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Passport & Plate - Frito Pie

USA | Friday, 14 March 2014 | 5 photos

Fritos (preferably the snack size)
1-lb. ground sirloin
1 1/2 cups Red Chile Sauce*

chopped sweet onion
chopped tomato
grated extra-sharp cheddar
chopped cilantro
Mexican crema (or sour cream or creme fraiche)

*Red Chile Sauce:
10-12 dried red chiles
2 Tbs canola oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
heaping 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Rinse the chiles under warm water, removing the stems and as many of the seeds as possible while keeping the body of the chile intact. Place the chiles in a large bowl and cover with very hot water. Let sit 15-20 minutes to soften. Using tongs, remove the chiles to a colander to drain.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent and soft, around 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes more, stirring. Do not let the mix brown. Stir in the salt and spices, cooking 30 seconds. Adding the spices before the rest of the liquid brings out more of their flavor. Add the broth and chiles. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Puree the chile mix in a blender or a food processor until smooth.
One batch makes about 4 cups. Store the excess in the freezer up to 6 months.


How to prepare this recipe
Brown the beef over medium-high heat, about 7 minutes. Ground sirloin is not as fatty as regular ground beef, so there will not be much to drain off. If there is fat in the pan you want to get rid of, scoot all the meat to one end of the pan then tip it so the fat slides to the other end of the pan. Use a clean dry paper towel to wick up the fat.
Add the chile sauce and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer at least 10 minutes. The longer you let the mix simmer, the more the flavor will develop. If it gets too dry, add a little more chile sauce or broth.

To assemble:
Fritos first, then meat, then whatever you want on top.

Serves 4 polite eaters, 3 hungry ones, 2 beasts.


The story behind this recipe
I was raised in California, but I grew up in New Mexico. I first went as a college Anthropology major. I took a class called “Peoples of the American Southwest,” and since I had never been, I got extra credit by spending my spring break exploring Arizona and New Mexico.
In Santa Fe, I had my first Frito Pie in the Woolworth’s that had made it famous. It was a perfect blend of salty and spicy. I fell in love with the dish and the state. Within a week of graduating, I moved to Albuquerque, hoping to enter the Master of Anthropology program at the University of New Mexico.
I never got into the program; I never even applied. Adrift in Albuquerque, I worked dead-end jobs and got into trouble. I hung out with bad people and made worse choices. My bright moments dwindled until I was drowning in the dark.
I quit bartending and married a man who showed me how to turn myself around. I earned a Master of Counseling degree. I went into social services and worked with everyone from the developmentally-disabled to the drug-addicted to the homeless.
Ten years of flirting with death and re-directing myself back to a life filled with possibility, and of all things, my constant was that Frito Pie. I ate it with rich tourists in Santa Fe. I ate it with broke hipsters in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill. My favorite came from an Indian gas station in Grants where I stopped on trips back to California.
I cooked it for bikers and barflies, cowboys and call center co-workers. I made it for clients in their group homes. I prepped huge batches to have for those countless late nights partying, working, studying.
Now, I’m back in California and embarking on my third chapter. I have new work, new friends, new dreams, new goals. But, whenever I crave comfort food, whenever I want to share a bit of the best of me, I make my Frito Pie, and I’m transported back to my desert. I see a rosy sunset splashed across my Sandias, watch the million stars break out across that ink-black sky, and I am home.

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