A Better Veggie Burrito

Last year, I finally experienced the perfect veggie burrito. On our last trip to the Cape, D. and I discovered El Mariachi Loco in Hyannis, MA. A tiny shop with only 4 or 5 tables inside, it’s one of the few eateries with steady enough business to stay open all year long. Everything 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. It was made with 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, and mushrooms cooked down to provide just the right balance of moisture, texture and flavor. This humble veggie burrito held its own next to its meat counterparts. It was so good, we picked some up the next day for the road home.

Back in downtown New York City, I haven’t found a restaurant close to home that makes a veggie burrito as good as El Mariachi’s. Most of the time it feels like a throwaway: rice, beans, cheese and whatever vegetables of the day they have on hand from bland soggy zucchini to giant chunks of crunchy barely cooked broccoli thoughtlessly thrown together. I can’t help but wonder how this could come from the same beloved taco joint that put so much care into making melt-in your mouth barbacoa and carnitas. So we make our own.

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

6 tbspExtra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cupLong grain rice
2 cupDiced yellow onion, divided
2 eaPlum tomato, diced & divided
2 cupVegetable stock
2 cupDiced zucchini (1 large)
2 cupDiced cremini mushrooms
1 cupDiced bell pepper
1 tbspMinced garlic
1/4 tspDry oregano
1/4 tspDry mint
1/4 tspGround cumin
1/4 tspSweet paprika
1 tspChipotle in adobo, or chili powder
2 tbspFresh chopped cilantro
1 tsp*Kosher salt, divided
1 cupBlack Beans or refried beans
6 ozMonterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 cupPico de gallo or salsa
1 eaHead baby romaine lettuce
4-6 ea8”-10” flour tortillas
*Unless otherwise specified, all salt is Diamond Crystal Kosher salt. Measurements using other salts will vary.

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.

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