Frito Pie

Since we’re talking about my childhood, I had a craving last week for Frito Pie, a dish I haven’t had in at least 10 years. (Funny story: where I grew up in Central Texas, this was on the school lunch menu at least once a week, but no one ever called it “Frito Pie.” With apologies to my Cajun friends, in the area I grew up, it was called “jambalaya.” Strange, I know.)

So here I was, craving Frito Pie. Traditionally, this dish involves Frito chips (duh), topped with chili, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream. But y’all know me: there was no way I was going traditional! Instead, I came up with my own version of Frito Pie. It’s marginally healthier, but still not health food. Mostly, I made a few adjustments so that it would have that fresh, clean taste I love in my food.

First, I did away with the chili and made the centerpiece of this dish an aromatic bean concoction. Essentially, these beans are spiced with Tex-Mex spices and set loose on their own. Not as heavy as chili, but still full of flavor. Then, I dropped the cheese–though you could add it back in if you really wanted. Finally, I made one batch with sour cream and one without, and discovered that I didn’t really miss it. (Though, again, feel free to add it back in if you really want to.)

What I ended up with was the best of Frito Pie–the crunch of the chips, the robust flavors of cumin and garlic in the beans, the sweetness of the tomatoes–without the heavy-food hangover I remember from the last time I ate it. A perfect balance of my childhood self and my adult self. And really damn yummy!

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