An easy recipe for a spicy, Mexican inspired meal. When having friends over for dinner, this flavour packed meal will not disappoint – and easily can serve a lot of people (even vegan and gluten free diets)! Uses some of my favourite ingredients…
We’ve been craving a hearty chili here in the flat, and I was at a loss for how to make that happen with the few ingredients we had on hand. My closest friend recently reached out to ask me for this recipe, and inspiration struck! When she asked, I couldn’t remember what it was she was asking for. We make a lot of fajitas and burritos here, but this time in particular I had used quinoa as the base for the “chili”.
I reflected, and remembered ! It was such a simple recipe I couldn’t believe I had forgotten. There are four parts to this: tortillas, sweet potatoes, the quinoa “chili”, and toppings. It all takes a little bit of patience to come together, but it is also so low maintenance that you won’t worry about the long quinoa cooking time.
Quinoa is a wonder grain. In California, it was lauded as THE super food, a complete protein, gluten free – all the things that the health obsessed Californians in the small town where I lived in college love. Quinoa was a hugely important crop to the Inca empire, where it was revered thousands of years before the Californians got their fingers in it. Quinoa is characterized by a strong link to the indigenous people who have cultivated it for thousands of years, referring to it as “the mother of grains”.
In a world full of food insecurity, specifically in the global south, quinoa plays an important role for communities to receive proper nutrients. One article says: “Its high nutritional value, its genetic diversity, its adaptability and low production costs, made FAO consider quinoa a “strategic cultivation to contribute to food security and food sovereignty.” This is true mainly in those places where populations do not have consistent access to other protein sources, or where nutrition is inadequate and insufficient. Fifty per cent of world supply comes from Bolivia (more than 40%), Peru, Ecuador, and Chile.” Read more on quinoa here.
I keep this all in mind and in the blog to help remind us all of where our food comes from. As I have said, it is important to eat in season, but also to eat local. Counterintuitive to give a lecture on this, I know, however the grain I used was “British quinoa” (found in the back of a cupboard while rummaging for dinner ingredients), which does vary from the red quinoa or other varieties you can get back home, but serves the same purpose.
Whew, I bet you weren’t expecting that rant. Let’s get into the recipe:
I love a good burrito. Like, a good burrito. But finding good tortillas in London is not an easy task. Peckham surprised me with their two decent Mexican restaurants, but both are unfortunately closed at the moment. Inspired by my previous bread making endeavors, I decided to take on tortillas for this recipe. There is yet again a recipe within a recipe.
This is the timeline of what I did to create this meal, a delicate balance of timing:
- Preheat grill to 220ºC for sweet potatoes
- Make tortilla dough, and let rest
- Cube sweet potato, place on baking tray and rub in olive oil and Trader Joe’s taco mix (handily left behind by my previous flatmate)
- Dice onion, and prepare a saucepan with olive oil, heating on medium heat
- Add spices, quinoa, and bouillon. Let simmer. Forever
- Start rolling the tortillas and heating them over medium heat
- Add black beans to quinoa
- Remove sweet potato from oven
Now, for each component step by step:
Tortillas are simply flour, oil, and water, mixed up and formed into dough balls that you then let sit to rest for 15 minutes to an hour to two hours. I measured all of my ingredients, adding a pinch of salt and baking powder to the dry ingredients, and stirred it together to get a fairly malleable dough. The recipe can be adjusted easily to make more or less tortillas, as needed.
Once they were mixed together (see first picture below for the big dough ball), I separated the dough into about 8 even pieces and rolled them in my hands into balls. They formed small balls, that fit easily in my palm. They get laid out onto a lightly floured surface, and once all the balls are formed, I pressed them gently with my palm to make little discs and covered them with a towel to rest. The second picture below shows them in various stages: pressed out, rolled in balls, and unformed.
After letting them rest, I personally left them for about 45 minutes while I got other things set up in the kitchen, lightly flour a rolling pin and the surface where I planned to roll them out, and roll! Mine came out in some silly shapes, as I am unpracticed, but they were thin and beautiful.
Aaron heated a pan over medium heat, and once it was hot, I gently laid the tortilla into the pan. Once bubbles begin to form on the top surface, you know you’re going in the right direction. They cooked for about two minutes total, until the bubbly bits browned and the consistency was not too crispy and flipping halfway through. I’d say pretty good for a first attempt! We stacked the cooked ones on a plate, and again covered with a towel until dinner was served to keep them warm.
In the meantime, the sweet potatoes were in the oven at 220ºC, cooking away to perfection in the Trader Joe’s taco seasoning mix. If you haven’t got Trader Joe’s accessible to you, the contents of the mix are: sea salt, cumin, cayenne pepper, cane sugar, paprika, onion, garlic, black pepper, red bell pepper, oregano, chili pepper, and smoked paprika. Ultimately, you can make up your own seasoning using some or all of those ingredients (remember what I said about the importance of having lots of spices???) and mix them together in a bowl before tossing your sweet potatoes in them. I love spice, and I love flavour, so I use a healthy amount of the spice mix on top of the potatoes. That means, for one sweet potato, about a third to a half of the pack of the seasoning mix.
The quinoa black bean mix takes patience, as I mentioned before. The first thing to do is dice up an onion and cook it in oil until soft, and then prepare bouillon. I use the electric kettle and bouillon powder, but if you have fresh vegetable stock that will work as well. I measured very scientifically, using a literal mug as my amount of quinoa for two people and 500mL of the bouillon. I added some of the spice mix to the onion until it was fragrant, and then added the quinoa dry to soak up some of the flavour. Finally, I added all the bouillon in one go and brought it to a simmer.
Quinoa, like rice, needs a 2:1 ratio of water/grain. Often, I’ve noted that it actually requires a bit more than this. If you are cooking with 1 cup of quinoa, start with 2 cups of water. Don’t add more water until it becomes very obvious that you need to – such as if there is very little water in the pot after 30 minutes. If you add water too early, absorption will be changed. Just like with rice. Let it do its thing. Trust the process.
All this needs is to sit and simmer for a good amount of time – probably around 40 minutes. You may need to add more water, I just added the juice from the can of beans before adding in all of the beans. Once it is nearly all cooked, and the liquid drawn up, the whole can of black beans can go in and the mix simmers some more.
Finally, all of the pieces of the meal individually are done and it can all come together. Monterey Jack cheese, or if you’re lucky enough to have queso fresco, and a spicy sauce go really well with this meal. Other toppings could include: sour cream, avocado or guacamole, fresh cilantro, jalapeños, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage…
Unfortunately at the best of times in London I have limited access to these (except my flatmates know how to make an amazing salsa with chopped tomatoes and onion and secret spices, as well as a tasty guacamole), and now at the worst of times, we had to eat the meal without toppings, except for a small bit of salsa and sour cream we happened to have.
It still tasted fantastic though. Hearty, filling, but unstoppably good (moreish as they say in the UK) – we kept eating long after we were full. My stomachless body suffered, feeling the pain in the middle of the night with bile reflux and before bed having a low blood sugar crash thanks to a slice of banana bread eaten an hour after this meal… but it was worth it. My stomachless friends, know your limits ! I pushed mine far over the edge with this meal. I ate both of the servings on my plate, which took me a long time, and when I started the smaller one I knew I shouldn’t be doing it… but I did it…
Now we have lunch for today! This ended up making enough for three or four people, and we were just two.
If you’re afraid of spice, you can modify to suit anyone in the family, but I recommend loading it up with as much spice as possible. Having a bit of fresh tomato or onion would add another nice cooling aspect to the meal, as well as having sour cream for over top. As with all of my recipes it is adaptable to what YOU like. And if you don’t know what you like, there is plenty of room for experimenting.
Quinoa, Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos
sweet potatoes: 1 sweet potato
1 packet TJ’s spice mix* (see above for spice mix)
2 Tbsp olive oil
quinoa mix: 1/2 small onion, diced
1 cup quinoa
1 can black beans
500 mL vegetable bouillon
1 Tbsp olive oil
tortillas: 210g flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
36mL olive oil
125 mL warm water
FOR THE TORTILLAS:
1. Mix together the dry ingredients until well combined. Add in the oil and water while still stirring. Mix until smooth
2. Put on a lightly floured work surface and separate into 6-8 equal bits. Turn each bit lightly in flour and then roll until formed into a small ball. Place on lightly floured work surface. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Let rest under a dish towel for 15 minutes – 1 hour.
3. Heat a large pan over medium heat once rested. Using a floured work surface and floured rolling pin, roll out each tortilla to about 6 inches in diameter. They should be near translucent.
*If while rolling, the dough bounces back and does not remain in the circle, they need to rest a bit longer.
4. Cook in the warmed pan until bubbles begin to form on the surface, and a few brown spots appear on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip to the other side and cook for 30 seconds, until brown spots appear
*If browning too fast, or becoming crispy, reduce the heat.
5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 with all tortilla balls, until finished. Form a stack of cooked ones and store under a dish towel until ready to serve to retain heat.
FOR THE SWEET POTATOES:
1. Preheat grill to 220ºC.
2. Peel and dice the sweet potato. Place onto a foil lined baking sheet.
3. Drizzle olive oil over top, and add spice mix. Mix with hands until evenly coated.
4. Put into the oven for about 30 minutes, checking in halfway. When finished, the edges will be brown and a fork will easily insert into the potatoes.
FOR THE QUINOA:
1. Dice a small onion and add to a saucepan with olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook until softened.
2. Add quinoa and a pinch of the leftover spice mix from the sweet potatoes. Cook for 30 seconds, until spices mixed in evenly.
3. Add the 500mL of bouillon. Bring to a simmer, and let cook.
4. After 30 minutes, add water if needed or add juice from bean can. If the quinoa is no longer tough, add the can of black beans.
5. Cook all together for about 10 minutes longer, adding spices if you see necessary. Almost all of the water should be soaked up, and the liquid that remains should be quite thick.
6. Remove from heat, and serve !
Let me know how your tortillas come out, and what other spicy foods you like to eat ! As always, feel free to comment with questions or modifications.