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Adventures in food for curious cooks.

Lunchbox Beef and Bean Burritos


Lunchbox Beef and Bean Burritos

Lynley Jones

Wouldn't the world be a nicer place if everyone's lunch was lovingly tied up with ribbon? Probably. Until then, here's to doing our part, one burrito at a time. 

See Notes after the recipe for the inspiration behind this be-ribboned lunch, plus make-ahead guidance and other details.

Makes 8 burritos


Ingredients for Lunchbox Beef and Bean Burritos, ready to roll in the Adventure Kitchen: seasoned ground beef, refried beans, cilantro, salsa, shredded cheese, scallions and burrito-sized tortillas. (Um, tastebuds also crucial. So dang good.)

About 2 1/2 Tablespoons flavorless high heat oil (eg, canola), divided

3 cups Refried Beans (homemade or store bought, see notes)

1 1/2 pounds 85% lean ground beef (see notes)

Coarse salt

1 small yellow onion, diced small (about 3/4 cup)

1 serrano or jalapeno chile, minced, or to taste (see notes)

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 garlic clove, minced

3/4 cup lager-style Mexican beer (I used Victoria)

3/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes (see notes)

A couple of limes

8 large, burrito-sized flour tortillas (about 10-12 inches in diameter)

About 1/2 cup Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, or salsa of your choice (store bought is fine)

4 scallions, sliced thin

1 bunch cilantro

6 ounces mild, melty cheese such as Colby or Monterrey jack, grated


1. Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the beans, stir and set the lid askew. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir the beans occasionally as you work on the ground beef.

Ground beef, refried beans and other ingredients for Lunchbox Beef & Bean Burritos. Oh yeah.

Ground beef, refried beans and other ingredients for Lunchbox Beef & Bean Burritos. Oh yeah.

2. Set a wide skillet over medium heat and add 1 Tablespoon of the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, add the ground beef and season it with about 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Saute, breaking up the beef as much as possible, for about 5 minutes, until all the pink is gone. Sprinkle with the cumin, then add the onions and the chile (you may want to start with half the chile, then add more if desired. See notes). Saute for another 5 minutes or so, until the onions and chile are soft. Then add the minced garlic and saute briefly, just until fragrant.

3. Turn the heat to high and pour in the beer. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for about 5 minutes or so. While the beer simmers and evaporates, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to release the browned bits. When most of the beer has evaporated, turn the heat to medium-low and pour in the tomatoes. Sprinkle with another 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, stir to combine, then set the lid askew and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

4. While the meat simmers, cut one of the limes in half and squeeze 1 1/2 Tablespoons of juice from it. (Reserve the remaining lime.) When the meat is done, remove from heat and stir in the lime juice. Taste and add another 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, or splash of lime juice if needed. Taste again and add another pinch of salt if needed. (The amount of salt you need will depend on how much salt was in the tomatoes, and how salty the beans are. If you're not sure, taste a small spoonful of beef and beans together. If it's so good you don't want to stop eating it, it's just right.)

5. Set up a burrito-assembly station with flour tortillas, beans, beef mixture, salsa, scallions, cilantro and cheese nearby. The exact amount of each ingredient in your burritos will depend on the size of your tortillas, but here is a rough idea:

In each burrito, use:

A finished Beef and Bean Burrito. We went the extra mile and browned the finished burrito in a pan with oil (Step 6). You can skip this extra step if you're in a rush. (And really, who *isn't* in a rush when there are burritos involved?)

A finished Beef and Bean Burrito. We went the extra mile and browned the finished burrito in a pan with oil (Step 6). You can skip this extra step if you're in a rush. (And really, who *isn't* in a rush when there are burritos involved?)

  • About 1/3 cup refried beans

  • About 1/3 cup meat mixture

  • 1 teaspoon salsa

  • Small handful of grated cheese

  • A generous handful of scallions

  • Lots of cilantro leaves

6. Optional but nice finishing touch: Once you have rolled all your burritos, warm a thin film of oil (about 1-2 teaspoons) in a nonstick or cast iron skillet over high heat. When hot, brown the burritos one at a time in the hot oil, then set them on a paper towel-lined platter.

7. Serve them right away with more salsa and limes. Or, let them cool completely then wrap them in wax paper or aluminum foil to save for another day. Burritos will keep in the fridge for about 3 days. You can also freeze the wrapped burritos together in a zipper-type plastic bag for months.


If you want to make your own beans they aren't hard to do, but you can totally use canned refried beans for this. (Follow this recipe if making your own.)

If using canned beans, choose one that's made with simple ingredients (eg, beans, water, salt, onion). If your beans have a lot of other strong flavors (like lime, cumin, chiles, etc.), you may want to pare down the seasonings in the ground beef.

For notes on working with chiles, read the notes on this guacamole recipe (and while you're at it, feel free to make guacamole!). Main points about chiles: mince up the whole chile together (as opposed to removing seeds or pith), then use as much or little as you want. And start with half the amount, then add more to taste.  

I like the tomatillo salsa for this, because there are already tomatoes cooked into the beef so it's a nice contrast. But if tomato salsa floats your boat, by all means go for that. Any store-bought salsa will be fine in this. Your main decision is how spicy it should be. The beef should be mildly spicy on its own, so if you like your burritos to have a real kick, then use extra spicy salsa. Don't add much more salsa than called for, or you'll run the risk of drippy burritos. (And where's the fun in that?) 

The amount of filling per burrito will vary depending on the size of your tortillas. If you're new to this, it's probably less than you think. The main thing is to wrap everything up inside without any leaks. (Again, no drippy burritos.) If you're working with much larger or smaller tortillas than I used here, then you'll want to vary the amount of filling accordingly.

To make these burritos ahead, wrap them individually in wax paper or foil. You can keep them in the fridge for at least 3 days. To freeze them, put the individually-wrapped burritos in a large plastic freezer bag with the air pressed out. They'll last for months in the freezer. You can reheat them in the microwave (remove the wrapping first). You could also reheat a few of them together in the oven at about 350 degrees, loosely covered with foil. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes or so. (Some enchilada sauce and/or melted cheese on top would also be amazing.)

Ground Cumin

Classic ingredient in Indian, Mexican and other cuisines.

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This recipe was originally created for our Series of Unfortunate Recipes, inspired by the foods in the Lemony Snicket books and Netflix series. (Don't worry - these burritos are delicious. It's the story that's unfortunate.)