This quick and easy chili is built up from layers of pinto beans, corn chips, and spicy beef or vegetarian chili. From the book What We Eat When We Eat Alone, it's perfect as a simple and balanced meal for one.
This New Mexican version of the Frito pie consists of pure red chile (refers to the red chile sauce, when you add the meat, you have “chili” the dish), local beef, pinto beans, Fritos, and a salady topping. Except for the Fritos, this is actually a pretty healthful meal (and tortilla chips make a fine replacement for Fritos). It also makes people smile. It is not, however, an instant meal, because you’ve got to cook the beans (unless they’re canned), the chiles, and the meat. But once these parts are finished, you can assemble a pie in pretty much no time at all. This recipe is scaled down to make two large portions, but you should know that this makes a great dish for a crowd. Judge the garnishes by eye and heat as many beans as you want to eat. For a meatless version, replace the beef with sautéed zucchini and corn, or just season the cooked beans with the red chilie and let it go at that.
3 or 4 long red New Mexican chile pods with stems
A few drops vinegar, if needed
1 tbsp oil
1 lb. ground beef or bison
1/2 cup or more cooked or canned pinto beans per serving
A small handful Fritos or tortilla chips
Grated cheddar cheese
Finely slivered Romaine lettuce
1 diced tomato
A bit of chopped cilantro
A bit of diced onion
Scallions to finish
Step 1: Break the tops (stem end) off the chiles, tear them open, and shake out the seeds and discard. Put the chiles in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and let them stand another 10 minutes.
Step 2: Drain, then purée the chiles with 1-1/2 cups fresh water for at least 1 minute. Pass this through a strainer, press out all the liquid you can, and discard the debris. Season with 1/2 tsp salt. Taste the chile and, if it seems a little harsh, add a few drops of vinegar to soften it.
Step 3: Heat the oil in a skillet and crumble in the meat. Cook over medium-low heat (especially if it’s grass-fed beef or bison, which tend to be lean) until the meat is just cooked. Season with salt.
Step 4: Pour in the chile (but not so much that it’s soupy) and taste. Add more salt if needed. Cook over low heat while you warm up the beans and prepare the fresh toppings.
Step 5: Place the beans in a shallow, wide bowl. Add the Fritos or tortilla chips, then spoon over as much chili as you want, saving the rest for another meal. Scatter a little cheese over the top and then heap the lettuce, tomato, cilantro, and onion or scallions over all.
Reprinted with permission from Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin’s What We Eat When We Eat Alone (2009 Gibbs Smith).