Burritos are a dish with endless folk stories about their origins. What is hard to refute is that they are fundamentally closed-ended cylinders filled with any combination of meat, rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. Burritos can also be very large and wrapped in foil to keep warm and be eaten by hand or baked with cheese melted over them to eat with a fork and knife.
The word burrito means “little donkey” in Spanish, probably derived from the way little burros were able to transport a lot of items. Some stories speculate that it may have originated with the vaqueros (cowboys) of northern Mexico in the late 1800s as a way to bring a full meal with them to eat on the range.
Another oft-repeated version of folk history is about a man named Juan Mendez who sold tacos at a street cart in the northern city of Ciudad Juarez during the Mexican Revolution. To transport his food, he wrapped shredded beef or chicken with rice and beans in large flour tortillas and kept them warm underneath a small tablecloth. This early food delivery was made on a small donkey and as it grew in popularity, those large wrapped tacos became known as “burritos” (little burros).
In another less-likely version, tells of a street food vendor from Ciudad Juarez in the 1940s who created the flour-tortilla wrapped food to sell to poor children at a state-run special school. During this period the word burro was the colloquial term for “dunce” or “dullard”. The vendor would affectionately call these kids his burritos (little dullards). Fortunately that misguided term of endearment left the Mexican vocabulary long ago but the name for the wrapped tortillas lives on.
Wherever they came from, these delicious portable meals-in-big flour tortillas are extremely popular all over Northern Mexico and the Southwest US. For good reason!
- Skillet or wok
- 1 tsp Each: onion powder, dried oregano, salt
- 2 tsp Each: ground cumin, paprika (smoked if available)
- ¼ tsp Each: black pepper, cayenne pepper
- ½ tbsp Olive oil
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- ½ Onion, diced
- 1 lb Ground beef
- 2 tbsp Tomato paste
- 3 tbsp water
- 6 large Flour tortillas
- 3 cups Cooked rice, warm-not-hot
- 3 cups Shredded iceberg lettuce (cabbage if freezing)
- 1 cup Canned corn kernels, drained
- 1 cup Canned black beans, drained
- 14.5 oz Can diced tomatoes, drained
- ½ Red onion, diced
- 1½ cups Shredded cheddar cheese
- Cook Meat – Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add beef and cook, breaking it up, until it begins to lose red color. Stir in spices and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and water, and cook 3 minutes more. Remove from heat for around 10 minutes to cool slightly.
- Assemble Burritos – Warm tortillas in microwave oven for 30 seconds, either in original packaging or wrapped in moist paper towels. One-by-one, place a tortilla on a slightly larger foil surface, place a ¼-inch strip of warmed rice just below the center, and then top rice with beef, corn, beans, tomato, lettuce, and a pinch of red onion. Roll the bottom over the filling by an inch, wrap shorter side over the filling and then roll the whole thing up to a large tight cylinder with 1 end open. Wrap in the foil or melt cheese over them and serve.
- Burritos also freeze extremely well with some slight adjustments. Replace equal amounts of shredded lettuce with shredded cabbage and wet tomatoes are reduced from 3 to 1.