Every year around this time, when New York is at its grayest and slushiest, when I can barely take a walk without think-screaming Nasty! Nasty! Nasty!, I begin to dream of Austin, Texas. Winter in Austin is a really beautiful thing. The crocuses bloom, and the redbud trees, and the ones with the tiny pale-yellow blossoms. There is music everywhere, and you can listen to it, often for free, in backyard-like gardens under big, moss-covered live oak trees strung in lights. And, of course, there is really incredible Mexican and Tex-Mex food. When I am in Austin visiting family, we begin most days with a walk to a sunny lot full of taco trucks to eat the breakfast tacos at Torchy’s, which are cheap and perfect, and which you get to eat at picnic tables while grackles shriek at you and Johnny Cash plays through a stereo system wired to a tree.
Breakfast burritos are a very loved and lovable Tex-Mex staple, about as gringo-y as they come. And in a Northeastern winter, even one where we’ve had as many weirdo 60-degree days as we’ve had snowy ones, they are about the most warming, most springtime-optimistic thing you can feed yourself. It’s not Austin, but it’ll do.
They also freeze well, which means you can do a big cook, roll the burritos up, and stash them in the freezer for rushed mornings or breakfast-for-dinner occasions. But before you go putting anything in the freezer, remember: Everything will freeze, but not everything will reheat in a way that you’ll want to eat it. In terms of breakfast burrito ingredients, think soft creamy dairy things (sour cream, goat cheese, feta, queso fresco, etc.), avocado, most pickles, and potatoes.
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Luckily, the list of things that do freeze well is much longer: tofu or tofu scramble, scrambled eggs (surprising but true, at least in the context of a burrito), beans, cooked greens, salsa, cooked (and/or canned) chiles, melty cheeses like cheddar or jack, meats (like shredded chicken, browned ground meat, or sausage), pickled jalapeños, rice, and cooked vegetables (like onions or peppers).
You’ll also need flour tortillas; unfortunately, corn tortillas aren’t as flexible and are more prone to tearing, which is bad news for a burrito. Depending on the size of the burrito you’ll want, pick either 8-inch (slightly smaller than your average burrito) or 10- to 12-inch (standard burrito size) tortillas.
A few things to keep in mind before you get rolling:
Don't dampen the mood
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The enemy of good burritos is moisture. (Soggy city.) To avoid this, cook all the components of your burrito, and let them cool to room temperature—otherwise, you’ll incorporate steam into the burrito. It’ll be harder to roll, get icy in the freezer, and be less likely to hold its structural integrity upon reheating. If you are using any wet ingredients like salsa, drain off as much excess liquid as possible. Same goes for greens like spinach, which release a lot of moisture when cooked.
Your eyes will be bigger than your burrito. Try your hardest not to overfill, or your burrito will either not roll up or split a seam. If you’ve ever made dumplings at home, you’ll understand: This will mean putting in less filling than you really think there ought to be.
Don't skimp on seasoning
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You’ve had a burrito before; I don’t need to tell you how to mix and match elements. I will say, though, that you should season each component well—that is, don’t just use a couple of spoonfuls of black or pinto beans straight from the can. Instead, simmer them down with cinnamon and cumin. Sauté your greens with garlic and hot sauce. Coat cubed tofu in olive oil and some sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo, then bake it. Taste each thing you’re adding before putting them into the burrito to see how they’ll be together—do they need more salt or hot sauce?
Do wrap it up
Before you start rolling, line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and make room in your freezer for the sheet to fit. Freeze the burritos in a single layer first, until they’re frozen through, before transferring to a zip-top bag. This way, they won’t stick together. I’d also recommend wrapping each in foil before freezing to prevent them from tasting like the freezer.
Do rock that roll
Roll it tightly! As an alum (’12) of the Chipotle assembly line, I can share the following tips with you: Fold the left and right sides in to touch (or as close to it as possible) in the center of the burrito.
Photo by Caroline Lange
Then take the side closest to you, and in as swift a motion as possible, fold it up and over the filling and folded-in sides, using your hand to almost tuck this new top side under the filling, just barely pulling the filling backwards. It should feel like you’re gently squeezing the filling, making it a compact burrito shape. Finally, roll the compact burrito shape over the remaining tortilla (the side farthest from you), tucking in any excess tortilla as you roll. Set on the prepared baking sheet seam-down.
Photo by Caroline Lange
Vegetarian Breakfast Burritos
A few more suggestions to get your wheels a-turning:
Tofu scramble + sautéed peppers and onions + black beans simmered with a few shakes each cinnamon and cumin + hot sauce
Scrambled eggs + grated cheddar + spinach or kale sautéed with garlic + salsa
Scrambled eggs + shredded rotisserie chicken + canned green chiles + grated jack cheese
Scrambled eggs + browned crumbled sausage + pickled jalapeños + pinto beans cooked with salsa and cumin
For the spiced black beans
2 14-ounce cans black beans
A few shakes each cinnamon and cumin
A few spoonfuls of tomatillo salsa (which is what I had in the fridge—you could use whatever you have)
Salt to taste
For the greens
1 bunch collards
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
For the scrambled eggs
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
6 ounces freshly grated pepper jack
8 12-inch flour tortillas
How to Make It
Empty the cans of black beans with their liquid into a medium saucepan. Season with a fat pinch of salt, the cinnamon and cumin (if you need a marker, start at ½ teaspoon each and adjust to taste), and the salsa. Let simmer over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until it no longer looks soupy. This should take about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the collard leaves from their stems, discarding the stems and chopping up the leaves. (Roll them up a few at a time, cigar-like, and slice them into long ribbons.) In a large frying pan, heat the tablespoon of olive oil with the garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle gently, add the greens and a good pinch of salt and toss carefully so that the greens are coated with the oil—I like a pair of tongs for this. Add a few tablespoon of water to the pan and cover, allowing the greens to steam, and turning occasionally with the tongs, until the greens are tender.
While the greens cool, scramble the eggs over medium-low heat. Take them off the heat a few moments before you usually would, when they’re still a bit soft looking—they’ll continue to cook in the pan.
Taste the eggs, beans, and greens, and adjust the seasonings as necessary. While they cool, grate the cheese and line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Make enough room in the freezer that the baking sheet will fit.
When the eggs, beans, and greens are cool, build the burritos one by one. Lay down a few spoonfuls of the beans, then the greens, then the eggs, then the cheese. Roll the burritos, wrap each in foil, and set them seam-side-down on the baking sheet. Freeze the burritos in a single layer for at least 6 hours, until frozen solid, then place in a zip-top bag and freeze for up to 3 months.
To reheat, put a whole foil-wrapped burrito right in a 400°F oven for about half an hour. (This is a good thing to do while you run around getting dressed and downing a cup of coffee.) If you’re not sure if it’s warm all the way through, slice it in half and check—you can always return it to the oven. Take the foil off for the last few minutes (and set the burrito on a baking sheet) if you like the tortilla to get a bit crispy. If you have a microwave, remove the foil and microwave on a plate for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, flipping it over halfway through so that it cooks evenly.