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.
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 & Bean Enchiladas to Chiles Rellenos—and lightens them up without sacrificing flavor.
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!
Firehouse Frito Pie 
Makes: 8 servings
Active time: 1 hour | Total: 1 hour
To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate the chili (Steps 2 & 4) for up to 2 days.
Cost per serving: under $2.50
Classic Frito pie is a pile of Fritos topped with beefy chili and runny cheese often made straight in the chip bag! Our refined and lightened version is fresh-tasting and delicious. A whole 1/2 cup of chili powder gives it plenty of punch. Top with tomato, lettuce and just a little cheese (hold the Whiz, please).
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound 93%-lean ground turkey
1/2 cup chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large zucchini, shredded
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup reduced-sodium beef broth or chicken broth
16 5- to 6-inch corn tortillas
Cooking spray, preferably canola oil
2 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed, divided
2 cups shredded Colby-Jack cheese or sharp Cheddar cheese
1 medium tomato, diced
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 bunch scallions, sliced
Pickled jalapeños (for garnish)
1. Position racks in middle and lower third of oven; preheat to 375°F.
2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and turkey; cook, stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until the turkey is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add zucchini, tomatoes and broth and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally and maintaining a simmer, for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, coat both sides of each tortilla with cooking spray. Cut them in half, then cut each half into 1-inch strips. Spread the strips on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Bake, rotating the pans from top to bottom and stirring halfway through, until crisp, about 25 minutes.
4. Mash 1 cup beans in a bowl. After the chili has simmered for 30 minutes, stir in the mashed beans and whole beans. Cook until the beans are heated through, about 3 minutes more.
5. To serve, place about 3/4 cup tortilla strips in each of 8 shallow bowls. Ladle about 1 1/4 cups chili on top. Garnish with cheese, tomato, lettuce, scallions and pickled jalapeños (if desired).
Per serving: 447 calories; 17 g fat (7 g sat, 4 g mono); 58 mg cholesterol; 49 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 29 g protein; 13 g fiber; 735 mg sodium; 1,063 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (82% daily value), Vitamin C (40% dv), Calcium (37% dv), Iron (33% dv), Potassium (31% dv), Magnesium (27% dv), Folate (23% dv).
How do you keep Mexican food healthy? Tell us what you think below.