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Lessons in burrito authenticity

Pinto bean burritos with shishito peppers

When I was younger and my family went on a trip to Mexico, my mother warned me that true Mexican food was nothing like what I was used to eating in Boston. She explicitly pointed out that there would be no burritos to be had. So I had created this idea that burritos were an American creation of sorts.

So when I met José and one of the first foods he said he missed from Mexico was in fact, a burrito, I was a bit taken aback. We got into talking and the burrito he described was a totally different food - soft wheat tortilla, rolled into a much thinner cigar-like shape with a meat and/or beans filling, some cheese, and dipping salsas, but not much else. Much like most foods brought to the United States, the burrito has taken an American hyphen into its name without us even realizing it.

Today's burrito was made both a bit in a hurry and a bit with what I could find at the supermarket. I saw the shishito peppers and they reminded me a little of the flavors of poblano peppers, so I picked some of those up. I grilled them on a grill pan, diced them up and mixed them with the onion and bean mixture. I had another food lesson at the table today - José explained that the filling in burritos needs to be a bit sticky and mushy - this allows it to adhere to itself and makes it a much easier "on-the-go" food. Today's burrito kept the veggies a little more intact, so if you've got time (or maybe a slow-cooker) feel free to let the mixture stew for a while. If you're in a rush like I was...it's still a tasty dinner.

You'll have two leftover tortillas which you can use to make quesadillas for lunch tomorrow.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Dry Beans

1.5 cup dried pinto beans

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 onion

2 bay leaves

Filling

1 fresh red chile, sliced into rounds (optional)

2 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced

200g shishito peppers

1/4 tsp ground cumin

Flour tortillas

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

2/3 cup water

2 tbsp olive oil

Assembly

4 wheat tortillas (homemade or store bought)

Recipe

STEP 1

Soak the beans overnight. The next day, add them to a medium pot with around 3 inches of water above them, 3 whole garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, and 1/2 onion. Let simmer on low until the beans are super tender. They'll need quite a bit of salt to bring out the flavor. The best way to know is if they still taste green or vegetal, then they likely need more salt. When properly salted, they start to take on a more meaty flavor.

STEP 2

For the tortillas, mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Then pour out onto a floured counter and knead for around 3 minutes. Once the dough is a bit smoother, form into a ball and place back into the bowl. You'll want to coat the dough with a drop of olive oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp dish cloth. Let sit at room temp for an hour or so or overnight.

STEP 3

To make the filling, In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and toss in the onions, red chile, and minced garlic. Give it a stir and cook until the onions are starting to brown. On a separate pan, roast the shishito peppers until nicely charred. Roughly chop and toss into the pan. Add the cumin, stir for a minute or two, and then mix in the pinto beans and stir to form a paste.

STEP 4

Divide the tortilla dough into 6 pieces. Roll them out rather thinly so they reach around 12" in diameter. Heat a large frying pan on medium-high and place the tortillas one at a time on the hot pan. They'll puff up a bit. You'll want to cook them for a minute or two on each side or until they look fully cooked through. Transfer to a clean dish towel and cover to keep them warm.

STEP 5

To assemble, place the tortilla on a plate, top with the beans and shishito mixture. Then from the bottom edge, fold the sides inward, and roll the tortilla to form the burrito.

STEP 6

You can use canned beans if you forgot to soak your beans. They might not be as flavorful, but we’re talking about weeknight dinners here, not Michelin starred restaurants.

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MEET YOUR MEAL

Every Sunday evening, I send out a newsletter with the following week's dinner menu, and the seasonal produce featured. The newsletter is free, and I won't share or sell your email address.

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- Julia Feld