I’ve mentioned on the blog before that what most Americans consider burritos, I consider something else entirely, but the other day a friend of mine shocked me. He said that he thought burritos were American because he’d never had one in Mexico (even though he’s spent time traveling there).
Suddenly, my mission was clear.
I’m here to set the record straight on burritos and to give everyone an opportunity to taste the truth.
The burrito was invented in my home state of Chihuahua, Mexico. Sources say it is from Ciudad Juárez. People say the best burritos in Chihuahua are from a small town called Villa Ahumada. (I don’t have a recommendation for where to go because there are so many vendors and restaurants that it would be impossible to rank them.)
When I explain burritos to my gring@ friends, I always start by saying that the burrito is a simple food. Equivalent foods are things like a grilled cheese sandwich or tomato soup. Sure, you can make those things fancier and more complicated, but the plain versions you grew up eating probably taste really good and comforting to you.
The key to a good burrito is good ingredients. If you have delicious beans and fresh tortillas, you don’t need anything else for a delicious meal. I promise. I actually have a theory that most U.S. burritos are compensating for their lack of quality with quantity.
So, what is a U.S. burrito? Usually the components are rice, beans (usually whole beans, which makes no sense), some type of meat, assorted vegetables, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and cheese, all wrapped in a humongous tortilla. Sometimes this kind of burrito is called a Mission-style burrito, and it is said to have originated in San Francisco’s Mission District. When we were there this summer, Devin and I passed a restaurant that claimed to be the birthplace of Mission style burritos, and I stood across the street shaking my head and muttering, “Esos ni son burritos” and “¿A quién se le ocurrió esa porquería?” until Devin dragged me away.
A Mexican burrito by contrast has just two ingredients. A flour tortilla that is small (in comparison) and some kind of filling (the most popular is refried beans, but you could also have rajas con queso or a guisado of some kind of meat). Please note that burritos do not have beans AND meat. You have one or the other (montados are different). Simplicity is key. You can top your burrito with salsa (the saucy Mexican kinds, not the chunky American ones) and/or cheese.
An important note about cheese: yellow cheese is not Mexican. I don’t know who created the “Mexican shredded cheese blend,” but it is a lie. In Chihuahua, the best cheese is Asadero made by the Mennonites. I wish I could give you some, but they don’t export it. I recommend a white cheese like Queso Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, or Daiya Mozzarella shreds, which are vegan and I really love.
When I had the conversation I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I realized that I should share a recipe for a good bean burrito. That way everyone can taste what it’s like. Bean burritos are inherently portable because refried beans stick to the tortillas, so this recipe is especially handy if you’re looking for a grab-and-go food.
Someday soon I will share my recipe for beans from scratch in a post entitled Beans From My Mothers, but I wanted to make this recipe as easy as possible, so I went to Trader Joe’s because they have stores all over the United States, and some of their Mexican food is really good. (The frozen tamales they sell are imported from Mexico, and they’re delicious!)
Burritos de Frijoles
The ingredients are flour tortillas, a can of refried beans, and salsa verde to serve on the side. I didn’t get cheese because I usually don’t put cheese on my burrito, but see above for cheese recommendations.
My aunt Menry taught me to put little can of salsa casera in beans before refrying them, which gives them a great flavor. These beans from Trader Joe’s approximate that flavor really nicely (ignore the low-fat thing; I would never feed you “diet food,” but these are really good and there’s no full-fat equivalent).
Here’s what you do:
1. Heat up the beans on the stove or in the microwave. Make sure to stir and heat them thoroughly.
2. While the beans are warming, heat up the flour tortillas one or two at a time on a comal or a pan on the stove. Flip them to make sure they get hot on both sides. Make sure to wrap the hot tortillas in a kitchen towel, so they stay nice and hot while you finish heating rest. One can of beans is enough for a little more than half the tortillas in the package depending on how full you like your burritos.
3. If you’re using cheese, make sure to put it on the beans when they are piping hot. That way the cheese will melt. You can stir it in if you want to have the cheese melted throughout the beans or you can put it on top, or you can do both depending on how much cheese you want.
4. Scoop some beans on a tortilla, pour a little salsa on the beans, roll up, and enjoy!