Fill my burritos on the cheap
October 10, 2009 5:12 PM   Subscribe

What cheap, protein-y things taste good rolled up in a tortilla?

I like to bring cheap lunch to work with me, being rather underfunded at the moment. For a while I would bring chicken nuggets and barbecue sauce, but I would generally only remember that I needed to pack a lunch on my way out the door (I have an irregular schedule so I don't need to pack lunch every day), and often the effort/time required to find containers and pack up the food was too high and I'd wind up thinking "eh, I'll buy a sandwich just this once."

A couple of months ago, I cooked up a pound of black beans and made two dozen plastic-wrapped bean and cheese burritos for about $5, which I stuck in the freezer (the burritos, not the $5). This turned out to be perfect; I still remember that I need a lunch when I'm on my way out the door, but now I can just grab a burrito from the freezer and toss it in my bag.

My supply of burritos is dwindling, and I'm getting kind of sick of them, so for my next bulk cooking and freezing project I'd like to do something different. I have a few nice curries and chilis in my cooking repertoire, but I don't want to have to freeze portions in containers -- I want to cook 20+ portions at once, and I do not have that many old sour cream containers (or the space required to store them in my freezer). So something wrapped in a tortilla is really ideal. But I don't know what to make! This is where your suggestions come in. The specifications:

-It has to have a lot of protein. I am mildly hypoglycemic and I need protein with every meal. I also try to eat a lot of whole grains.
-It has to be cheap: below 50 cents per serving is good, and ~25 cents is ideal. (I love legumes and hearty grains, so this shouldn't be too challenging.)
-It has to freeze well and not get watery when reheated.
-I like most cuisines. I love umami, and I hate cilantro.
-Hot or cold is fine; I have access to a microwave.
-Cooking skill: moderate. I'd prefer cooking and assembly to take 2 hours or less.
-I'm not 100% attached to tortillas as the wrapper, but the resulting lunch does have to be a single, solid object that can be grabbed on the go.

Suggest away!
posted by pluckemin to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
Tuna salad, egg salad, chicken salad.
posted by decathecting at 5:25 PM on October 10, 2009

posted by fire&wings at 5:25 PM on October 10, 2009

Carnitas! It's essentially pulled pork and really delicious. It's a few bucks to get started but it goes a long way. Want the recipe?
posted by snsranch at 5:30 PM on October 10, 2009

peanut butter! If you have access to a gas stove, flame the tortilla side-over-side and add butter too (for flavor, and if you have it). If you have a microwave only, just warm it up. This is not prepare ahead, so no worries over freezing/runny-ness, you can do it even without a knife.
I think tofu would work too if you were willing to spice it, never tried myself.
Mom always said that beans and CORN tortillas make a "complete" (as in having all the amino acids -- building blocks of protiens) protien meal, but I am assuming you meant the flour type.
posted by bebrave! at 5:38 PM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah, Tamales! Some masa (I buy a mix that has tamale instructions on the side, and use Crisco for lard), crock up a couple chickens or roasts, and boil up some corn husks for about 10 min when you're ready to assemble.

It will take more than two hours if you do huge batches: but if you crock and shred the meat one night, then mix the masa while you boil the husks the next. Cook then or the next night (won't hurt to fridge overnight assembled). Freeze the resulting individual tamales in a container; break off one or two for a meal.

Crocking the meat - crock with a spicy curry flavoring or enchilada sauce you like. After it's cooked, shred the meat and store in the fridge overnight till you're ready for the second part. I save the floating fat for adding into the masa but mom told me not to do that.

Mix the masa while you boil the husks the next night. I usually put something on husks to hold them down in the water. After they are wet and pliant, take them off of the heat to let them cool a little.

When you're ready to wrap, lay out the husks on your hand, spread a thin layer of mixed masa, then hunk on some shredded chicken or roast, a little more masa, and then steam.

You'll know they're done when they're a bit firm to the touch, steaming on a low boil for a couple of hours. It's hard for me to describe, because I usually do several dozen at a time.

You can do this all in one night if your meat is ready and you only do a dozen or so.

If you want to know "what a tamale" should be consistency wise, I suggest buying a frozen Amy's tamale and trying it.

Wraps You can freeze wraps, IIRC, that aren't burritos - fill with chicken and goat cheese and I don't know if you can freeze lettuce well, but maybe you can use thawed spinach and re-freeze it in the wraps? Check with someone who knows more about food safety ... or blanch and pat dry your own spinach. Anyway, chicken, goat cheese, raspberry vinagrette, spinach.

Crepes Make some medium-thickness large pancakes (not too thin since they won't be served fresh, not too thick or they'll crack), fill with cottage cheese and your favorite fruits and nuts.

I wonder if this will work I've seen recipes for rolled steaks - pound them flat, roll up ingredients, bake up, slice and serve - you could make yourself some rollups that way ...
posted by tilde at 5:42 PM on October 10, 2009 [7 favorites]

These are amazing burritos: Black Bean and Carrot Burritos with Cilantro, and although they contain black beans, the major flavor is the carrots and the cumin. I always double or triple the recipe and use medium sized tortillas and it makes a lot -- way more than the four that the recipe says it makes.
posted by k8lin at 5:45 PM on October 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

I forgot to mention that I always skip the cilantro because I hate buying herbs that I don't grow in my backyard, and they still taste good.

Unfortunately, you can't really freeze lettuce, as tilde suggests -- it doesn't take well to being frozen and thawed because of the high water content.
posted by k8lin at 6:00 PM on October 10, 2009

Well, your classic sources of cheap protein are legumes and tofu (which is itself a transubstantiated legume). I honestly can't think of a classic tofu dish that would go well inside a burrito, although you might be able to improvise some kind of tofu-for-chicken switcheroo or something.

With legumes, though, look to Indian vegetarian cuisine for your lunchtime delight. Any fairly dry dish made with whole beans or lentils would work well in a wheat tortilla, and in fact whole wheat tortillas are my lazy-ass substitute for chapatis. The fillings used in samosas and parathas would be especially appropriate since they're not too runny. There are a bunch of Indian recipe blogs online so I won't give you specific recipes, but start your search with "samosa". (Extra bonus hint: adding a couple of potatoes to any legume curry would probably thicken it enough to be practical in a burrito.)
posted by Quietgal at 6:05 PM on October 10, 2009

I think chicken and rice burritos might work well. Cook up and shred up some chicken. Also cook up some brown rice - in broth, or it's not going to taste like much (I usually use vegetable bouillon). Toss the chicken and rice into a tortilla with whatever embellishments suit your fancy. I usually throw in some salsa verde and maybe some chopped jalapeno. Tomato salsa also works well. It's great with or without cheese.

For a different tactic, why not just fill a tortilla with one of your curries? I've had curry wrap sandwiches before, and they're delicious. The ones I'm familiar with tend to be bulked out with potato (and tofu), but you could drop the potato and bulk it with the protein of your choice.
posted by pemberkins at 6:06 PM on October 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Taco meat sounds like it would work perfectly....
posted by raf at 6:08 PM on October 10, 2009

On non-preview: Or maybe you can't lose the potato, since, as Quietgal points out, that's what's keeping things thick enough to stay in the tortilla.
posted by pemberkins at 6:08 PM on October 10, 2009

You could also try making up a batch of stuffed peppers and freezing those, if the pepper is enough of a wrapper for you. Or for a less traditional stuffed pepper, you could fill a raw pepper with tuna/chicken/egg salad (I have doubts about how well that would freeze, but you could probably keep several days' worth in the fridge.)
posted by pemberkins at 6:12 PM on October 10, 2009

Hot dogs with the usual toppings.
posted by speedo at 6:15 PM on October 10, 2009

I love fish (like salmon or tilapia) wrapped in a tortilla -- add salsa or lemon juice, some crunchies, avocado if you think it'll freeze up ok, and if you're ambitious, a little crema ( sour cream mixed with lime juice -- I do it with yogurt instead of sour cream)...very yummy.
posted by keener_sounds at 6:15 PM on October 10, 2009

Chicken (preferably breast meat), first baked or pan-seared until just cooked through and then braised in the pan in salsa fresca. Then you toss it with a 50/50 salsa and sour cream blend and whatever else you wantL black beans, cheese, veggies, mexican-style rice pilaf, etc. You can also take a break from tortillas and just eat all the above over romain: it's particularly good when you break unsalted blue corn chips over it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:24 PM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the carnitas/pulled pork idea. Pork shoulder is really cheap and super tasty. It will might take a bit more than 2 hours to get really done, but the active time is minimal.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:30 PM on October 10, 2009

Tempeh! It's definitely a different flavor than your standard rice-beans-cheese burrito. You could grill some up (here's a recipe from the awesome 101cookbooks) and throw it in a tortilla with whatever sounds good to you.

Or you could grill up some veggies and chicken and make a burrito out of that. Also consider doing variations on rice/beans but with ingredients that give you different flavors. Maybe use chickpeas (lots of protein there) and use some of the seasonings you use in your curries and make a burrito out of that?
posted by aka burlap at 6:33 PM on October 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Spanish rice is an awesome and cheap burrito filler, if you have a rice cooker.

Also, slightly more expensive--- dice a few tomatoes and onions, add chopped cilantro and lime juice. A little bit of this mixture in a burrito goes a long way. (and rinse the cilantro thoroughly first --- it usually has lots of sand in it)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:15 PM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

You mention that you have a couple of curry and chili recipes: to stuff those into tortillas, I usually mix them with a bunch of rice to make it more dry. You could make a huge batch of dahl and mix it with rice before rolling it up. I also am a huge fan of rice and peanut sauce in tortillas, and I bet that some tofu in there would be delicious.
posted by ms.v. at 7:24 PM on October 10, 2009

Scrambled eggs. With cheese, sausage, beans, salsa, peppers, leftover veggies, etc.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 PM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

moo shoo chicken or pork
posted by CathyG at 7:51 PM on October 10, 2009

Lots of excellent ideas so far! I've marked as best answer the ones that hew most closely to my specifications, but they're all helpful. Keep the suggestions coming if you've got 'em!
posted by pluckemin at 7:59 PM on October 10, 2009

Sweet potatoes and black beans (I substitute vegetarian refried, per my preference.) I prepare the mixture and freeze it in individual servings in sandwich bags. I've also assembled the burritos and frozen them.
posted by lemonwheel at 8:07 PM on October 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

It might be a great way to eat chili, that won't turn your tupperware all orange.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:20 PM on October 10, 2009

I never froze them, but when I was stretching my food budget I'd buy whole wheat tortilas, hummus, bulk spinach and a tomato for easy healthy meals. Add cheese if you like. Very tasty.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:27 PM on October 10, 2009

I'd go with chicken breast sliced into strips, then sauteed with onions and bell peppers. Season with garlic, cumin, red pepper, salt, black pepper. Maybe add some cheese. Breast meat is healthy, but thigh is tastier and cheaper, although fattier.

Maybe less expensive (if you can find a good Mexican supermarket) chorizo and potato burritos. Peel and cube potatoes (1 inch cubes). Put the potatoes in water, and start a five minute timer when the water starts boiling. Drain the potatoes after five minutes of boiling. If the chorizo is loose, that's fine. If it's in cooked links, slice them in half, then at an angle giving you long, thing matchsticks. Chop an onion. Sautee the chorizo (if it's loose sausage, drain it). Add the onion, then the cubed potatoes. Add pepper, salt, garlic, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Sautee until the potatoes have soaked up the greasy goodness. Crush the potato cubes lightly (don't mash it, just... crush). Fill tortillas with mixture, again, possibly with cheese.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:45 PM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Breakfast Burritos.
posted by kylej at 9:02 PM on October 10, 2009

TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is very inexpensive and can be cooked in several ways. It comes dry, you soak it in water or broth for 15 minutes. Add some taco seasoning and sautee and it is almost indistinguishable from ground beef but much healthier and much more cost effective. One pound is $2.59 on Amazon and if you live near a health food store they should be able to get it for you. Remember that one pound of dry TVP will absorb a ridiculous amount of liquid so it is really more like 5 pounds once prepared. Good luck!
posted by headless at 10:24 PM on October 10, 2009

Mexican brands of sardines in tomato sauce are RIDICULOUSLY cheap and very tasty, perhaps with a bit of rice and white cheese. Other sardines will do just fine, but check the ethnic food aisle to experience the miracle of Mexican prices in American grocery stores. Sardines are addictive, extremely healthy for you, and sustainable to boot.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:37 AM on October 11, 2009

Just a heads up on the Tamale - stopped at the store and Amy's was all covered in verde sauce. So, yeah, don't. Go to a restaurant sometime and order one. But you need to steam them for at least a couple of hours.

Here's a brand of masa I used featured on this food site. They say:


* 4 cups MaSeCa Instant corn Masa Mix
* 3 tsp. sea salt
* 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (no salt)
* 1 cup fresh corn oil
* 2 1/2 cups chicken broth

I forgot about the chicken broth, which I use, and I skip the garlic and sea salt, but that's me. :)

Anyway, you might want to do a small batch first. Half a cup of corn meal, and a quarter cup of chicken broth. Steam for a couple hours on low.

Traditionally, tamales are more masa than meat. It's meant to be a way to stretch meat. However, you can get away with a very thin amount of masa around the meat. I do mine that way because I'm not a huge fan of the masa - I want the flavorful meats.
posted by tilde at 4:05 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

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