We love chili in this family, being from Ohio, the usual way we eat it is Cincinnati style, over spaghetti, or any pasta we have handy. We like ours with ground beef and beans too. Another favorite version is Frito Pie, where a bowl of Fritos is topped with chili for a Tex-Mex dish that adds some nice texture to a bowl of chili; many stadiums, fairs, and even gas stations serve single serving bags of Fritos with chili on top. Who doesn't love a portable bowl of chili?!
I was thinking, why not make an actual Frito crust to hold the chili, then I can top it with more Fritos and some cheese to really amp up the flavor. I picked Chili Cheese Fritos for the crust, adding cheese to create the same flavors as the topping, with some corn flour and butter to help bind the crust. I baked them in a mini pie pan, topped with my favorite chili recipe, these mini pies were the perfect portion for each of us to eat for dinner. As cold of a winter as we had, we ate plenty of chili, these Frito pies were a nice variation to our usual recipe.
My favorite chili recipe is from Cook's Illustrated, it's a great balance of spicy, sweet, and smoky. When the Frito pies were ready we topped them with cilantro, sour cream, and a squeeze of lime juice that tamed some of the heat, and brightened up the flavors. You could use your favorite chili recipe, you can even make this recipe with ground turkey instead of ground beef.
I hope you enjoy these mini Frito pies!
Chili recipe from Cook's Illustrated Simple Beef Chili with Kidney Beans, March 2003.
Step 1: Gather Ingredients
For the chili:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or corn oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
1 bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef (I use anywhere between 1-2 lbs. depending on what I have on hand, this time I used 1.5 lbs. ground chuck.)
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I used 1 can red, 1 can white kidney beans)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice (I pulse these in the blender so we have a smoother sauce)
1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree
2 limes, cut into wedges
Cilantro, finely chopped
For the Frito crust:
3 oz. (about 2 cups) Fritos (I used chili cheese)
3 tablespoons corn flour (I did not test, but imagine AP flour would work fine)
Pinch salt, optional
4 oz. (1 cup) shredded cheddar, colby jack, monterey jack, or white American (I used Land o Lakes White American), divided
2 oz. (1/4 cup) butter, melted and slightly cooled
Step 2: Make Chili
This chili recipe makes about 3 quarts, you'll probably use 1 quart for the Frito pies, you can make extra crusts if feeding more than 4, halve the recipe, or, freeze the extra chili up to a month to enjoy it at a later date. I also highly recommend you make the chili a day, or two, before assembling the Frito pies as the flavor improves with age. Cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
This chili is what I'd call medium spicy, you can adjust the heat by using a low heat chili powder like ancho, or chipotle for more heat, and using more or less cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes. If you make it ahead of time and upon reheating don't find it hot enough, you could add more red pepper flakes. Just remember you can add heat, but can't take it away!
Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed nonreactive Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano, and cayenne; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes (I usually give the onions and pepper a headstart on browning before adding the spices).
Increase heat to medium-high and add half the beef; cook, breaking up pieces with wooden spoon, until no longer pink and just beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add remaining beef and cook, breaking up pieces with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes. (I don't like greasy meat, so I always cook the beef alone in the dutch oven FIRST, drain it in a colander, wipe excess grease out of the pan, then add the oil and start cooking the onions and peppers. I add the beef back to the pan in the next step.)
Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove cover and continue to simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally (if chili begins to stick to bottom of pot, stir in 1/2 cup water and continue to simmer), until beef is tender and chili is dark, rich, and slightly thickened. Adjust seasoning with additional salt.
Step 3: Make Frito Crust
If you've prepared your chili in advance, let it sit on the counter an hour, then reheat it over medium to medium-high heat until simmering, reduce heat to low and simmer until heated through, 20 to 30 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (I also preheat a baking sheet that I put my mini pie pan on.)
Note: my Chicago Metallic mini pie pan makes fairly small pies, they're more mini tart sized, though they are perfect for a dinner (or dessert ) portion for one. If your pie tins are larger, you might want to one-and-a-half times, or double, the crust recipe.
Put Fritos, corn flour, and a pinch of salt (optional, if you find Fritos salty, don't add salt), in bowl of a food processor, process to fine crumbs, add half cup of cheese, process until all ingredients are finely ground. Drizzle melted butter over the top and pulse until mixture looks like wet sand.
Transfer a couple scoops (about 1/4 cup) into each mini pie round and press dough into the bottom and up the sides. (I find it easiest to cover dough with plastic wrap and form a crust using a glass. The crust will shrink a bit, so if you have extra dough, you might want to build the sides a little higher.)
Transfer to baking sheet in oven and bake about 15 minutes until crust is light golden brown and looks somewhat dry. Rotate baking sheet front to back halfway through baking. Place on cooling rack and let cool at least 15 minutes.
Step 4: Fill Crusts, Bake, and Enjoy
Fill Frito crusts almost to the top with chili, top with a handful of crushed Fritos, here I went with Scoops, you can keep the chili cheese if you like. Top with remaining half cup shredded cheese (about 2 Tbsp. each pie).
Place on preheated baking sheet in oven and bake until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. about 15 minutes, rotate baking sheet front to back halfway through baking. Remove to cooling rack and let cool 10 minutes.
If your pies have removable bottoms, transfer to a plate or bowl, otherwise, top with some finely chopped cilantro, sour cream, and/or squeeze of lime juice, and enjoy!
These pies reheated well in my toaster oven, they can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator up to 2 days.