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A little pocket of Fall joy — fajita burritos

September 27, 2011

Other than a black eye, I survived my insanely overscheduled September unscathed. I’d like to report that I acquired said black eye at my conference but that would be a lie. Oh, my, it’s tempting, though – the false accusation that some colleague punched me during an argument about the applicability of Lacan’s psychoanalytic philosophy to the history of signal theory could have repercussions in my tiny subfield for years. The first rule of Post-Structuralism Club is that you don’t talk about Post-Structuralism Club.
It was the shovel. I was rearranging our yardwork implements collection and, while walking across the yard with two rakes and shovel in my hand, the shovel wriggled free, hit the ground on its tip and then flung itself at my face. I must admit it was hard to maintain my laid-back cool while stumbling around the yard wailing and holding my head. It was also hard not to tell everyone I met about “the incident,” mostly in an effort to move the conversation past startled looks and concerned stares. I told the students in the front row of my lecture class that I’d lost the shovel fight but won the knife fight. They’ll be studying extra hard for next week’s quiz, I’m just sure of it.
In any event, I’ve flung the shovel into the bushes and now use only the rakes to dig holes. I control my destiny with a push broom.
What I like about the recipe that follows (besides that it is a nutritious, slightly sweet, crunchy, filling little pocket of early Fall joy) is that it is infinitely flexible. Kids seem to like the mix and match approach to a meal. It also accommodates picky eaters. And if you’re expecting a crowd, double or triple the ingredients and you can feed an army. Additionally, everything but the corn can be made ahead of time and reheated. So it’s perfect for these last few warm Saturday afternoons when you want all your friends and relatives to come hang out with you in the yard of unfilled holes but you don’t actually want to put any effort into feeding them.
Choose Your Own Adventure/New World Fajita Burritos
Serves 4-6
Time: about an hour, 35 minutes active
1 onion, cut into eighths
3 bell peppers
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cans of black beans, reheated
3 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cobb
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed (optional)
1 bunch of cilantro, 1/4 cup of it chopped
6-8 tomatillos (firm and shiny, like tomatoes)
3 green onions
juice of half a lemon
pinch of sugar
8 flour or wheat tortillas (soft taco or burrito size)
1 cup pepitas (roasted shelled pumpkin seeds)
2 cups shredded cheese, either Monterrey jack or cheddar or a mix
salt and pepper
If you are broiling the onion and bell peppers rather than grilling them, turn on the broiler and toss the onion and bell peppers with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning every few minutes, until slightly charred. Set them aside to cool and then cut the peppers into 1/2 -inch strips. 
Set the oven to 425 degrees. Stab the sweet potatoes with a knife or fork, several times each and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake about an hour until soft but not mushy, turning once.  Set them aside to cool.
While the sweet potatoes are cooking (if you are grilling the onion and bell peppers rather than using the broiler, grill them now), heat up the black beans and their liquid in a pot over low heat on the stove.
Also on the stove, heat up a medium-sized pot of water to a soft boil. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and drop them in the water for ten seconds to blanch. Drain and put them in the blender or food processor along with one jalapeno pepper (one whole pepper will make tomatillo salsa with a serious kick so if you are sensitive to pepper heat, dial it down to half a jalapeno or none at all), the green onions, the non-chopped bunch of cilantro, lemon juice, and a pinch of sugar. Blend or process until thick and nearly smooth. Taste for lemon juice and sugar.
When the sweet potatoes are just about ready, heat up the other tablespoon of oil in a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. Mince the remaining jalapeno and add it to the pan along with the corn.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring continuously, until the corn is cooked but only just so. You still want it a bit crisp. Toss with the chopped cilantro, a little salt, and a lot of black pepper.
When the sweet potatoes are finished, place the tortillas in the cooling oven to warm.  Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 3/4 -inch cubes, and toss with the 1 Tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper.
And you’re done. I usually set up the parts in bowls as an assembly line: tortillasà grilled onions and bell peppersà beans (serve these with a slotted spoon) à corn à cheese à pepitas à tomatillo salsa.  Individuals can pick and choose their ingredients.  Everyone knows how to roll a burrito yes?  Place your ingredients in the middle of the tortilla, fold both sides inward over the ingredients and, tucking the front flap tightly under the ingredients as you begin, roll.  This is, of course, idealized. One flap will inevitably work its way loose and attempt to unload the burrito’s contents into your lap, so be sure to cradle the bottom in one hand as you eat.  A wet spot in the lap of your pants is even harder to explain away than a black eye. I can blame the shovel. You can only blame yourself.
Alix Hui is an assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.  Contact her at

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