A Better Veggie Burrito

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

Servings: 4-6

AmountIngredients
6tbspExtra virgin olive oil
1 1/2cupLong grain rice
2cupDiced yellow onion, divided
2eaPlum tomato, diced & divided
2cupVegetable stock
2cupDiced zucchini (1 large)
2cupDiced cremini mushrooms
1cupDiced bell pepper
1tbspMinced garlic
1/4tspDry oregano
1/4tspDry mint
1/4tspGround cumin
1/4tspSweet paprika
1tspChipotle in adobo, or chili powder
2tbspFresh chopped cilantro
1tspKosher salt, divided
1cupBlack Beans or refried beans
6ozMonterey Jack cheese, shredded
2cupPico de gallo or salsa
1eaHead baby romaine lettuce
4-6ea8”-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.

Green Lentil Shakshuka

At the start of summer, I get way too excited about all the local farm tomatoes and peppers, and overly ambitious about all the ways I’m going to use them. Since we’ve been in quarantine, I’ve been missing the aromatic and subtly spicy Shakshuka my Turkish friend @yilmazcik, makes for our daily breakfast service. So, seems like a good way to use my overripe tomatoes and a lightly wrinkled bell peppers. Mr. @yilmazcik uses banana peppers or cubanelles for the heat in his recipe, so I add a bit of jalapeño to this one. Add a few other pantry staples, and this recipe comes together easily. I like to add lentils, but you can also add some cooked meat or other types of beans or vegetables to the finished Shakshuka. The word Shakshouka is Arabic for “mixture” so I’m guessing there are endless variations! If you do use lentils, try French green lentils if you can. They hold their shape better than other varieties.

Green Lentil Shakshouka, makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry lentils (200 g)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (57 g)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced (250 g)
  • 1 large sweet bell pepper, thinly sliced (180 g)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground sweet paprika
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, diced (400 g)
  • 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes (400 g)
  • 1/2 jalapeno, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and lower to a simmer. Cook until just tender, about 20 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and set aside until needed.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet or flame proof casserole over medium heat. Add onions and bell pepper and toss to coat with oil. Lower heat to medium low and cook, about 15 minutes until soft. Occasionally stir the vegetables so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot or burn. When the onion-pepper mixture is soft and sweet, add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook until fragrant and sticky, about 1-2 minutes.

Stir in diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and jalapeno. Now grab yourself a cup of tea, bring the mixture to a simmer, let it cook for 15-20 minutes until the diced tomatoes have softened and the sauce has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper, and cayenne if you prefer more heat.

Drain the lentils and add to the sauce. Reheat, and taste the mixture, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Mix in a handful of chopped cilantro, reserving some for garnish. Carefully crack eggs directly into the skillet, or divide the sauce equally into 6 individual casseroles and crack two eggs in each. Bake 8-12 minutes if you like your eggs runny like I do, or longer if you like your eggs more well done. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

By the way, @yilmazcik recommends listening to this Shakshouka song while you’re making it.

Mise. En. Place.

Today’s inspiration from a busy lifestyle:  Mise en place.  In French it means “put in place.”  In the professional kitchen it refers to all the product a cook needs to wash, cut, chop, portion or cook ahead of time to be able to prepare your meal in a half hour or less.  At home it means spending a rainy day off getting meals set up for the week so I don’t have to think about it when I get home at night or wake up in the morning.  But you knew that right?

Today’s projects included marinating grass fed beef shanks, a pork butt, and a chicken, washing greens, blanching some vegetables, cutting up others, and making salad dressings.  Finally, groundhog salad kits.  Undressed, these hearty kale, romaine and radicchio salads will keep for up to three days.  Add a hard boiled egg, cheese, or leftover chicken or steak from the night before, and lunch is ready to go.

Lunch Box #1: Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps

Today’s lunchbox of Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps, includes a wheat-free, slow roasted variation of Sam Sifton’s Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork Tacos.  Sifton’s recipe calls for hoisin sauce, which contains wheat, so we substituted tamari (gluten free soy sauce), brown sugar, and some fruit preserves.  Since we don’t have a slow cooker, I also modifed the preparation for slow roasting in the oven.  After the pork cooled overnight, we sliced it really thin and filled our lunch box with garnishes of bibb lettuce leaves, pork and duck liver pate, homemade quick pickles, and chili-lime mayo.

BAHN MI STYLE PORK BUTT,  adapted from Sam Sifton’s Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork Tacos:

INGREDIENTS:

3-4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, skin removed, but with a little fat left on.
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 c.  tamari sauce
2 Tbsp. peach preserves (or other stone fruit preserves)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 c.  fish sauce
1 Tbsp. siracha sauce

EQUIPMENT:

5 qt dutch oven or deep 8″x 8″ baking dish, food processor or blender, gallon size ziploc freezer bag

PROCEDURE:

  1.  Combine all the ingredients except the pork in a food processor or blender.  Puree to make a coarse marinade. Bahn Mi Pork Butt Marinade
  2. Place pork in the freezer bag and pour the marinade over it.  Turn the pork to evenly coat it.  Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible.  Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 6 hours, and up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.  Place pork in a 5-quart dutch oven or baking dish, with the fat side up.  Pour the liquid from the bag over the pork.  Cover the dutch oven with the lid, or if using a baking dish, cover the pork with a piece of parchment or wax paper, then cover tightly with aluminum foil.Bahn Mi Pork
  4. Roast the pork in the middle of the oven until internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F.  It should be tender and beginning to pull apart.  This could take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Check in periodically to make sure there is some liquid in the bottom of the pan and the bottom of the pork is not drying out.
  5. Rest the cooked pork in its juices, at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Pull apart, mix with some of the pan juices, and serve hot, or let cool completely and slice and serve cold.  It’s delicious either way.

Pan Seared Scallops, Haricot Vert, Easter Radish, Bacon, Sorrel

 

When it comes to seafood, very few things can compare to eating plump fresh diver scallops. Perfectly prepared, they need nothing more than a simple sprinkle of salt and pepper to bring out their subtle salty, sweet flavor.  To get that crispy sear on the outside and barely cooked pearly white texture on the inside is not as difficult as it seems.  First you need to start with very fresh scallops.  Scallops treated with preservatives retain water and will never give you a good sear.  Look for dry (untreated) scallops that are firm, and have little to no odor.

To prepare them, use a heavy oven-proof saute pan.  Cast iron, with its non-stick seasoning and heat retaining properties works perfectly. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pan over high heat.  Carefully place the scallops one by one into the hot pan, leaving at least a 1 inch gap between them.  Crowding the pan will cause the scallops to release too much water, making them steam instead of sear.  So, for large scallops, put no more than 3 scallops in a 8″ pan, and no more than 6 in a 10″ pan.  Then leave them alone until they turn golden brown on one side.

If they are bigger than 1 oz. each, you may need to give them some oven time. So after you get one side golden brown and crispy, transfer the pan into the lower half of a 400 degree oven until the tops of the scallops just begin to turn opaque white around the edges.  Pull the pan out of the oven, flip the scallops over, and melt a pat of butter in the pan.  It is important not to overcook scallops or they become rubbery and unpalatable.  Just let the heat of the pan carry them through as you baste them with the hot butter and aromatics of your choice – a sprig of thyme, some sliced garlic, a bay leaf, or sliced shallots are always good complements.  Now you should have scallops that are crisp and salty on one side and velvety, sweet and tender on the inside.

Having some sliced shallots, freshly cut haricot verts, thinly sliced radishes and already cooked bacon on hand made it easy to whip up a quick warm salad while the scallops were in the oven.  We melted some butter and reserved bacon fat in a saute pan and gently sauteed the shallots.  Haricot verts went in next with just a splash of water to steam them and cook them through without losing the bright green color and snap of the beans. Finally we tossed the warm beans with peppery radishes, salty smoky bacon, and tart lemon-y chopped sorrel. Keeping with simple clean flavors in the salad let the scallops steal the show.

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