Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Burrito Basics (and Basic Burritos)

Burritos are an amazingly quick dish, so widespread as to be generally considered American (or at least Mexicali.) This may not have been true a few decades ago— I was just reading a 1960s cookbook that referred to enchiladas as foreign food— but for our Taco Bell tastes, a burrito may be comfort food.

A traditional burrito includes a tortilla, beans, and rice. Many vegetarians have learned that beans and rice, eaten together, give as complete a protein as most meats. This is important in a vegetarian diet. Naturally, those who originally came up with the beans/rice combo were not looking to make complete protein but to fill up, which that certainly will. A traditional burrito would also use a corn tortilla, something we Americans generally eschew in favor of flour tortillas.

Burritos were a lower-class food. (Keep in mind that under the domnion of Spain, those of purest Spanish descent were the upper class, and it went down from there until you hit rock bottom with the native population. Traces of this remain today.) They were cheap and easy and filling, as well as being portable, and they did not require meat, which was often unavailable to the workers.

However, I like beef, and I don't care for rice in my burritos, so my recipe is somewhat different.

Ten-Minute Burritos

You will need:
1 can refried pinto or black beans*
1/3 pound lowfat ground beef
Hot sauce
Salt, pepper
Chili powder
1/4 of an onion
Cheese, cheddar or pepper jack
4 flour tortillas

*Buy the vegetarian style; it's not fried in lard.

1. Dice the onion and throw it into a pan. Throw the beef on top and use the edge of a spatula to separate it into tiny bits. Dust lightly with chili powder and cumin (and a little salt and pepper); if you like heat, add a splash of Tabasco. If you really like heat, dice up a jalepeƱo, seeds and all, and add it in. Turn the stove on to medium-low heat.

2. Open the can of beans and put into a microwave-safe bowl. Make sure to stir it well. Cover it with waxed paper or a plate and microwave for two minutes. I don't care what the can says; if you microwave it for that long you'll atomize your beans.

3. Stir the meat.

4. Grate the cheese. If you bought the pre-grated, I'm sorry. (I am a bit of a cheese snob.)

5. Check the meat again. If you bought the lowfat kind (4% fat, usually), all of the liquid should cook off. If it's not doing that fast enough, turn up the heat.

6. Remove the beans from the microwave and stir thoroughly again. Put the tortillas in the microwave and heat them for at least thirty seconds; if they are not heated, they will tend to split rather than bend.

7. When the meat is done, serve immediately by placing ingredients in the center of the tortilla in the order that you choose and wrapping. Unless you're a professional, don't worry about getting the wrapping correct. (I leave the top end open just to simplify things.) This should feed two people with healthy appetites; add tortillas for more, smaller burritos.

This takes less than ten minutes with practice, but whatever it takes, it's fast when you're hungry.

Add salsa or sour cream.
Make your own salsa by dicing a juicy fruit or tomato with red or yellow bell peppers, green or sweet onions, and red pepper flakes.
Add shredded greenery or spinach.
Add black olives.
Add wild rice and omit the meat.
If you can wrap a burrito well, make chimichangas by frying the completed burrito in a skillet with vegetable oil.
Use flavored tortillas such as sun-dried tomato.
Go to a burrito-making food place (Chipotle barely counts; try Sonic Burrito in Spokane for a more variety-filled experience) and see what they add.

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