I’ve mentioned before that part of my journey to being a foodie was “inspired” by how expensive my favorite restaurants were. Now, some of you High Rolling Wall Street types might think that an $8 burrito is hardly worth learning to cook over, but I assure you that for a recently graduated, semi-employed American male it certainly was. I would walk past the downtown Qdoba with sadness and bitterness in my heart, because I knew that the delicious, satisfied feeling I’d have from getting one of those humongous burritos would be seriously tempered by my buyer’s remorse. So I’d do my best “sad Charlie Brown” walk over to the grocery store, where I’d suddenly have the mysterious urge to buy some tortillas and beans. And so, a foodie was born.
Since then, I’ve worked a lot to refine my Qdoba/Chipotle copycat recipes. Their burrito is by no means authentic (most places in Mexico consider “burrito” to mean “little donkey” and nothing else), but it’s a great meal with a lot of good and fairly healthy ingredients if you balance them well. Lately we’ve even been trying to leave out the meat in the name of living more simply and eating healthier, and the burrito has become a pretty all-star vegetarian meal.
In my opinion, what sets the Qdoba/Chipotle style burrito apart from the crowd is the tortilla. Somehow they get that thin tarp of dough to wrap beautifully around the mound of food piled on it, usually without breaking, and it creates an amazing thin wrapper that is hard to emulate at home. No matter how well you make your fillings, your supermarket tortilla in all its smallness and thickness just doesn’t measure up. So I’ve been working on making my own tortillas (I’ll post a recipe soon), but in the meantime I’ll just say that making your own puts you a few steps ahead.
Even if you can’t get your own tortilla, or you mess up the wrapping, or anything… it’s still a delicious meal. Make some great beans; some cilantro-lime rice if you wish; grab some cheese and your favorite salsa; add in some fresh stuff like lettuce or guacamole, and you have a fantastic meal in front of you. So below is our take on burrito night, and some visual/textual inspiration for your own version.
Burrito Night Recipe
5-10 flour tortillas (homemade works great because you can make them wider/thinner)
2-3 cups (1-2 cans) cooked pinto or black beans
2 cups cooked rice, plus add-ins
chopped fresh lettuce
1-2 avocados, diced or mashed into guacamole
salsa of choice
shredded cheese of choice
a hungry group of people
Let’s start with some tips for the fillings.
Beans do well with some chopped onion and garlic mixed in. Start by gently sauteing the onions/garlic, then add in the beans. If you cooked the beans yourself, you’ll have some great cooking liquid that you can add a little of instead of water to moisten the beans a little. Add some salt, pepper, oregano, and even a little touch of my favorite chipotle paste– you’ll be pleasantly surprised. A little vinegar (cider or red wine) actually bring out the flavor a little too. Those are some good ways to class up your beans.
Rice is great as is, but I like the way Chipotle adds cilantro and lime. It’s a subtle taste, but it makes the rice more interesting to look at and more fun to eat. I think it helps to chop the cilantro, so there are fewer big chunks. Some salt and rice vinegar at the beginning of cooking help the flavor/texture as well, in my opinion.
Now, for the tortillas. I’ve come up with a patented system for emulating the soft and pliable tortillas you see at these restaurants. The trick they use is those awesome steamer presses that make the tortilla rubbery and ready to wrap, so I’ve followed a similar idea in our own kitchen:
Take a 9-10 inch pan and put a collapsible steamer insert inside, with some water in the bottom. Bring to a simmer, then toss your tortilla on the insert and cover immediately. After a few seconds, flip the tortilla and cover again, and voila! You have a tortilla that’s soft and ready to go. But make sure to use it quickly or it’ll lose its magic.
As for the rest of the ingredients:
Take them and lay them on one side of your steamed tortilla. I like to start with rice and beans, followed by the lighter stuff and salsa.
Then, just wrap it up and enjoy! I wanted to take pictures of the wrapping part, but I was home alone when I made this and all I could do was some dumb-looking pictures where I pretended to wrap the burritos with one hand. It didn’t look very convincing. But you’ve seen it done: tuck the sides in, then roll over the part with stuff in it and tuck it tight before finishing wrapping the other end.
Don’t worry if it’s a mess, though: it’s still delicious. Try this tonight if you’re up for it, I think you’ll be happy and proud of yourself for saving eight bucks. Not to mention filling your belly with some kind-of-south-of-the-border goodness.
Let me know how it goes!