Battle of the Burrito: Mexican American Food v. Mexican American Food

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Mexican-American food seems to be more popular than ever these days, and burrito locations are on the rise. When Chipotle Mexican Grill first came to Atlanta a couple of years ago, it was all the rage. One successful location gave way to many more, and their friendly competitor Moe’s Southwest Grill wasn’t far behind. So what is it about these burrito chains that make them so successful? How do they differ from each other? Most importantly, where can you score a mouth watering burrito near you?

Chipotle was founded by chef Steve Ells, who dreamt of making a gourmet burrito but never intended on opening more than the first Chipotle restaurant (in Colorado). Steve’s vision has spread to nearly every state, with almost a dozen locations in Connecticut alone. The company prides itself on smart, sustainable produce, supporting farmers who use ethical techniques and free-range animals (unlike the poor animal treatment at Wal-Mart’s Christensen Farms). The policy of using fresh ingredients and producing “food with integrity” means customers can feel good about bringing business to a company that is mindful of the environment, animals, and farmers. The cilantro-infused rice and amazingly delicious guacamole are added perks. 

Nearly a decade after the first Chipotle location was opened in Denver, Moe’s was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 2000. Similar to Chipotle, Moe’s prides themselves on high-quality ingredients. They obtain their meat from farmers who practice cage-free techniques and have steroid-free animals, fed with grass. They also feature organic tofu and their menu does not contain any trans fats or harmful msg. One interesting fact about Moe’s, according to their website, is that their locations play music of artists who have passed on – so you won’t be hearing any current Top 40’s if you dine in. Many locations feature “Moe’s Monday’s,” which offers customers a burrito and drink combo at a discounted cost. No matter what day of the week you stop in to Moe’s, you’ll receive a heaping helping of tortilla chips with every meal. The salsa bar is also a fun way to taste different dips for your chips. 

So what’s with the rise in popularity of the burrito? Perhaps it’s the trendy new twist on the Mexican classic, and the appeal to organic food lovers. Perhaps it’s the convenience of grabbing one on the go and not needing any utensils to eat a darn good meal, or the fact that you can conveniently place an order from a few touches of the iPhone (yes, there’s an app for that). Or perhaps it’s just that they are so tasty no one can resist.

Chipotle and Moe’s are worthy opponents to each other. The two chains have more in common than not; the pride behind quality ingredients and responsible partners and suppliers are shared by both companies. Both feature custom-built burritos, allowing patrons to walk along the burrito bar and choose their fillings (think Subway, but Mexican). They both make a killer burrito and some mean guacamole – and everyone you talk to is going to have an opinion on whose they like better. It’s really a matter of personal taste. Both companies having numerous locations across the state, it’s easy to try them both and compare. What’s your favorite?

How to Make an Authentic Mexican Tamale

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If you are new to the art of making tamales, this is a great place to start. First you need to make sure you have all of the ingredients and tools and then you can learn how to wrap and steam them. They are delicious any time of year, but since they tend to be made in huge batches, they are primarily made during the winter holidays. Making a batch of tamales is a great excuse to gather in the kitchen with friends and family for a day of cooking.

How long does it take to make Tamales?

Making tamales is not difficult, but it is a very time consuming process. It can take a whole day to prepare a large batch of tamales. To save time you can prepare the dough and fillings on one day and wrap and steam them on the next.

The way tamales are made varies by region and the cook; here is a recipe that shows you how to make a traditional tamale. 

Quick Guide to Tamale Ingredients

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Dried cornhusks are used as tamale wrappers and can be found at grocery stores and Mexican markets. The husks are softened in water before using.

Masa harina is corn tortilla flour. “Masa” is dough made of dried corn; it’s treated with slaked lime and ground, then dried and powdered to become masa harina.

Lard, which is rendered pork fat, gives tamales flavor and the fat needed for the dough’s texture. (You can also use shortening.) Buy it at a Mexican market.

Water or broth moistens the masa harina and helps create the right dough texture.

Salt is a natural flavor enhancer and boosts the corn flavor of the tamale dough.

Baking powder is used in some tamale dough as a leavening agent, which helps the dough rise a bit when baking and gives it a lighter texture.

Tamale Step 1: Soak cornhusks

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Place the dried cornhusks in a pan or dish and cover with hot water, allowing husks to soak until soft (thin, pliable husks require less soaking time than tough, brittle ones). Softening cornhusks can take up to 30 minutes.

Tamale Step 2: Make the masa (dough)

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With an electric mixer, beat the lard or shortening until light and fluffy. Beat in the dry ingredients and liquid as directed in the recipe. The finished dough should resemble a thick, creamy paste that is easy to work with.

Tamale Step 3: Fill the tamales

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  • Remove the husks from the water, drain in a colander, and pat dry.
  • Top each husk with 2 tablespoons of the masa dough, spreading dough into a rectangle that runs close to one of the long sides of the husk.
  • Spread about 1 tablespoon desired filling lengthwise down the center of the dough on each husk.

Tip: Use your imagination when it comes to the filling — almost anything goes, from slow-cooked beef to sweet corn or even fruit.

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Tamale Step 4: Wrap the tamales

For each tamale, fold the long end of the husk so it slightly overlaps the dough. Next, roll the husk around the dough and filling.

Tamale Step 5: Tie the cornhusks

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Tie the ends of each husk with strips of soaked cornhusk or 100-percent-cotton string. Tying the ends keeps the condensed steam away from the masa (dough) when steaming and keeps the bundles intact. It also gives them the quintessential bundle shape that is so charming.

Tip: To make ahead, place the wrapped (uncooked) tamales in resealable freezer bags or airtight freezer containers and freeze them for up to 6 months. Steam them as directed before serving.

Tamale Step 6: Prep the steamer

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Tamales are cooked in a steamer. You can purchase a steamer with a basket or rack inside. Or create your own steamer by using a Dutch oven fitted with a vegetable steamer basket or a metal rack inside.

Arrange the tamales in a single layer or stand them upright in the steamer basket, filling the space but not packing them tightly.

Tip: If desired, place a cone-shape ball of foil in the center of the steamer basket to help tamales stand up.

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Tamale Step 7: Steam tamales

Pour at least 1-1/2 inches water in the bottom of the steamer or Dutch oven. Place the filled steamer basket over the water. Bring the water to boiling. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Steam the tamales until the dough pulls away from the cornhusks and is spongy and cooked through.

Tip: Check the water in the pan occasionally, replenishing it as needed. This will ensure the steamer won’t boil dry and scorch.

Make-Ahead Tip: You can freeze cooked tamales as well. Wrap and freeze cooled tamales in the cornhusks. To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Place the tamales in a steamer basket over gently boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes or until heated through.