The ABC's of Cooking with Lynn Fredericks
author of Cooking Time Is Family Time

L  is for Legumes
New Mexican Frito Pie

Yield: 4 Servings

This dish is a low-fat version of a New Mexican children's favorite, comprised of meaty chili and cheese placed over a bag of Frito corn chips. In our version meat has been omitted altogether. The chili is created by reconstituting New Mexican dried chili pods now available in most supermarkets. By adding this rich and flavorful paste to the beans with some chicken or vegetable broth, an extremely delicious meatless chili is created. By spooning the hot chili over broken tortillas and cheese in individual bowls, it's like a taco in a bowl and every child and adult I've served it to has dearly loved it! Add fresh tomato and lettuce and it's a complete meal - send it in a thermos to school with your child for lunch, giving them a bag of chips and cheese to break up and layer on they're own. It's bound to be quite a hit and you know they're getting a nutritious lunch!

  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2/3 cup of water
  • 6 New Mexican dried chiles
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 14-ounce can kidney beans
  • 1 14-ounce can pinto beans
  • 1 14-ounce can pink beans (if you can't find these you can substitute
  • with more kidney beans)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 ounces oven-baked tortilla chips
  • 4 ounces low fat Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 ounces low fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/4 head iceberg lettuce

Equipment: scissors, blender

1. Let children poor the broth into a medium-sized pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce to simmer.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the water to a boil. Now you will prepare the chile paste. (Be sure children do not touch their hands with their eyes when handling chiles; wash hands thoroughly after handling them.) With scissors, children of all ages can snip off the stems from the chiles and shake out the seeds into a plate or bowl. Discard the seeds and have children cut the chile pods with the scissors into 2-inch long pieces. When the water has boiled, remove the pot from the heat and transfer chiles to the pot of hot water. Cover with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.

3. Have older children dice the onions and mince the garlic. Place onions and garlic in a small bowl. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Let the children add the onions and garlic to the skillet. Reduce heat and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, for approximately ten minutes.

4. While onions are cooking, assist children in transferring the reconstituted chiles and 1/2 the soaking water to a blender. Puree the chiles and water with the help of little ones who can take turns pushing the buttons. Puree until very smooth, adding more water as necessary.

5. With a spoon, children can help add the chile puree to the onions. Next they can add 1/2 the broth and then the beans to the onion mixture. Add the cumin (if not pre-ground, kids can grind in mortar and pestle or spice grinder) and more chicken stock, one ladle at a time until desired consistency is reached (this is a matter of preference as some persons may prefer a more soupy chili and others may like it thicker). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Have small children help cut up the lettuce with a table knife into thin strips. Meanwhile, let older children help you chop the tomato. To serve, have small children break 6-8 tortilla chips into small pieces and place them in the bottom of each person's serving bowl. Older children, with your assistance, can grate both Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, and then place a handful of cheese over the chips in each bowl. Ladle the finished chili over the cheese. Sprinkle the lettuce and tomato on top and it's ready.

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