Food longings are a part of expat life. Put a group of expats together and they start talking about foods they miss. They don’t have to be expats from the same country. Someone can tell me they miss eating yellow mangoes fresh from their back yard, and I’m like, Ah I know, I miss breakfast tacos!
Really, food longings are a part of regular life. Anyone who has ever moved to a new state and not been able to find Green Goddess salad dressing, or thinks about those oysters from that vacation in Florida, or misses her grandmother’s pecan pie knows food longing.
My expat food longings fall loosely into two categories. I miss my food routines–kitchen staples, restaurant favorites–but I also miss foods that I rarely ate, but the fact that I can’t find them in Dublin intensifies the longing.
Fritos are in the absence makes fonder category. If you’ve never had a Frito, a Frito is a bit like a thick corn nacho chip. They’re a little greasy and a little processed and yet, you’ll eat the whole bag because munch a bunch of Fritos go with lunch. In the South* we might put chile and cheese on a pile of Fritos and call it Frito pie. Frito pie is a common festival food, served right in the Frito bag.
Bill and I were talking about Frito Pie one day and along came the longing. So I put Fritos on the list to bring back from our Texas trip, and recently Bill made chili and we had Frito Pie.
It was good.
In fact, Bill’s chili was great and perhaps a bit too elevated for Frito Pie. Chili is one of the few things I know how to make, and my recipe involves cooking garlic and onions, browning beef, opening a variety of cans–whole tomatoes, tomato paste, pinto beans–and adding plenty of chili powder and cumin. Makes a passable chili.
This is what Bill did:
First I soaked some ancho, pasilla and guajillo chiles in hot water for about 30 minutes. Then I whizzed these up in the food processor with a can of tomatoes, an onion and a few cloves of garlic. I passed the chile mixture through a fine strainer and then simmered the strained chile sauce until it was thick and brick-colored. Next I browned a pound of beef mince and a pound of my homemade Mexican chorizo together and transferred it to a strainer over a bowl to drain. I separated the fat from the liquid and added the liquid to the chile sauce. The fat I used to fry a chopped onion and some minced garlic. When the onion was translucent I added a can of roasted green chiles, cumin, ground coriander, cocoa powder, some umami-bombs (marmite, maggi seasoning and soy sauce), the chile sauce, chicken broth and the browned meat. This simmered for a couple of hours before I added some masa harina to thicken it a bit and some chopped cilantro (coriander). My chili is normally not this complicated but I had fun experimenting.
The next day all the Fritos were gone and Bill had the genius notion to serve chili on roasted sweet potato wedges. Ladies and gentleman, this was fantastic. Chili should be served on sweet potato wedges at least 65% of the time. Not all the time as that would limit chili’s potential, but 65% is my recommendation.
Read an NPR Hidden Kitchens story about the masa origins of Fritos here.
*I never realized Frito Pie was a Southern thing until I tweeted about it and a fellow expat from the Midwestern US didn’t know what Frito Pie was, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and sure enough, Southern. Does seem Southern when you think about it.