Thursday, February 24, 2011

kx's infamous El-Cheap-o El-Cheat-o Barrio Burritos

I have been making fixins for bean and rice burritos for years and, though they are a quite humble culinary feat, they remain a highly popular meal among my friends. I have to admit that I can eat them for the better part of a week and never get tired of them. Even my mother who claimed to not like pinto beans, Mexican food, cumin, or spicy things inexplicably loves them. So, by request, the "recipe" follows.

I use canned beans--either pinto solo or a mix of pinto and black. My favorite combo is probably one  large can of Westbrae organic pinto beans and a smaller can of the black. Rinse the beans well, but leave a little water on them.

Use whatever you like or whatever you have on hand. I have used jasmine, basmati, white long-grain, brown, Trader Joe's Brown Rice Blend (brown rice, daikon radish seed, and black barley), and Trader Joe's Basmati Medley (white basmati rice, wild rice, dehydrated carrots, onions, celery, red bell pepper, mushrooms, parsley, garlic, and lemon peel). But my new-found favorite is Lundberg's Wild Blend (long grain brown rice, sweet brown rice, Wehani®, Black Japonica™ and select wild rice pieces). In general, I think the brown rice adds a nice toasty, nutty flavor to the burritos, but I also like the aromatic quality of jasmine rice, which I know sounds weird for burritos, but I stand by it!

Use what you like! Monterey Jack is, of course, a classic burrito cheese, but if you have access to Mexican quesos like queso fresco, even better. What I use most often, however, is extra sharp white cheddar. I like to grate it on the thick cut side of my box grater.

Again, use whatever you like (or you happen to have on hand). My stand-by is Trader Joe's Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chili salsa, but I buy all sorts of different types depending on the season and what strikes my fancy. 

Yeah, that. I can get Tapatio at the Mexican market in the Strip (Reyna's), but I imagine you can find it at any cosmopolitan supermarket, or, you know, just about anywhere if you live in a region with a significant Hispanic population.

I used to always use Pepito or Mission plain flour tortillas, available in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, but I have come to like the Trader Joe's variety with flax seeds. Don't be afraid to experiment with the flavored "wraps" either. Just make sure that whatever type/flavor you choose, it is burrito size, or else you'll never get it to roll up properly.

In addition to the above, you'll need:
  • a nice medium to large onion (preferably a sweet onion, though plain yellow or white will work just fine)
  • garlic
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • pepper
  • cumin
  • cayenne pepper
  • celery salt
  • oregano
  • other suitable herbs and spices that you like (e.g., I also have a chili & lime blend that works nicely for this)
  • avocado
  • sour cream
  1. Get out a medium saucepan and start your rice first.
  2. Slice your onion--I usually slice the onion in half and then cut down the middle of each half and then slice each half into slightly thick slices. 
  3. Mince up/crush a clove or two (or however many you like) of garlic
  4. Heat a glug of oil in a medium-large saucepan over medium heat. Toss in the onion and saute until it softens. I sometimes add a small amount of butter to the oil just for some extra flavor, but this is totally optional.
  5. Add garlic and saute for a few minutes. 
  6. Dump in the beans.
  7. Season with cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. Optional: celery salt and oregano. I have never measured the spices, but I go heavy on the cumin--I would guess at least a teaspoon. If you are new to this spice, obviously start with less and add more, otherwise use your judgment. I probably use about a 1/4 tsp of cayenne, mas o menos. Note:  canned beans all have a lot of salt, but some brands have WAY more than others, so bear that in mind when you add salt.
  8. Now here's where it gets tricky to explain--every batch turns out a little different from the last, but it's pretty hard to screw up unless you burn them to the pot. I usually turn the heat up just a little. If there wasn't much water left on the beans, I may add little (probably a tablespoon or two). Depending on how long and how hard you cook them down, you can end up with anything between complete whole beans and something that is like lumpy refritos. There is no right answer, so play around and discover what consistency you like best. I will sometimes partially cover them as well to keep some of the moisture in and steam them a bit.
  9. While the beans cook, shred your cheese, slice the avocado, and get your salsa, hot sauce, and sour cream out of the fridge. 
  10. Once everything is done cooking, you are ready to assemble your burritos. Heat up a flat griddle or a frying pan large enough to put the tortilla in the bottom over medium/medium high heat. Once the pan is warm, put a tortilla on it. Using your fingers, rub the tortilla on the griddle. When it feels warm to your fingertips, flip it over. (Turn heat down to medium at this point.)
  11. While still on the griddle, take a small amount of cheese and place it in a line slightly right of center, leaving several inches clear from the bottom edge. Put a little bit of rice (maybe two forkfulls), a little bit of beans (maybe 1.5 soup spoons worth) on top of the rice. At this point, I usually slide the tortilla off onto a plate to finish and toss another tortilla on the pan to warm up. Put salsa, hot sauce and sour cream on top (again, use small amounts). Top with slices of avocado. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  12. Use a spoon to shape your filling into a nice cylinder. Fold up the bottom and tuck around filling. Fold the right side over, and then carefully roll the left side over. (It helps to pick it up to do this.) The top will be open. 
Another wrapping variation is to make your cylinder of stuffing in the middle of the tortilla, leaving several inches on each side. Fold the sides in, tucking around the filling and then roll it up so that both ends are closed. 

Next time I make them, I'll take some pics. :)

Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.