The weather here in New England has finally turned cold, with Arctic air on course to hit us this weekend. That means virus season is upon us, and in fact my husband is sick. Many people turn to simple comfort foods when they catch a cold: soups, macaroni, chicken pot pie.
I think spicy. Chile peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges, and their capsaicin can help with those achy joints. Also, the spicy chile helps clear your sinuses and relieve sore throats. So tonight for dinner, I made a classic New Mexican staple, papitas con carne al caldo. Growing up, we ate this as a main course with sides of rice, beans, and a green vegetable such as zucchini or sauteed spinach, along with one of Abuela’s fresh flour tortillas, but in the age of Chipotle, I use it as a burrito filler. My kids love this because they can choose exactly what they want to put in their burrito. It’s a modular meal, with a healthy balance of meat, carbohydrates, and vegetables.
Plus you can add as much or as little spice as you want. My husband and my older daughter prefer red chile powder, which they sprinkle over their cheese and then melt in the microwave. I personally prefer salsa, and my go-to brand is El Pinto, which is thankfully now available on Amazon. Occasionally, I’ll add a dash of sriracha. My ten-year-old still doesn’t like spicy food and puts none in her burrito.
The basic recipe is simple meat and potatoes, and the key to its flavor is Mexican oregano. A completely different species from Italian or Greek oregano, it has a marvelous, pungent flavor that’s essential to all Southwestern cooking. It’s now generally available at Whole Foods where you find dried chile pods, and of course, like everything, you can order it from Amazon.
PAPITAS CON CARNE AL CALDO
1 lb. lean ground beef, preferably organic, grass fed beef
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large or 2 medium potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold or russet
1 carrot, shredded
Place the ground beef in a large skillet or everyday pan on medium heat. Add the garlic. Put the oregano in the palm of your hand and rub your palms together to sprinkle it over the meat. Add the Worcestershire sauce. As the meat begins to cook, break it up into small, bite-size chunks and toss it around to combine all the ingredients.
As the meat is browning, dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. If you are using a thin-skinned potato such as Yukon Gold, you can leave the skin on, but peel russets to make sure you find any bad spots. When the meat is almost completely cooked, throw in the potatoes and toss to coat them in the fat from the meat.
Finish browning the meat and add just enough water to cover the meat and potatoes. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until the water is almost completely gone and the potatoes are tender. You may wish to turn on your hood fan; it will get steamy! Just before the water completely disappears, add the shredded carrot and let it steam on top. When the water is completely gone, stir in the carrots and remove the pan from heat.
Serve with beans, rice, and whatever condiments you prefer in a burrito. Also perfectly fine in a taco. Recommended condiments: shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Mexican blend), diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, diced bell peppers (for even more vitamin C), avocado slices or guacamole, roasted or grilled vegetables, salsa, chile powder, sriracha. Pro tip: don’t overfill your burrito. You can always have a second one!
Another day, I’ll discuss how to make beans from scratch in an Instant Pot. Homemade frijoles are a bajillion times better than canned beans, but I didn’t have the time to make them tonight.
Happy eating, and may the chile burn out any cold you come across this season.