Walking Taco Casserole

Are you familiar with the concept of Frito Pie or Walking Tacos? A few summers ago, a buddy of mine from Texas asked me if I would be interested in hosting a pop-up shop in Brooklyn, which is where we both lived. When I was growing up in the Northeast, I had never even heard of Frito pie, let alone experimented with it.

A bag of Fritos that was loaded with cheese, corn chips, sour cream, and chilli was a total and utter surprise to me, and it made me really pleased. On a day that was hot and humid, we sat on a grassy area of park, catching up with one another and appreciating the calming blend of distinct flavours and textures that were present.

In modern times, if I have a need for those flavours that I am accustomed to, I reach for my reliable skillet to prepare a handmade version of walking taco casserole. The fact that this casserole dish has all of the components necessary to make a packaged walking taco makes it a practical alternative for a meal replacement. The fact that it is so easily customisable means that you can serve it with whichever toppings you choose.

The Origins of Walking Tacos and Frito Pie

According to Eater and Heavy Table, there is no agreed-upon origin for Frito Pie. However, it most likely began in Texas and then expanded to other parts of the country, particularly the Midwest.

Frito pie is a popular concession item at school activities such as sports games and community field days. My friend Joseph, who first introduced me to this delightful treat, remembered it being served at school lunches, commonly made with Hormel canned chili and topped with sour cream, shredded cheese, and chopped chives.

Swaps and Substitutions

  • Pinto beans can be substituted with black beans if you prefer them!
  • For a milder version, replace the Rotel with plain canned diced tomatoes (without chiles).
  •  You can absolutely substitute the ground beef for a plant-based version; just note that you may need more oil to replace the fat.

 

Make-Ahead Instructions

You can easily prepare this casserole ahead of time with a few simple tricks. Prepare the meat and bean filling (without the toppings) up to 2 days ahead and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Just before serving, preheat the oven to 350°F. Transfer the filling to a casserole dish and top with cheese and Fritos. Bake as directed, adding 5-10 minutes extra time to warm up the casserole.

Walking taco casserole in a casserole dish
PREP TIME15 mins
COOK TIME25 mins
TOTAL TIME40 mins
SERVINGS6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as Canola oil
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 pound 80/20 ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons taco seasoning (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 scallion, finely diced
  • 1 (15ouncecan pinto beans
  • 1 (10ouncecan RO*TEL Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies
  • 1 cup thick and chunky salsa
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, plus more if needed
  • 1 (9ounce) bag Fritos Corn Chips

For serving (optional)

  • Sour cream
  • Pickled jalapenos
  • Diced scallions
  • Shredded lettuce

Method

  1. Saute the aromatics:

    Set a large 12-inch skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Saute the garlic and onion for 6-8 minutes until soft and translucent.

  2. Cook the meat:

    Add the beef and break it into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon. Saute for 6-8 minutes until nicely browned. n

  3. Preheat the oven:

    While the meat cooks, preheat the oven to 350°F.

  4. Simmer the casserole:

    Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the taco seasoning, scallions, and pinto beans. Saute for 1-2 minutes until well incorporated.

    Add the Rotel and salsa, and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the flavors have melded nicely and the meat is well-seasoned. If needed, stir in additional salt and pepper to taste.

  5. Add the toppings:

    Immediately transfer the mixture to a 9×13-inch casserole dish and spread it in an even layer. Top with cheddar cheese and 2 cups of Fritos chips, plus more if desired.

  6. Serve

    Top casserole dish with optional dollops of sour cream, pickled jalapenos, scallions, and shredded lettuce. Divide amongst serving plates and enjoy!

NUTRITION FACTS(PER SERVING)
629 CALORIES
39g FAT
42g CARBS
29g PROTEIN
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.

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