For me, refried beans are one of those ubiquitous Mexican sides that I can take or leave. I like to make them sometimes when I want a quick, meatless burrito filling, but they often turn out overly dry and unexciting.
The recipe for refried beans in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper elevates refried beans a bit, by adding cinnamon and cloves for spice, and by swirling in a couple of pats of butter at the end for added richness. I believe it’s the butter that really makes the difference, giving the beans a touch of needed fat for moistness. I like to use these beans as a burrito filling, so I’ve adjusted the recipe somewhat so that they aren’t too soupy. If you use a bit more water, you can also eat them out of a bowl, mixed with rice and garnished with your favorite Southwestern fixings.
Time to make: ~25 minutes.
- Olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
- 2 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- ½-1½ cups water (Start with the smallest amount and add more as needed, depending on how you plan to serve the beans.)
- 2 tablespoons butter
1. Generously film the bottom of a 10-inch skillet with olive oil, and heat over medium-high heat. Saute the onions with salt and pepper to taste until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, jalapeno, cinnamon and cloves, and cook about 1 minute, taking care not to burn the spices. Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pan. Saute for another minute.
3. Stir in the beans and water. Bing to a fast simmer, crushing the beans with a potato masher as they cook. Simmer until the beans are thick, about 10 minutes. Blend in the butter.
To make burritos, spoon some beans into a tortilla and top with salsa and grated cheese. First fold the tortilla in from the bottom, then fold over one side, and roll in from the other side. Bake the burritos at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, or until warmed through. Top the burritos with more salsa and cheese before baking for enchilada-style, or garnish after baking with shredded lettuce and sour cream for burrito-style.
The finished beans hold in the refrigerator for 5 days; add liquid as needed when reheating.
I am still trying to use up leftover bits of various things, and what better way to do that than to make burritos? With the burritos I made last night, I killed a half bag of new potatoes, a half can of beans, half an avocado, a quarter block of cheese and a few lonely romaine leaves. And they were quite tasty.
There’s really nothing to making burritos. Usually, I heat up the filling (steamed potatoes and canned beans, in this case) with some spicy seasonings. I roll the filling up in tortillas with some cheese and salsa. I bought prepared salsa because — let’s face it — making salsa in the dead of winter is a losing prospect. Instead of going for the gourmet brand, I bought the cheaper Herdez salsa (medium) and thought it was quite tasty. For a snack, I’ll probably bake some tortilla chips and eat the rest of it.
Roll up the burritos, sprinkle them with more cheese and salsa, and heat at 350 degrees until melty. Garnish with any uncooked things. I had shredded lettuce and diced avocado. Tasty, healthy and totally vegetarian. No recipe required.
When you think about it, there’s really not much difference between a burrito, an enchilada, a taco and a tostada. The main differences are presentation and heating method. But you can essentially use the same fillings for all of these (and other tasty Mexican-style dishes). That’s why I always keep a pack of tortillas in the fridge. Using them, I can put together a quick dinner with pretty much what I have on hand, and I can mix it up many different ways to keep things interesting.
Here are what I see as the essential building blocks:
- The tortillas: I prefer the small flour tortillas, which are the most versatile, but you might like the larger burrito size, corn tortillas or hard taco shells. If I buy a lot, I freeze the extras.
- The filling: You can choose something very simple, such as browned ground meat or chopped onion, or pile it on. I like to use up leftovers, such as rice, beans or bean dip, cooked meats and grilled or roasted vegetables. Fried or scrambled eggs also work nicely.
- The cheese: Always required. I usually have something appropriate on hand, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack or even goat cheese.
- The sauce: Salsa will work. So will bottled or homemade enchilada sauce or chili sauce. Even barbecue sauce will do in a pinch.
- The garnishes: These are the finishing touches. Lettuce, tomato and sour cream are naturals. Also think pickled jalapenos, guacamole, raw onion or whatever you like.
Now here’s how you put it all together, from simplest to more complex:
- Tacos: Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and warm them for 10 minutes or so in a 400-degree oven while you’re preparing the rest of the ingredients. Let everyone assemble their own at the table.
- Tostadas: Toast the tortillas individually in a dry nonstick skillet for a few minutes per side. Serve open-faced and just pile it on.
- Burritos: Spoon the filling in a thick line down the bottom of the tortilla. Top with cheese and sauce. Fold in the sides to partially cover the filling, then fold the bottom over part of the filling and roll up. Bake seam-side-down in an oiled casserole dish at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbly. Garnish after cooking.
- Enchiladas: Traditionally, enchiladas are made with fewer filling ingredients than burritos, so they are rolled thinner. Prepare as for burritos, except top with more sauce and cheese before baking.
- Chilaquiles: Cut the tortillas into wedges and fry in a small amount of hot oil until crisped and browned. Layer the wedges in a baking dish with the filling ingredients, cheese and sauce, like a Mexican lasagna. Make three layers, ending with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly. Garnish.
- Nachos: Spread tortilla chips on a baking sheet and top with the filling ingredients, sauce and cheese. Broil until the cheese melts. Garnish to serve.
Quick and Easy Enchilada Sauce
Time to make: 15 minutes
Yields: 2 cups
- 1 sm. onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1-2 chiles, chopped (optional)
- 1 tbsp. oregano
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 2 tbsp. Mexican or Southwestern seasoning mix (optional)
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium until the onion turns translucent. (Also add the chiles, if using). Stir in all of the seasonings and cook another minute or so. Add the tomatoes. Simmer until the sauce is no longer liquidy. Let cool and puree before using.
Here is an idea for a quick and easy meal that is so simple, it doesn’t even really need a recipe. Breakfast “burritos” are not just for breakfast, but can be eaten anytime. This is one of my favorite kinds of dishes because it fulfills the basic requirements for getting a good meal into you even when you don’t feel like cooking:
- It’s so easy to make that you can do it when you’re rushed or tired.
- The main ingredients are probably already in your kitchen.
- It’s a good vehicle for using up leftovers or whatever is in the fridge.
The essential ingredients you’ll need are:
- 1-2 eggs per burrito, scrambled or fried, depending on your preference
- corn or flour tortillas
- grated cheese
- a sauce, such as salsa, any kind of chile sauce or even barbecue sauce
I thought the Roasted Tomato Salsa worked particularly well for this dish, which is handy because I often have some left over in the freezer.
In addition, you can add whatever else you like. Here are some suggestions:
- refried beans
- fried bacon or sausage
- leftover cooked meat
- leftover cooked vegetables or quickly sauteed vegetables
- hash browns
But you don’t have to add anything else if you don’t want to.
You have several choices for assembly. You can brown the tortillas on an unoiled griddle and serve with the filling on top, tostada-style. This works best with fried eggs, because the yolks run and mingle with the sauce — yummy!
Or you can roll the tortillas around the filling and warm them in a 350-degree oven for a few minutes to make burritos. This works best with scrambled eggs. If you spoon some sauce and sprinkle some cheese on top, you’ve got enchiladas.
However you like to eat them, breakfast “burritos” are a quick, tasty and nourishing alternative to take-out.
I should credit Fresh Every Day for the inspiration for this meal.
Burritos are probably the easiest weekday dinner to throw together, and are especially good for using up bits and pieces hanging around the kitchen, such as the stray vegetable, chile, bit of cheese and leftover beans. I try to make healthier burritos than the kind you get in Mexican restaurants, with many more vegetables and less cheese and sour cream. This is a filling, warming burrito with plenty of good beans and sweet potato, plus just a little cheese to tie it all together. This recipe makes 4 large burritos or 8 small ones, enough for 4 people.
Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burritos
Time to make: ~1 hour
What you need:
- nonstick cooking spray
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt, oregano, cumin and cayenne to taste
- 1 can black beans (not drained)
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced
- 4 large or 8 small flour tortillas
- 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
- sour cream (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray
- Simmer the sweet potato and water in a covered pot until tender, 20-30 minutes
- While that is cooking, heat the oil in another pot over medium-high
- Add the onion and saute a few minutes
- Add the garlic and saute 30 seconds
- Season well to taste
- Add the beans and chile, and bring to a simmer
- When the sweet potatoes are done, mix them with the beans and mash them coarsely with a potato masher
- Spoon some filling down the center of a tortilla and top with the goat cheese
- Roll each burrito, place in a baking pan and bake for 15-20 minutes
- Garnish with a dollop of sour cream, if desired
One good-sized chipotle will add plenty of kick. If you want your burritos less spicy, add less chile.
I use goat cheese in this recipe because I think it adds some tartness in counterpoint to the rich, smooth potato-bean mixture.
To roll up a burrito so it will stay rolled, first fold the bottom halfway over the filling. Then, fold in each side. Roll up from the folded bottom and place in the baking pan seam side down.