Grilled chicken or grilled or fried beef are the typical fillings for burritos, but certainly aren't the only ones. Vegetables, seafood, tofu and special cheeses and sauces can punch up the flavor of the increasingly common lunch and dinner entree.

Metro Creative Connection photo

Grilled chicken or grilled or fried beef are the typical fillings for burritos, but certainly aren't the only ones. Vegetables, seafood, tofu and special cheeses and sauces can punch up the flavor of the increasingly common lunch and dinner entree.

Better burritos only require imagination

By Janet K. Keeler

Tampa Bay Times

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The burrito has a fuzzy provenance.

It certainly has Mexican roots, but the bulging carbo-bomb that we know today – thank you, Chipotle – is a California innovation with San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco claiming credit. A cafe in Santa Fe, N.M., claims to be the originator of the breakfast burrito. Arizona, New Mexico and Texas foster burrito-mania, too.

And Taco Bell, well, burritos are its game.

There are wet and dry burritos; grilled and baked versions. The filling can be meat-loaded or vegan. And please call them chimichangas when they are deep-fried.

The beauty of the burrito, though, is that it can hold just about anything you can fold a flour tortilla around. Flour, over corn, because it’s more pliable. Corn tortillas tend to crack, even when they are warm, and are best for soft tacos that just need one fold or hard tacos with fried shells.

I hesitate to call burritos “dump food” lest I offend devotees, but they really are. I use the term “dump” affectionately, and it means that just about anything you’ve got in the fridge can find its way into a burrito. Leftover flank steak? Pair it with blue cheese and you’re done. A can of black beans and brown rice in the pantry? Add some sauteed onions, ground cumin and chopped tomato and dinner is ready. Roasted veggies? Check. Fusion treatment with Greek or Asian staples? Why not?

The flour tortillas? Use whole wheat or plain, or even a veggie-fueled version. (Though that seems more in the wrap category. The distinction there is that a wrap is cold; a burrito, hot.)

To get the most flavor and nutrition out of a burrito, avoid using a lopsided ratio of filler, such as rice. Key in on quality veggies, sauces and proteins. Cilantro, lime, Sriracha sauce and even honey add lots of oomph without risking a burrito explosion down the front of your shirt.

The following simple ideas for burrito fillings are a road map to get you started:

  • Bean and beef – A classic burrito filling of cooked ground beef with taco seasonings, refried beans, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes and onions and a healthy dose of salsa.
  • Sausage, egg and cheese – Scrambled eggs, browned bulk sausage – I like mine hot – and shredded cheddar cheese make a fine breakfast bundle.
  • Chicken verde – Brown six boneless, skinless chicken thighs in olive oil in a heavy pot with a lid, and then pour in a bottle of green salsa. Let the mixture simmer for about 45 minutes. Shred chicken and top with shredded Jack cheese and sour cream before folding tortilla.
  • Spicy rock shrimp with avocado crema – Make a marinade of 1 tablespoon honey, 3 tablespoons olive oil, a few splashes of Sriracha (or other) hot sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Add 1 pound of peeled shrimp and let sit for 1 to 2 hours. Saute in large skillet. Serve in burrito with brown rice and a sauce made of equal parts guacamole and sour cream.
  • Pulled pork – Heat your leftover pulled pork and add black beans, rice and queso fresco for your burrito. Fresh cilantro leaves bring the punch.
  • Mediterranean chicken and orzo – Cooked chicken is layered with orzo cooked in chicken broth, plus chopped olives, feta cheese, diced tomatoes, sliced scallions, lemon zest and a slathering of tzatziki sauce. For tzatziki sauce, mix 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves and a peeled, seeded and diced small cucumber.
  • Saucy bean burrito – Seasoned and sauced ranch beans are the foundation for this vegetarian burrito. Add chopped onions, shredded cheddar cheese and some sliced jalapenos for heat.
  • Rotisserie chicken mole – Shred the meat from a rotisserie chicken and heat it with a jar or two of prepared mole sauce. Let it simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Layer the meat with refried beans, chopped onion and shredded Jack cheese.
  • Roasted veggie – Cut zucchini, onions, green peppers, red peppers and mushrooms in similar sizes, toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes. While veggies are roasting, make rice. Roll roasted veggies with rice and feta cheese in tortilla. Fresh mint or basil leaves would be a tasty addition.
  • Steak and blue – Leftover and heated grilled flank or skirt steak is paired with blue cheese crumbles mixed with a bit of sour cream for this burrito. Add sturdy leaves of ice-cold Romaine for crunch and texture, plus a couple of grinds of black pepper.
  • Cal-Mex veggie – Another breakfast idea that could work any meal of the day. Add olive oil to a hot, large skillet. Saute chopped onions with diced green and red peppers, corn and sliced jalapenos. (Remove seeds and ribs for less heat.) Add chopped garlic in the last minute of cooking. In another pan, scramble eggs seasoned with salt and pepper. Assemble the burrito with the veggies and eggs, plus fresh cilantro leaves and crumbled queso fresco cheese.
  • Cheesy baked crab – Thoroughly mix 8 ounces of softened cream cheese with 8 ounces of shredded Jack cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of paprika. Gently fold in 8 ounces of crabmeat. Roll into tortillas and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve with sour cream mixed with lime juice and a sprinkling of sliced scallions.
  • Avocado and black bean – Drain and rinse two cans of black beans. Saute some chopped onion in a medium skillet until soft; add minced garlic in the last minute of cooking. Add the beans, plus 1/4 cup water and 2 teaspoons ground cumin. Let simmer for about 20 minutes. Layer in tortillas with slices of ripe avocado and sour cream.
  • Grilled chicken Caesar – Make a Caesar salad, then roll it in a tortilla with hot grilled chicken.
  • Roasted sweet potato and sausage – Roast bite-sized pieces of sweet potato in a 350-degree oven until cooked, about 20 minutes. In a large skillet, brown bulk sausage, breaking into small crumbles as it cooks. Remove sausage but leave rendered fat, in which you’ll saute chopped onion. Return sausage to pan along with cooked sweet potato. Heat through and roll in tortilla.
  • Greek-style – Heat Greek salad dressing in a skillet and saute bite-sized pieces of boneless chicken. Spread tortillas with hummus (roasted red pepper would be good) and layer with chicken, rice cooked with lemon zest, crumbled feta, spinach. Need more? Garnish with Greek yogurt and chopped tomatoes. Serve with knife and fork.
  • Asian tofu burritos – Saute a 2-cup mixture of diced peppers in vegetable oil until soft. Add 2 large, chopped garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons five-spice powder and one 14-ounce package of drained, cubed soft tofu. Cook for a few minutes. Roll in tortillas with chopped fresh cilantro and pickled ginger (optional) and drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil.
  • Fish stick – Prepare your favorite frozen fish sticks and layer on tortilla with shredded cabbage, rice, black beans, salsa and avocado slices.