Crispy, crunchy, salty Fritos covered in a taco seasoned chili and then loaded with cheddar cheese. Sounds bomb right? Well. Ya. It is. Easy to make too. And it’s vegan. And it’s gluten free! And you wouldn’t even know it’s anything other than awesome! I know I know. I should have warned you to sit down first. This kind of news causes spontaneous birthing and heart palpitations. It’s meals like this that prove vegan food is anything but boring.
This is another meal in my Nostalgia Collection. I grew up with all the variations of Frito Pie. It was easy to make for parties and a birthday event was either sloppy joe’s, pizza, or Frito Pie. It makes sense that it’s been a popular dish for nearly the past 70 years. It’s basically three ingredients if you’re using pre-made things: Fritos, chili, cheese. Dump it together and bake. It satisfies all the fundamental savory tastes. It’s crunchy, salty, umami-y, and cheesy all in one. Plus, did I mention, it’s wicked easy.
I love to make meals like this Frito Pie, because there’s this stigma that all we vegans eat is salad and smoothie bowls. I love to prove people wrong. Don’t get me wrong. I love a salad and a smoothie, but there’s so many food options out there for my fellow vegans that are nostalgic and delicious and fun and easy. Just because we don’t contribute to the senseless slaughter and abuse of animals doesn’t mean that we’re deprived of bomb ass food. It’s been my goal all along to feed the holistic health of people and give options that fit everyone. Some days you need a salad and some days you need a burger covered in Buffalo sauce. Vegan or not the food that I make is delicious and who can argue that we all need to eat more plants.
Hold the phone Justin. You’re eating chips for dinner?!? But, like, isn’t that, like, not good for you? Hell yes I’m eating chips for dinner. And I’m enjoying it too. We get so hung up on everything needing to be healthy that we turn meal time into this weird event of half satisfaction. Food with fake sugars in it or fat taken out of things that should have fat in them. You’re tricking your brain which pisses it off. You live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and that brings on the cravings and hangers. When you eat things that taste sweet but have no sugar for your body to process your brain aims to fill that void and you find yourself mindlessly munching on things that are overly fatty or salty. Meals should be enjoyed and you should feel satisfaction at the dinner table. Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t eat Frito Pie everyday, but you should allow yourself to eat some comfort when you need it.
Frito Pie has been around for a long, long time. The “walking taco” gained popularity not that long ago, but the casserole-ish dish that I based this recipe on has been around since the 50s. So what are Fritos? Fritos are fried cornmeal that are extruded to form the various shapes that they now come in. It’s essentially a tortilla chip but in a different shape and inherently better because they are thicker and crunchier and perfect.
There are a lot of brands that sell pre-made canned chili, but I don’t really like any of them for this because they don’t get the Frito Pie chili right. Frito Pie chili is more Tex-Mex than standard chili, because it’s flavored with taco seasoning and green chilies. It’s also more “meat” based than bean based. To make mine I turned to my old pal TVP. I wanted my chili to be easy to make with minimal ingredients and fast enough to not seem like a burden or fussy. TVP, or texturized vegetable protein, is dehydrated and compressed soy that when rehydrated has a consistency similar to ground beef consistency. On its own it has no flavor which is perfect because you can seasoning it however you want to fit the dish that you’re using it for. If you’re thinking, “ew gross I’d never eat that!” Well, if you’ve ever eaten any processed meat then you’ve had TVP, because it’s a common filler used to extend the volume of meat products at places like Taco Bell. One cup of dried TVP plus one cup of boiling water equals about a pound of meat if you’re looking to substitute a vegan protein for an animal protein.
There are plenty of recipes out there for Frito Pie that go a little extra on their components. You don’t need all that. You’re not looking for “the best chili ever” just to dump it on some Fritos and cover it with cheese. Naw. You want a chili that is easy and you can make in less than 15 minutes. I gotchu Boo. For my chili, which is great to have around because you can dump it on a lot of things like Mac and Cheese, a burger, or just eat on a bun like a sloppy joe, I skipped all the extras and kept it simple. TVP as the base, taco seasoning, diced green chilies, crushed tomatoes, and kidney beans. That’s it. You can buy taco seasoning, but if you’re like me and you had already gone to the store to get all the stuff for Frito Pie but forgot to get taco seasoning, I’ll give you a recipe that makes enough for the chili and a little extra.
Taco Seasoning Blend
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons corn starch (thickens sauce)
The final piece of the puzzle for a Frito Pie is the cheese. There are a lot of vegan cheese options in stores now. Like, a lot. Each brand has their own unique take on dairy free cheese. Below are my top three favorite brands of vegan shredded cheese. Sliced vegan cheese is a whole other topic of conversation.
- Parmela – They’ve recently gone through a relaunch based on a change in their recipe. Their cheese is hands down the best in terms of mimicking cheese flavor. They are a little harder to find in stores but if you do stumble on them make sure to grab a bag or two. In terms of melt they are best for a cheese sauce or under something that will heat it. It doesn’t melt completely if it is on the top of a dish or a pizza.
- VioLife – This is my go-to shredded cheese. Not every store carries them and they are on the more pricey side of food products, but it is worth it if you can find them. VioLife melts great and has that distinct cheese flavor and aroma. They also have a good color that isn’t too yellow or greyish like some other brands. Their shredded cheese comes really close to melting on the top of a dish or pizza but if it heats too quickly, like under a broiler, it just crusts over.
- Good Planet – I’ve recently discovered Good Planet cheese at the grocery store that I reserve for once a month visits because it’s big and stressful there. Their cheese is one of the more affordable options and oddly enough one of the best in terms of melt and flavor. Of the three here I think GP melts the best on top of a dish or pizza and it can withstand higher heat before crusting than the other two.
- Least Favorites:
- So Delicious – Weird color, doesn’t really melt, and has little flavor.
- Daiya – I want to love you because you’re in every store and you don’t cost a fortune but your cheddar is just too damn yellow. Flavor is decent and you melt. But your cheddar is too yellow and your mozz is too grey. Now, your sliced cheese is a different story.
- Follow Your Heart – Meh. I’ve been underwhelmed every time I’ve tried FYH cheese.
Okay, so now we’ve covered it all and you’re prepared to go fork deep into your very own Frito Pie. Lace up your high tops. Put on My Pet Monster. Dust off the Tang. And get ready cuz once you’ve gone Frito there’s no going back.
Veganized Frito Pie
- 9×13″ baking dish
- 1 cup TVP (texturized vegetable protein)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire (can omit)
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil (or canola)
- 1 medium yellow onion (diced)
- 2 tablespoons taco seasoning (1 package)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 4 ounces diced green chilies (can omit)
- 15 ounces black or red kidney beans (drained )
- 1 cup corn (frozen or canned )
The Frito Pie
- 9 1/4 ounces Fritos (standard bag) (roughly 5 1/2 cups)
- 2 cups vegan cheddar cheese
- green onion tops
- vegan sour cream
- fresh tomato (diced)
Make the Chili
- In a large non-stick frying pan bring the one cup of water to a boil. Mix in the soy sauce, Worcestershire, and TVP. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
- Remove cover, move the TVP away from the center, turn heat to high, and pour the oil in the middle of the pan then saute the onion for one minute. Mix the onion in with the TVP while stirring.
- Sprinkle the taco seasoning and chili powder over the TVP and mix in. Stir in the green chilies, crushed tomato, kidney beans, and corn. Turn heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and proceed to the next steps or store the chili in the fridge for up to a week for other recipes or for future Frito Pie.
Make the Frito Pie
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a 9×13″ glass baking dish.
- Roughly measure out 4 cups of Fritos and make a layer in the bottom of the baking dish. Spread roughly 2 cups of chili over the Fritos, then layer on a cup of cheese, then top with more chili and the rest of the cheese. Top with the remaining Fritos.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes to melt the cheese and get everything all bubbly and hot.
- Top with green onions, diced tomato, jalapeno, or other favorites. Serve with a dollop of sour cream to make it even more awesome.
If you make this whole recipe or just the chili make sure to let me know! Comment on this post and/or head over to my Instagram and tag me in your post! I love to see when other people make my food. It gives me all the warm fuzzies.
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