A brief history of the burrito.
A Taco Bell taco is not a taco. A real taco or burrito taste fantastic and brings your taste buds alive. Eating a fast food taco or burrito is OK if you like that sort of thing but a homemade burrito is a divine taste treat.
Burrito is Spanish for "little donkey". The indigenous Maya population of southern Mexico at one time used burros to pack everything, to go anywhere. The last time I was there you could still see people with burros. A good example of this is in the movie, "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre" a John Huston movie based on B. Traven's book of the same title. The movie by the way, was one of the best adaptations of a book Hollywood ever filmed.
If you go to the state of Chiapas in Mexico and order a burrito all you will get is some kind of stringy, barely edible meat wrapped in a flour tortilla and a little bowl of habanero hot sauce. Habanero chili is the hottest chili grown in the world. The habanero is eaten in southern Mexico primarily. Most other Mexicans will not eat habaneros, they prefer the jalepeno. I prefer the habanero chili.
Unless you have eaten habaneros, stay away from them. They will burn going in and burn coming out. Pick the hottest chili you have ever eaten, a habanero is hotter.
When most people think of burritos they don't think of the traditional Maya burrito. My version is what I call the Tex-Mex burrito.
First gather together the utensils. Next make the tortillas. Then, make the filling. Finally, roll the tortilla with the filling inside.
Having the right cooking utensils is essential to good burrito making. I am going to assume that you will have to improvise some of your utensils.
If you can't purchase tortillas pre-made and can't buy a tortilla press, then the following are instructions on how to make low-stress, easy tortillas. The tortillas taste much better if you make them and it only takes a little extra effort.
- You need a camping stove of some kind or some type of portable heat for cooking. This is essential. Otherwise, you will have an uncooked mess of raw food.
- A small to medium size bowl.
- A small 8-inch or larger cast iron skillet but the larger the skillet the better.
- A rolling pin. If you don't have a rolling pin you need something round that has straight sides. A straight smooth wine bottle will work fine. It can be full or empty.
- Measuring utensils both for dry measures and wet measures.
- A cheese grater or something similar.
- A flat, hygienic and clean surface to roll out the tortillas.
- one sharp knife
- spatula for turning the tortillas in the skillet.
- potato masher for mashing down the beans while they are cooking a fork will also work as long as it is a sturdy fork.
Basic Ingredients: Tortillas
Adjust the measurements as necessary. This is will make about a 12 or so thin tortillas. Measure out the following items and set them aside, then wash your hands.
- 2 cups of low gluten flour. All-purpose flour works fine.
- 1/2 cup of warm water
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/8 cup of lard (best for flavor and texture) or shortening (next best) or vegetable oil (last resort).
- If possible, chill the wine bottle or rolling pin. This will keep it from sticking to the tortilla dough you are about to make. No refrigerator? No problem, fill the bottle with cold water.
Making the tortilla de harina (flour tortilla)
- Combine the flour and salt in a small to medium size bowl.
- Rub in the lard with your fingers until evenly mixed. Finish by working the shortening through the flour with a fork. Do this quickly and not too long.
- Gradually pour in the warm water and mix with your fingers until you have a soft dough.
If you add too much water and it's a sticky mass keep adding just enough flour to make a non-sticky dough. The key is to not over-knead the dough. The more you handle the dough the tougher the tortilla. Roll the ball of dough around in your hands for a bit. This will give you a feeling for the dough.
Then slightly flatten your ball of dough and divide the dough into quarters. Divide each quarter into thirds. You should then have twelve pieces of dough. Liberally coat your hands with the lard, shortening or vegetable oil. Briefly roll and coat each piece of dough into a ball. Set each one in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let them rest for about 15 minutes.
Now the tricky part, rolling out the tortillas. Flatten, shape and pat out between your hands each piece of dough so that you have a nice round shape. Set them aside for a moment. Get out the rolling pin. Lightly flour the flat surface you are going to roll out the tortillas on. Take the rolling pin and roll out each flattened piece of dough until it is as thin as possible WITHOUT tearing through the dough. The finished tortilla should be translucent. It can be thicker if you like. I prefer thin, translucent tortillas. You should end up with twelve, very thin, 8-inch lovely reasonably round tortillas. Stack them and cover with a clean towel to keep them warm.
NOTE ON ROLLING PIN TECHNIQUE: If you have never done this, it may take a little practice. You may need to make another batch of dough. If you ruin one its ok just start over by making that piece again and repeat the above process.
Next heat your skillet to a high temperature as hot as possible. Take a rolled out tortilla and place it in the hot skillet. It will cook quickly. A bubble will form on the top when it does turn it over and cook the other side. Cook until there is just a brown spot. DO NOT cook too long or you will end up with a thin cracker. It should be flexible.
Basic Ingredients: The Burrito Filling
- 2-5 Fresh chili (best) or packaged, dried and ground chili (last resort). Pick the most spicy chili you can handle. If you can't handle the heat, a good ripe bell pepper should work.
- Canned Pinto beans. If your country does not have these, then purchase a can of black or red beans.
- One onion your favorite variety In the U.S. Vidalia onions are the best but extremely rare to find.
- As much fresh garlic as you like.
- One fresh, ripe tomato. If it is not quite ripe, put it in a paper bag for a day or so and let it ripen some more.
- Your favorite yellow cheese from the market. I prefer cheddar and asadero cheeses.
- Fresh cilantro or coriander leaves. Dried coriander leaves are fine if you can't find fresh.
- Optional: sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce similar to pico de gallo to place on top of the filling before you roll/fold the burrito.
Making the basic burrito filling
I like onions so cut up and mince your onion. Take some cooking oil and lightly cover the bottom of your skillet. Fry the onions until they are clear but not brown. Place them in a small bowl.
Get out the can of pinto, black or red beans, open them and pour them into the skillet. With the potato masher mash them up as much as possible. Then put them on medium heat.
Once the beans start bubbling, mash them up more with the potato masher. Add either chopped chili or the ground chili now. Let the liquid cook down until you have a bean paste. DON'T let them cook down to dry. You want a little liquid left. After they are mashed up enough add the onions you cooked earlier.
Chop up any vegetables you want and place them in several small bowls while the beans cook down. Grate the cheese of your choice into a small bowl. Do this with any vegetables you want.
Get the other condiments like sour cream, guacamole or pico de gallo ready.
OPTIONAL: You can substitute the beans with ground beef or chopped meat of your choice.
Putting It All Together
Get a still warm tortilla from your stack. Scoop up some of the bean paste and spread a layer of this on 1/2 of the tortilla. Add a layer of each of the other ingredients on top of the bean paste or meat. Top all this with grated cheese, guacamole or sour cream. Then fold your burrito like the photographs below.
The following is how to fold a burrito with photo illustrations.
The idea of the folding is to close up one end of the burrito to keep the contents from falling out. You eat the burrito from the opposite end.
Grab a good tasting beer and enjoy your meager creation.
WARNING: If you are a heterosexual male, picking up and eating a burrito will make you feel gay. Don't worry about this, just enjoy your meal.