What’s Eating You? is a weekly advice column where I answer all of your burning cooking questions. To get the ball rolling, I’ve asked some of my friends to send me theirs. If you’d like your kitchen dilemma solved, feed it to me here.
Ben A. is a lawyer. He once made risotto four months ago. This is his office hat. Yep. Just another day at the office.
Ben, I believe you consumed more burritos per capita than anyone else in the state of Rhode Island when we were in college. It’s high time you started doing “two for Tuesday” in your own home. Since Cinco de Mayo is coming up, you might not be the only one with Mexi on the mind. So here’s how I see your situation:
Tex-Mex (as well as Southwestern and Mexican) is a super easy cuisine to play around with in your own kitchen, especially since it’s fusion in nature and includes a lot of pantry ingredients. The first step is to make sure you have all the right spices. Go to Kalustyans, Penzey’s, or even Whole Foods and pick up some good chile powders – ancho, chipotle, or something more obscure like Guajillo. You don’t need many varieties, so it just depends on how much heat you can take. No matter which kind you get, since it’s ground from one type of whole chile, you can count on these spices being a lot more flavorful than any generic chili powder you buy in the regular grocery aisle. The other two spices you’ll need are ground cumin, cinnamon, and paprika. Then you’re ready to roll.
Canned (or dried) beans are also a must-have in your pantry. Make sure to pick up black, kidney, and pinto beans – they are perfect for chili, nachos, and the inside of your burritos.
Once you have your pantry stocked, it’s all a matter of learning how to make the basic components of a good burrito: spicy black beans, Mexican rice, and guacamole. The salsa and sour cream you can easily purchase, or change it up and make your own pico de gallo – there’s a recipe for this in my book.
Guacamole is the only Tex-Mex component that won’t last long in your fridge. But if you try to have a few avocados on hand at all times, you can easily whip up a less complicated version by just mashing them together with some lime juice and salt. These spicy black beans, and any type of cooked rice, should last you at least a week.
Tortillas – corn or flour – last for months! So if you’re really in a Tex-Mex pinch, by far the easiest dish to make is a quesadilla. It’s the Mexican equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich. Just throw some shredded cheese inside and pan-fry on the stove. Top with salsa and sour cream and you’re in business.
If you’re looking to cook a one-pot meal for the week, Chili Con Carne is your ticket. Here’s my recipe.
Last but not least, fajitas are perhaps the easiest Tex-Mex meal to throw together. The weirdest question we ever got on the book tour – and it might have been at our very first reading in Pasadena – was: “how do I get my fajita pan to sizzle like it does in the restaurant?” Um, well….you heat it up!! It also helps to have a cast iron skillet (more on these here). But really, fajitas are simply marinated meat (think garlic, lime juice, and plenty of spices), onion and pepper strips, and a very hot pan. That’s it. Here’s an easy recipe for chicken fajitas.
For more semi-Mexi recipes, keep coming back all next week – I’ll be sharing some great options for your Cinco de Mayo party and all my favorite things involving spice on next week’s favorites board.