A Frito Pie is strictly classified under "foods that taste so good, they gotta be bad for you." But my vegan version of this southwestern food defies that stereotype, mixing a big dose of delicious with a bigger dose of fun in a recipe that -- while not health food -- is way waist-friendlier than the original. Make it for Game Day and watch it disappear!
Fritos--the original corn chips--are accidentally vegan. Which means we vegans do not have to deprive ourselves of a soul-numbingly delicious dish that sits somewhere near the very top of a long list of Texas junk foods: Frito Pie.
A Frito Pie, in case you weren't born in Texas and didn't know, is not really a pie. In its very authentic form it's a hardscrabble street food made by tearing a bag of Frito corn chips down the middle, ladling chili right into the bag and topping it with shards of cheddar cheese. The result of eating it, I have learned, is an acute craving that doesn't disappear long after you've left Texas or grown into an actual adult.
I can't claim to have grown up eating Frito Pie--my memory of Texas is limited to a couple of work trips and a bar at a Tex-Mex restaurant where I might have had a little too much tequila. But what I can attest to is that a Frito Pie -- at least my vegan version made in a casserole dish -- is pretty darn addictive.
If you've never had a Frito Pie before, try it. You only live once, and you don't have to be that good every day. I'll admit this is not health food, but there is some good stuff here, like that darn tasty vegan chili and the guacamole. Plus, it's way friendlier to your waist than a non-vegan Frito Pie would be!
This recipe does not make a huge quantity--the baking dish in the picture is one of the smallest I own with a volume of four cups--but it can feed at least six or even eight people. If you are having guests over (should you?) you can easily double the recipe.
What we love about this Frito Pie
- It's YUMMY
- It's fun!
- It's super easy to make. The chili is the only thing you need to cook, but the rest comes out of a bag or a can.
- It's kid-friendly, of course, and it's really friendly to the kid inside of you.
- It's going to make you the star of your Super Bowl party. Or any party. And if you have kids, you can be sure that they will adore you a little more because you can make THIS. 😉
- Fritos original corn chips. Fritos has some corn chips varieties that are not vegan, so be sure to get the kind labeled as "the original" which contains just three ingredients: corn, corn oil, and salt.
- Vegan cheddar cheese shreds
- Guacamole and/or sour cream (optional)
- Vegetable oil
- Optional Meatless "beef" (I used Impossible, but Beyond or any other vegan brand is fine. The meat should be crumbly. You can also just leave the vegan meat out and double up on the beans)
- Crushed tomatoes
- Chili powder (make your own or get it from the store. I have a recipe I love and that comes together in five minutes--let me know in the comments if you want the recipe.)
- Pinto beans (I used canned beans for ease. You can also use black beans)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Ground black pepper
Steps and tips
- A Frito Pie operates on the simple principle nearly all street foods anywhere in the world operate by: you take a bunch of tasty things, the more eclectic the better, you pile them on top of one another, and the tastiness multiplies. Exponentially.
- In a Frito Pie, that would be a chili, cheddar cheese, and crispy, crunchy, salty Frito chips. Top that with a dollop of guac and/or sour cream and you can't possibly go wrong.
- The chili I use in this recipe is a pretty straightforward recipe and I cook it up quickly before putting the dish together. Texans, I believe, use the Wolf Brand chili which comes in a can for an authentic Frito Pie, but I am pretty sure it's not vegan. You can use a vegan canned chili--there are many brands available now--if you don't want to go to the trouble of making your own.
- Begin the recipe by setting your oven to preheat to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a pot, add onions and garlic with salt and saute until it all starts to soften.
- Add vegan "beef" at this point. It should be at room temperature so it crumbles easily and cooks evenly. Once the vegan meat has changed color, add the tomatoes and chili powder. In the recipe I call for 1-2 tablespoon of chili powder because I want you to add as much or as little as you want. Chili powders can vary greatly in terms of spiciness, so add 1 tbsp, taste, and add more if you want.
- Add the beans (drain them first). Add salt and ground black pepper to taste. Mix.
- Add ½ cup water and stir everything, then bring the chili to a boil. It will be quite thick, but that's how you want it in this recipe.
- After the chili boils, lower the heat, cover and let it cook five minutes.
- Next comes the fun part. Layering your casserole. Spray the bottom of a 4- or 6-cup baking dish with cooking spray. Ladle in all of the chili. Sprinkle on half the cheese. Dump all of the Fritos on top of the chili, and layer on the remaining cheese on top of the Fritos.
- Put all this deliciousness into the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the chili is bubbling up the sides.
- Let stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle on the scallions and serve hot or warm with guac and vegan sour cream.
Some cooks like to layer on some Fritos at the bottom of the casserole, then add the chili on top, more Fritos and cheese. I keep all of the Fritos at the top because that keeps them super crunchy. But you can indeed use half the Fritos as the first and bottom layer.
You can also serve this straight up, in a Fritos bag, the way it would be served in Texas. Tear a bag of Fritos, spoon on some chili, add cheese shreds and eat away. I will say I much prefer this casserole version though because the Fritos bake up crunchier and the melted cheese is delicious.
The guacamole and sour cream are delicious accompaniments to this pie, and the nutrition info in the recipe is calculated with them. If you want to make the pie more waist-friendly, leave them out. (I'd really recommend using the guac though). You can also top with fresh tomato salsa, which is lighter.
Make ahead and freezing
If you'd like to make this recipe ahead, I'd recommend making just the chili -- you can refrigerate it for 3-4 days and freeze it for longer periods. Layer on the other ingredients, which come out of a packet anyway, about an hour before you plan to serve, and bake.
More party foods for Game Day
Vegan Frito Pie
- 4- to 6-cup baking dish
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion (finely diced)
- 4-6 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 12 oz vegan "beef" (optional. Use an additional 14 oz can of beans if you skip this)
- 14 oz crushed tomatoes
- 1-2 tablespoon chili powder (use more or less depending on how spicy your chili powder is.)
- 14 oz pinto beans (canned or cooked. Drain before using)
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Salt and ground black pepepr
- 4.25 oz Fritos (the original)
- 4 oz vegan cheddar cheese shreds
- 3 scallions (chopped)
- 1 cup guacamole (optional)
- ½ cup vegan sour cream (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place a saucepan on the stove and heat oil. Add the onions and garlic with a bit of salt and saute until the onions are soft and beginning to caramelize, about three to five minutes.
- Add the vegan "beef" if using and saute a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.
- Pour in the tomatoes and stir in the chili powder, beans and apple cider vinegar. Add half a cup of water. I like the chili thick here but if you like it runnier, add 1 cup water (vegetable stock is great too). Add salt and ground black pepper to taste.
- Bring the chili to a boil, lower heat, cover, and let it cook for five minutes. Stir a couple of times while it's cooking.
- Turn off the heat.
Assemble the "Pie"
- Coat the baking dish with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil. Ladle in all the chili and smooth the top.
- Sprinkle half the cheese over the chili, then pile on all of the Fritos. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the Fritos.
- Bake in the preheated oven 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the chili is bubbling up from the sides.
- Let the casserole stand 10 minutes. Then sprinkle on the scallions and serve with guacamole and sour cream on the side.
- Nutrition info includes guacamole and vegan sour cream. If you want a lighter pie, you can leave these out.