As a native of New England, I had never heard of Frito Pie until a Texas-born co-worker offered me some. And then... wow! As a fan of both salty, crunchy Fritos and spicy chili (my parents are from LA, so I'm not a total Yankee!), I couldn't get over this delicious dish.
For those not in the know, Frito Pie is essentially super chili. Traditionally, it's made by pouring a delicious, spicy chili over a bed of Fritos and then topping with a slathering of cheese (or Cheese Whiz). Yum!
But, as you might imagine, Frito Pie isn't exactly the world's healthiest meal. Fritos, while delicious, are packed with sodium (510 mg in a 3-ounce serving!) and saturated fat (4.5 g in a 3-ounce bag). Add to that the salt and fat in a serving of beef chili and globs of cheese on top and you've got a recipe for heart disease.
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That's why I was so excited when the EatingWell Test Kitchen created a healthier version of Frito Pie for the feature "Firehouse Makeover" in our January/February issue. The feature, about how the San Antonio Fire Department is trying to get healthier by eating a leaner, healthier diet, takes a number of Southwestern favorites -- from Beef and Bean Enchiladas to Chiles Rellenos -- and lightens them up without sacrificing flavor.
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For Frito Pie, that means making "Fritos" from baked tortillas, slimming down the chili with ground turkey and limiting (but not to the point of being stingy) the amount of cheese on top.
The results are fantastic. The baked tortilla strips offer the same amazing crunch as Fritos, softened (but not too much!) by a savory, spicy, warming serving of chili poured on top. Health-wise, the new version is high in fiber and weighs in with less than half the saturated fat and sodium as the original. Now that's a dinner this Yankee can get used to!
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By Matthew Thompson
Matthew Thompson is the associate food editor for EatingWell Magazine.
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