Slapdash burritos are a handy lunch or dinner in any season. Brown some ground beef (or chicken or turkey) with chopped onion and garlic; add chili powder, adobo and cumin; allow to simmer for a few minutes. Heat up your tortillas, spoon on a wrap-able portion of the savory meat and top with shredded cheese (cheddar or "Mexican" blend), chopped tomato, chopped avocado or guacamole, a dab of salsa and a glop of sour cream.
Wrap and eat - with fork or smeary-faced without.
And for an enhancement you could have heated some regular or black-bean refritos and spread a skin of that on the tortilla before piling on the rest.
But say you don't want slapdash burritos. You want something that doesn't seem such a Sloppy Joe's version of a south-of-the-border concept. You want to put in epic effort and wait days for the result. And you want the result to be special.
We can help you with that.
Here's a recipe whose original text - passed to me on a pencil-scrawled, 3-by-5 card now encrusted with a quarter-century of cooking spatters - was improvised by a couple of relocated Californians who missed the cuisine of their favorite Mexican restaurant back in L.A. I have fiddled, and continue to fiddle, with it. You can, too.
The core element is a hefty piece of chuck. Depending on the size of your household or party, or the number of quick future meals you want to store in your freezer, you can start with two roasts. In which case, more or less double the other ingredients.
1 beef chuck roast (2 to 3 pounds)
1 packet onion soup mix
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 giant or 2 15-ounce cans stewed tomato
1 15-ounce can refried beans
1 C black beans (canned or fresh-soaked)
5-6 T chili powder (I favor rich, dark Ancho)
1/4 C vinegar (avoid fancy)
1 T cumin
2 T adobo seasoning
1 T powdered chocolate
salt (strictly optional)
Set the beef chuck on a goodly sheet of aluminum foil, in a metal or Pyrex baking pan, and sprinkle the onion-soup mix over top. (If doubling the recipe, repeat with second roast atop the first.) Wrap the foil around the meat (probably need a second sheet) and set pan in oven at 200-225 degrees. Cook overnight, 8-10 hours.
Once meat has cooled, pour off any juices into the pot that will be used for cooking the main product. Shred the meat - by hand makes the most sense - and add it to the pot. Also toss in everything else and stir into a redolent mass. Cover the pot and allow it all to marinate for a full day. (It's your call whether to refrigerate; I'd do so only in dangerously sweltering weather.)
The final cooking stage, also in a 200- to 225-degree oven, needs 6 to 8 hours. I've never found an hour or two to be critical, at either this or the earlier stage.
And that's it. You can serve as soon as you care to, though for the record it will taste even better the next day. Heat some tortillas, spoon the rich, red-brown mess over them one by one, fold them over and top with sour cream. If you want to be elegant about it, lay fresh chopped tomato and/or avocado and/or minced cilantro over all. And for this recipe, you do need a fork.
Gourmand Richard Jameson edits the Queen Anne News.