crockpot it became a frequent meal.

That was decades ago (and not vegetarian), so almost everything about the recipe has been gradually changed, including the amount because my crockpot is somewhat larger than that her old crockpot. Only one thing remains the same: the parboiling and soaking of the beans. It works very well in a crockpot recipe. Now, before you get all bent out of shape about chili with beans in it, you should read my previous post about chili with and without beans. You’ll probably still be bent out of shape, but at least you’ll understand where I’m coming from on this. (No, I’m not a Yankee. Born and raised in Texas.) 🙂

My Crockpot is a 6 qt: adjust recipe accordingly for the volume of your slow-cooker.

1 1/2 cups dry pinto beans (approx 1/2 lb), rinsed
3 med (14.5 oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 cups water
2 pkgs. Smart Ground
2 med onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, run through garlic press (or finely minced)
3 Tbls chili powder or crushed dried chile petine
2 tsp ancho chile powder (optional)
1 tsp habenero chile powder (optional)
1 tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp cumin
salt to taste
1/4 cup cornmeal

First a few notes about seasoning. If you use 3-4 Tbls of regular store-bought chili powder you will get a mildly seasoned chili. If you’re unsure about the heat, this is a good place to start, adjusting amounts to suit your own taste. I like to either supplement store-bought chili powder (I use Mexene) with small amounts of additional ground dried chilis (such as ancho and/or habanero listed above) or when I have enough of them I just use ground dried chile petines which grow wild in Texas, seeded by the birds, often in my garden. These are very tiny, very hot, peppers. I picked em as they get ripe, dry them, and then crush them in a very small mortar and pestle which I only use for grinding dry hot peppers. They make a good chili seasoning. Again, if you’re not familiar with them, use sparingly. You may also note that my recipe uses cumin even though cumin is an ingredient in most chili powders. It adds a savory spiciness (without any heat) and I wouldn’t recommend omitting it (unless you make your own chili powder and use more cumin than most store-bought brands).

True confession here: I don’t measure my spices when I make chili. I did make this recipe with these measurements, because I know people need measurements, at least to start with. It’s got quite a kick to it, so be warned if you use all the options, you should measure—and it will be hot! I usually throw in a dash of this or that depending on what I’ve got on hand. The heat and general seasoning of chili is very much a personal choice and I encourage you to experiment.

Simmer the dry pinto beans in 3 times their volume of water of for 30 min. Remove from the burner, cover and let stand for a least an hour and a half. ( If you want to start the chili first thing in the morning this can be done the night before, then put in fridge overnight after it has cooled.)

Drain the beans. Put all the ingredients—except the cornmeal—into Crockpot and stir well. The whole tomatoes should be smashed with a wooden spoon or otherwise broken up into smaller pieces. (Note: If you use canned diced tomatoes the flavor and consistency of the chili will be substantially different.) Cover and set the Crockpot to High, which is 4-6 hours on most Crockpots.

About an hour before the chili is finished cooking, gently sprinkle in 1/4 cup cornmeal, a little at a time, stirring as you do to prevent lumps. (This is a thickener.) This final step may be considered optional, depending on how you like your chili. More than 1/4 cup cornmeal can be used, depending on your preferences.

My Crockpot is programmable and rolls over to “warming” after the cooking time is finished. If yours isn’t automatic and you’re not quite ready to eat, turn the Crockpot from High down to Low (or off) after 6 hours, maximum.

Note: You could cook it on Low 8-10 hours, I suppose, but I can’t recall ever doing this though I may have.  The main reason I go for the shorter, hotter, cooking time and temp has to do with timing. I parboil the beans in the morning and let them soak. Then I prep the vegetables at lunch time and put them into the Crockpot. The chili is ready by suppertime.

The next post has my My Vegetarian Chili Without Beans (and Frito Pie!) recipe. 😀