As RVers and Workampers, we have a unique opportunity to experience America from a different perspective. The U.S. is a melting pot of various subcultures, and the experience from region to region is almost like visiting another land. A feature that denotes one area from the next is the food.
by Levi & Natalie of Henley’s Happy Trails
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” – Anthony Bourdain
Trying the local food and state dishes is one thing, but once discovered, learning how to prepare these unique dishes yourself can be an excellent way to bring a little piece of that area with you. Cooking a state’s national dish or local favorite is also a great way to share your travels with others.
We have been Workamping around the country for seven years, and below are just two of many dishes that we have come across in the southwestern states of Texas and New Mexico that we want to share with you. We have made a couple of tweaks so they are easier to prepare in the confines of an RV.
Frito Pie – Texas
This is a simple dish of chili spooned on top of Frito chips. Many times it is served directly in the Frito bag itself. The exact origin of Frito Pie is contested as both New Mexico and Texas claim to be the originators of the dish. New Mexicans claim Teresa Hernandez was the first to ladle homemade red chili into a bag of Fritos at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Santa Fe in 1960.
However, The Frito-Lay company gives credit to Nell Morris. She joined Frito-Lay in the 1950s and helped develop an official cookbook that included the Frito Pie. There is also evidence that Daisy Doolin, the mother of the founder of Fritos, came up with the idea in the 1930s.
Regardless of who is right on the dish’s invention, there is no doubt that Texas high school football games are what made the dish a statewide staple and ultimately popularized it. Today it is found throughout Texas at Friday night football games, school cafeterias, county fairs, and even fast-food restaurants.
How to Make Frito Pie
There are three basic ingredients for Frito Pie: Frito chips, chili, and cheese. Some people add chopped onions or sour cream too. There are many ways to make chili. Canned chili is always an option too. However, we have found that homemade chili works wonderfully.
Our Basic Instant Pot Chili Recipe
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1 can (15 oz) kidney beans
- 1 can (15 oz) pinto beans
- 1 can (15 oz) white beans
- 1 can (15 oz) great northern beans
- 2 cans (10 oz each) mild diced tomatoes and green chiles
- 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- Set your travel instant pot (excellent cooking appliance to have in an RV) to saute.
- Add turkey and saute until cooked and drain if needed.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir.
- Switch from saute to the “bean chili” setting on the instant pot, which is automatically set to 30 minutes normal/high pressure.
Note: We didn’t add any salt since we didn’t drain the canned beans. They have plenty of salt already.
Assembling Your Frito Pie
- Your favorite chili
- Bag of Fritos (small size)
- Toppings (chopped onions, cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, etc.)
- Using a pair of scissors, cut a slit in the side of the Frito bag.
- Ladle some chili over the chips.
- Add your shredded cheese and desired toppings.
- Use a spoon or fork. It can be messy.
Blue Corn Pancakes – New Mexico
Though the invention of Frito Pie is contested, one thing you will find in New Mexico and not too many other places is blue corn pancakes. It is pretty easy to find blue corn tortillas, pancakes, muffins, and other tasty treats when traveling around New Mexico, especially in the Santa Fe area. But just what is blue corn?
For centuries the Hopi and Navajo people have cultivated and used blue corn in northern Mexico and New Mexico. It is a variety of flint corn, and though it is called blue corn, it can range in color from light grey to black and even a deep purple color. Along with being a beautiful and historical variety of corn with at least 500 years of history in the southwest, it is also healthier.
It has 20% more protein than white corn, less starch, and a lower glycemic index. So eating it can cause fewer sugar spikes and crashes, making it a better choice for those with diabetes or those attempting to lose weight.
Making Blue Corn Pancakes
The type of blue corn pancake you are most likely to encounter at a restaurant in New Mexico is basically a traditional pancake with the addition of blue corn masa. Blue masa can be ordered off Amazon, and while in the southwest, we were able to find it at Walmart.
- 3/4 cup blue corn masa flour
- 1 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup boiling water
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg
- Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- Add boiling water and mix until combined.
- Cover bowl with a towel and let sit for 5-8 minutes. Use this time to clean up ingredients, and make coffee.
- Whisk egg and milk together in a bowl and add to the mixing bowl.
- Mix all together. Note: It will be slightly lumpy (don’t over mix).
- Use a ¼ cup measuring cup to drop batter on a buttered skillet on low to medium heat.
- Cook on one side until bubbles form on the top and flip.
- Top with maple syrup and enjoy a taste of the Southwest.
Interested in the Southwest?
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in an area’s local food offerings and subcultures is by having a workamping job in that location. It affords you several months of exploring, learning, and of course, eating. So if you haven’t found the perfect Southwest job in Workamper News magazine this season, keep your eye on the online Hotline Jobs, and you just might find the perfect place for a Frito Pie football outing or a blue corn pancake breakfast.
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