Monday, January 26, 2015

India Adventure II: San Francisco restaurant The Little Chihuahua's Fried Plantain & Black Bean Burrito - made vegan with locally available ingredients in Bangalore

I worked at eight music festivals and one three-day Phish event for tech startup and HeadCount partner iCitizen last summer. I was helping HeadCount register music fans to vote in time for the November 2014 US elections, while also promoting iCitizen's free app that helps people stay engaged between election cycles.

Me in the iCitizen/HeadCount booth at Electric Forest Music Festival in Rothbury, MI June 2014.

This was just my right wrist, summer 2014. Wristbands here from HeadCount's 10 year anniversary party at the Brooklyn Bowl, Newport Folk Festival, Phish - Randall's Island NYC, High Sierra Music Festival, Electric Forest Music Festival, and Outside Lands Music Festival. Plus some blessing strings given to me by Buddhist teachers Bhante Wimala and H.E. Ling Rinpoche. 
Working at all of these festivals means I ate a lot of festival food.

The highlights (in order of consumption) were 99 Potatoes' vegan burger and sweet potato fries combo meal at Electric Forest Music Festival in Rothbury, Michigan, The Little Chihuahua's vegan fried plantain & black bean burrito at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco, and The Juice Laundry's raw, organic, cold-pressed juices at Lockn' Festival in Arrington, Virginia.

I haven't been able to find a really close recipe for the stand out vegan fried plantain & black bean burrito. That didn't stop me from attempting to recreate it for a dinner party in Bangalore last Wednesday, though.

This is what I started with:
- The Little Chihuahua menu: "Fried Plantain & Black Bean Burrito with cheese, roasted red bell peppers, rice, sour cream, smoky chile salsa, pico de gallo and fresh cilantro & onion."

- Fan photos of The Little Chihuahua restaurant location's non-vegan Fried Plantain & Black Bean burritos, found online:

The Little Chihuahua Fried Plantain & Black Bean burrito, fan photo.

The Little Chihuahua's Fried Plantain & Black Bean Burrito, second fan photo.

- Two online recipes:

From this, I generated a shopping list: flour, plantains, red peppers, red onion, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes, corn ear, lime, black beans, avocado, cabbage, lettuce, green chiles and carrots. Carrots weren't in the original burrito and weren't on either Vegetarian Times' or Mojo Central's ingredients lists, but what is a burrito without crunchy carrots?

I walked around the corner from my friend Sowmya's house, where I am staying to the best local fruit and vegetable stand, and the nearest grocery store to pick up these ingredients. 

At my first stop, using some pantomime I was able to pick up the plantains (were they ripe? I don't know, I never buy plantains), green peppers (seems red peppers are unavailable in Bangalore), red onions, garlic, carrots, cilantro (I pantomimed that I wanted to see all of the seller's leafy greens, and from that smelled them all until I found cilantro, which is not called cilantro in India), tomatoes, lime, cabbage, and green chiles. I looked around but did not see avocados, so I easily gave up on that one. Same for the lettuce. Some pantomime and laughter failed to produce corn on the cob, so I let that one go for the moment, knowing from experience that it is available in Bangalore.

I didn't buy the burrito ingredients from this particular local seller, but I often go here, too. He also did not have corn on the cob - I stopped to look.
I next went into the local grocery store, which belongs to the Reliance chain to pick up the remaining ingredients. I found a corn on the cob wrapped in plastic wrap that wasn't as fresh as I would have liked, but it was the only place I checked within a several block range that had corn on the cob for sale. Unfortunately the shop did not have black beans. I selected the next best alternative - a bag of organic, dried rajma (chithra) beans ... which I just now learned are pinto beans. The flour aisle was a little overwhelming. I could pick from bags of "whole wheat atta", maida, and a few other things that I thought might be forms of flour. Having heard Indian friends speak poorly of maida, I crossed my fingers and grabbed a bag of atta from the Reliance shelf.

Reliance Grocery Store.
I went back to Sowmya's kitchen, and then assembled the ingredients on her kitchen counter. We're ready to begin.

The ingredients, including filtered water, used to rinse off the vegetables.
Step 1: I cooked the pre-soaked beans in the pressure cooker with filtered water for at least 30 minutes.

Step 2: Since Sowmya does not have a stove (but does have a toaster oven, which I opted not to use for this recipe), I sliced the peeled plantains into bite sized pieces. I then followed the Vegetarian Times' instructions for how to cook plantains on a gas stove top: "Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add red onion and garlic, and sauté until browned. Stir in plantains, and cook 5 minutes." I had read elsewhere to be careful not to cook them too long, or they will become crispy. I removed the mixture from saucepan after closer to ten minutes, and transferred the mixture to a dish, covered by a clean dish towel, to keep them warm. I admit I slightly overcooked the plantains.

Step 3: I then attempted to roast the green pepper on the gas stove top, since I recall how much that flavor "made" the burritos I had at Outside Lands. I roasted them in the same saucepan I had used for the plantains, garlic, and red onions. I roasted them on the stove top, with a limited amount of olive oil in the sauce pan. It wasn't a total failure but was not roasted red peppers. (Side note: just like in Kenya, peppers are called "capsicum" in India.)

Step 4: I removed the roasted green peppers from the sauce pan, and chopped them into bite sized pieces. I then emptied the covered dish of cooked plantain mixture into the sauce pan, added the chopped roasted green peppers, and then some olive oil, and cooked the mixture together on the stove, frequently stirring for maybe another 5 minutes. I then removed the mixture from the stove, and covered it with a towel to keep it warm while I prepared the other parts of the burrito mixture.

Roasted green peppers partly chopped, and roasted plantain mixture.
Step 5: I washed and chopped the cabbage into small chunks, and then put it into a bowl. I squirted some fresh lime juice on top, and added a little bit of salt I ground from small rock crystals into powder using Sowmya's hand grinder.

Step 6: I rinsed several handfuls of cilantro stalks in filtered water over the sink, and then gently wrapped it in a clean dish towel to dry it a little. I then chopped it up into small pieces, and put it in a bowl. I then rinsed, dried, and diced the tomatoes, and added those tomatoes to the bowl. I then rinsed, dried, and diced up a whole red onion, and added that to the bowl. I then sprinkled it with the juice from about half of a small lime, and stirred it all together to make the "salsa".

Prepared cabbage and the pre-mixed salsa.
The post-mixed cabbage, salsa, and plantains mixture.
Step 7: I rinsed, dried, and diced the carrots and green chiles. I then peeled the corn on the cob, and rinsed and dried it. I then used a knife to slice off the kernels, working down the cob as if I were peeling a carrot. I then split the fresh corn kernels apart from each other, and mixed the corn kernels into the sauce pan with the diced carrots and diced green chiles. I then added the cooked pinto beans to the saucepan. I added some olive oil, and then cooked this mixture together on the stove for just a few - maybe five - minutes, to warm it up. I then added some chili powder, mixed it all together well, and then transferred it to a dish for serving, covering it with a dish towel to keep it warm.

Corn on the cob, carrots, green chiles, pinto beans and chili powder burrito filling.
Step 8: I then handmade the tortillas from scratch, using a limited-ingredient recipe I found online. First, I combined four cups of atta flour with three cups of filtered water, and then added a teaspoon of hand ground salt and six tablespoons of olive oil all together into a wide mouthed bowl. I then used my freshly washed and dried hands to mix the ingredients together in the bowl, using my hands, until the ingredients began to stick together. This only took a minute or two. I then transferred the mixture to the cutting board, and further kneaded the mixture until it took the shape of a dough ball. I then let the large ball of dough sit in the bowl for ten minutes while I cleaned up from the other dishes I had prepared. I then put the large ball of dough on the cutting board, and pulled off a small section of dough. I rolled the small section into a ball, and placed the small ball into a bowl. I repeated this process until I had converted the large dough ball into a bowlful of golf ball sized dough balls.

Dough to dough balls.

Step 9: Having seen this process performed by roadside entrepreneurs many times in Kenya's informal settlements (they make chapatis, not tortillas, but same same), I was comfortable moving forward with the next step. I rolled three small balls into one larger ball, having realized in hindsight that the balls I initially made were too small if I wanted to make large tortillas. I then rolled this large ball of dough out flat on the cutting board, using a wooden rolling bin that Sowmya fortunately has in her kitchen. I made the flat dough as thin as possible, but left it thick enough so that I could peel the flat circle of dough off of the cutting board in one piece, without tearing holes in the flat circle of dough. I then dropped the flat circle of dough onto a warm skillet, which had been oiled with a little bit of olive oil. I then fried the first side of the tortilla for maybe a minute, before flipping it and frying the second side. I repeated this process to make a handful of tortillas, with plenty of dough balls left over for future meals. (I had ambitiously doubled the tortilla recipe I found online, thinking guests would be hungry because this meal was taking longer than I had anticipated (3.5 hours of shopping, prep and cook time), pushing our dinner time back to 8pm.)

From 3 small dough balls to stove to serving plate.
Step 10: I put the plantain mixture into the saucepan, added some olive oil, and quickly reheated it. I then put it on a serving plate, and added it to the remaining dishes, now ready for serving.

The cabbage mixture, salsa, plantains mixture, beans mixture, and tortillas ready to be served.
I then explained to the guests about my inspiration for the meal, the hodgepodge recipe I used, and the enjoyable process of shopping for the necessary ingredients to make the recipe.

From left to right: Maddie, Sowmya, Dee, Ri Anne.
 It was a fun night. I enjoyed sharing a common American meal of burritos with friends in Bangalore. It was also fun to share my Indian, stove top prepared adaptation of The Little Chihuahua's Fried Plantain & Black Bean burrito that I enjoyed so much at Outside Lands last summer.

A burrito I made with a small tortilla made from one of the original, small golf ball sized balls of dough.
A burrito Dee made with a large tortilla, made from three of the small balls of dough combined into one larger ball of dough.
I might make some changes to this recipe, next time I prepare it in India, although the changes would make the burrito less healthy. I would simplify the recipe to bring out the key flavor - the plantains - which got a little overshadowed, and were admittedly overcooked, in the meal I made last week.

To this end I might not make the cabbage mixture, and might not add carrots or green pepper to the beans. Instead, I might prepare some rice, and then cook the rice with the beans on the stove top so the flavors of the rice and beans meld together.

I might also buy and prepare mostly plantains, as compared with the other burrito filling ingredients. I would cut them the long way, into thick strips, and would roast them in the toaster oven so that they became sort of carmelized, removing them from the oven just as they became gooey.

If I couldn't find red peppers, then I might try stewing fresh tomatoes, instead of the green peppers, and making that its own dish, to be added to each burrito by the spoonful.

If available, then I also might try adding a little bit of vegan mayo or sour cream to the finished burrito. The burrito I had at Outside Lands seemed to have a little bit of sauce in it.

However, all in all I give myself credit for attempting to recreate The Little Chihuahua's Outside Lands vegan special Fried Plantain & Black Bean burrito without a recipe or a really good memory of what was in the delicious burritos I ate at the festival last summer. Plus, the most important part was present at the dinner party last Wednesday - good friends and laughter.

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