What is your comfort food? That was the question posed for the September potluck. As I found out, most peoples’ comfort food included potatoes or cheese. To be sure these are at the top of my list. I appreciated that the collective group of people from all corners of the country came up with similar comfort foods. Does anyone else find it interesting that the non-native potato was the top player? I am sure it has something to do with starches and sugars, and the chemical process that breaks them down into happiness.
Comfort food comes in all varieties for me. My mother grew up in Texas. Because of this, my comfort food often comes with a Tex-Mex twist. Potato stuffed quesadilla, anyone? Cheese grits with green chilies? Corn bread? How about a Frito pie? Cue the Homer Simpson sound: MmmMMm Fri-to Pie. Are you picturing a pie crust made of Fritos? I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet.
In the southwest, where Fritos reign supreme as the junk food in a bag and chili competitions are worth more than bragging rights, comfort food there combines both.
To assemble a Frito pie like you were part of the family, get a big ol’ bowl and a huge bag of Fritos. My preference is to use the Frito Scoops thus negating the need for utensils, but my mother would tell you it is just not the same. Mound a handful of Fritos into the bowl and top with an equally huge serving of Texas red chili. Garnish with cheddar cheese, chopped onion, and yellow mustard. The garnish is crucial, without it you would never pass for a member of the family (or might have to apologize to them even if you are family). I know the mustard sounds strange, but you will just have to trust me on this one. I know of other distant relatives who enjoy things like sour cream on chili but let bygones be bygones I say.
Your favorite chili will do just fine. My family often falls back on our favorite Wick Fowler chili kit. If you believe that things just taste better when made from scratch, then try my recipe for chili.
Potlicker Red Chili
- 1 bag beans, soaked and picked through
- 1-2lbs ground meat*
- 1-2 onions, diced
- 2-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 green pepper, diced
- ¼cup chili powder**
- 1 8oz can crushed tomatoes in puree
- 1 can water (or beer, stock, etc)
- 1Tb masa flour (optional for thickening)
- Cayenne or chopped chilies to taste
- Chopped onions and chilies for garnish
*If using ground beef, go all the way and render a few slices of bacon to create the fat to sauté the onions. Reserve, chop, and add bacon back to the pot towards the end of cooking. If using ground turkey for a healthy version, stick with it and use olive oil to sauté the onions. Omit meat all together and use more beans, TVP (textures vegetable protein), crumbled tofu, or other meat substitute.
** Mix to your liking: paprika, cumin, oregano, onion powder/flakes, garlic powder/granules, salt, red pepper, ground black pepper, pinch sugar. My “chili powder” is really more like me digging through my spice cabinet and adding them one by one to the pot. I have listed them in descending order. Paprika should make up almost 1/3 of your seasoning blend. If using store bought chili powder, be prepared to add cumin, oregano and paprika.
Begin by heating 2tb of fat in a large pot. Add the onions and pepper to the hot fat and cook until just soft and shiny. Push veggies to the side and add the ground meat and garlic. Brown the meat and drain any excess fat. Add beans and chili powder, stirring to coat. When the seasoning begins to stick to the bottom add tomatoes and stock, stir well and bring to a simmer.
At this point, I often transfer the chili to a crock pot, set on low and head off for a day out. The chili will be ready in approx 6hrs.
When making it on the stove, simmer the beans on low or med-low until soft and your chili will be done in about an hour.
Add additional red pepper and adjust seasoning towards the end of cooking time. If your chili begins to become too thick and the beans have not softened, then add more water. If the chili is too loose and the beans are almost ready, add masa flour and simmer for 15-20 min more. This is all personal preference here, but I like my chili thicker, almost serve it with an ice cream scoop thick.
What do you do if you are nowhere near a fresh pot of thick meaty Texas red chili??
If you are in a pinch and are in desperate need of a Frito pie, you can make one at the gas station, road-food style. Purchase a small bag of Fritos and head to the hotdog station. Open the bag of chips and add to it the hot dog chili, the somewhat questionable hot dog cheese and squeeze on a packet of mustard. Eat from bag with plastic utensil. Wipe messy mouth on dirty sleeve.
I wish I could tell you that I had never done this. It does not mean, however, that I did not enjoy it.