What is it about veggie burritos that are always a disappointment? Anyone else with me on this? Those of you who argue that you may as well have carne asada or carnitas in your burrito and that veggie burritos are a waste of time, can leave the room right now. This post is for those of us who either don’t eat meat, or if you’re like me, don’t feel like we need to have meat with every meal. Sadly, every time I order a veggie burrito at a restaurant, it feels like a throwaway. How could the same taco joint that put so much time and love into making melt-in your mouth barbacoa, hand me a veggie burrito full of thoughtlessly thrown together broccoli florets or giant chunks of bland, barely grilled zucchini?
So it was, until last winter when I finally experienced the perfect veggie burrito at El Mariachi Loco in Hyannis, MA. One of the benefits of “wintering” in Cape Cod is that all the seasonal eateries close and only the ones that have earned a steady local following stay open. We could see why El Mariachi Loco is one of them. Everything we tried was excellent, from the tacos al pastor to fish tacos, to the steak and carnitas burritos, all the ingredients were fresh, flavorful and perfectly prepared. But the big surprise was the veggie burrito. Sure it contained the same rice and beans, cheese, lettuce and salsa as the meat burritos, but the difference was in the vegetables. A mixture of bite sized zucchini, onions, cooked down to provide just the right balance of moisture, texture and flavor meant this burrito could hold its own over any of the meat variety. They were so good, we picked some up the next day for the road home.
At home, I still haven’t found a veggie burrito as good as El Mariachi, so using theirs as the benchmark, we make our own veggie burritos instead. And why wouldn’t you? The ingredients are inexpensive and better than paying $12 a piece or more for something that’s not as good.
Zucchini and mushrooms are widely available, and provide the right amount of heft and meatiness. I dice them into bite sized pieces and give them a quick saute over high heat. To get the right texture it’s important to cook them separately because cooking them together makes the zucchini soggy.
The secret weapon here is sofrito. I make a Spanish inspired sofrito by cooking down tomatoes with onions, sweet peppers, plenty of garlic, cumin, paprika, chiles, and herbs. Mexican style rajas, Basque style piperade, would also work here, but I like the contrast of the sweet bell peppers with the bitterness of the zucchini and mushrooms. This sofrito provides just the right amount of spice and sauciness to tie all the ingredients together.
If you start cooking the vegetables and rice at the same time, everything comes together in less than an hour. When I have time to make a batch of black beans, I’ll use that, but I’m not above using canned ones in a pinch. Amy’s Organic makes excellent refried black beans and I always have one or two cans in my pantry. For a cooling and fresh element in the burrito you can use store bought pico de gallo or salsa, but I encourage you to make fresh pico de gallo or tomato salad. You just need some onion, jalapeno, lime juice, and cilantro. It’s so quick and easy you don’t even need a recipe.
A Better Veggie Burrito
Prep time: 45-60 minutes
|6||tbsp||Extra virgin olive oil|
|1 1/2||cup||Long grain rice|
|2||cup||Diced yellow onion, divided|
|2||ea||Plum tomato, diced & divided|
|2||cup||Diced zucchini (1 large)|
|2||cup||Diced cremini mushrooms|
|1||cup||Diced bell pepper|
|1||tsp||Chipotle in adobo, or chili powder|
|2||tbsp||Fresh chopped cilantro|
|1||tsp||Kosher salt, divided|
|1||cup||Black Beans or refried beans|
|6||oz||Monterey Jack cheese, shredded|
|2||cup||Pico de gallo or salsa|
|1||ea||Head baby romaine lettuce|
|4-6||ea||8”-10” flour tortillas|
To prepare the rice: Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a small 2-quart saucepan over medium low heat. Add 1 cup onions and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add half the diced tomatoes and cook briefly 1-2 minutes. Add rice and vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover. Cook on low heat for 15-18 minutes. Fluff the rice and mix in 1 tbsp chopped cilantro. Keep covered until ready to use.
To prepare the vegetables: While the rice is cooking, heat 1 tbsp olive oil In a 10” skillet or sauce pan over medium high heat. Add zucchini and and cook for about 3-4 minutes until just golden, but still firm. Remove zucchini from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan, add 1 more tbsp of olive oil and add the mushrooms. Brown the mushrooms on high heat about 1-2 minutes, then lower the heat to medium, and cook 5 minutes longer until they have released all their moisture. Remove mushrooms from the pan and combine with the zucchini. Toss the mixture with a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.
To the empty skillet add 2 tbsp olive oil, the remaining onions and the bell peppers. Cook on medium heat until they are very soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add minced garlic, oregano, mint cumin, paprika and chipotle, and cook for about a minute until fragrant. Add the rest of the diced tomatoes and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook for 8-10 minutes until most of the tomato liquid is cooked off. Return the zucchini and mushrooms to the pan and add 1 tbsp of chopped cilantro. Warm all the vegetables through, adjusting salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble: Check the seasoning of all your ingredients and adjust as needed before you start to assemble. If necessary, wash and dry your skillet and set it over medium heat.
If your tortillas are very stiff, briefly warm each one before using to make it more pliable.
Spread 2-3 tbsp refried beans on the half of the tortilla closest to you. Sprinkle 1 oz. (1/4 cup) shredded cheese on the other half. Spread 1/3-1/2 cup of rice and over the refried beans. Spread 1/3-1/2 cup of the vegetable mixture and over the cheese.
Top the rice and vegetables with 2-3 tbsp. pico de gallo and and a handful of shredded lettuce. Roll the burrito, tucking the ends in as you roll and seal the edge with a dab of refried beans.
Place the burrito seam side down on the heated dry skillet. Toast until golden brown, then flip over and brown the other side.
Repeat with the remaining tortillas until your filling is gone. You will have extra rice left over, which you can save for another use, like fried rice or adding to soups.
Serve with sour cream, hot sauce, and/or guacamole.
Substitutions & Ideas:
This is a pretty mild burrito. For an extra kick, add jalapeno, cayenne pepper or more chipotle to your vegetable mix, or substitute pepper jack cheese.
Homemade vegetable stock is best, but if you don’t have the time for that, cooking the rice with store bought vegetable stock, Knorr vegetable base, or even a couple teaspoons of nutritional yeast a makes huge difference in flavor.
A quick tomato salad makes a good substitute for pico de gallo. Simply combine 1 or 2 freshly cut tomatoes with some thinly sliced onion and jalapeno, dress with salt, lime juice, and olive oil, and toss with freshly chopped cilantro.