Lightened-Up Smothered Burritos are pure Mexican comfort food—but without all the guilt!
The inspiration for my lightened-up smothered burritos was a recent visit to a local Mexican restaurant. Our picky eater ordered a plain beef burrito with nothing on the side. The burrito arrived drenched in sauce and greasy cheese. When I had a taste of the sauce, it reminded me of the stuff on SpaghettiOs. YUCK-O!
After that experience, I challenged myself to create a smothered burrito that would satisfy our VPE (very picky eater).
I used seasoned ground beef wrapped in a perfectly browned flour tortilla. I used my Quick, Smoky Enchilada Sauce for the smothered burrito sauce, then topped with grated cheddar. The result? Two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Then the realization set in that filling a burrito with nothing but seasoned and sauced beef—while being just hunky dory with our VPE—is an absolute calorie bomb.
Thus, my new smothered burritos recipe got a near-instant makeover.
What makes Lightened-Up Smothered Burritos lighter?
Of course, you can choose to go with the “full figured” version of smothered burritos (ground beef, tortilla, sauce and cheese). 😛 But here’s how I like to lighten them up and give them a little more nutritional oomph.
My new-and-improved filling for this healthier smothered burritos recipe is also far more budget-friendly than the original.
I use ground turkey for my smothered burritos. Ground chicken is another lower-calorie option. Or, you can choose to use ground beef (the highest calorie option).
Black beans and sweet potato
Lots of smothered burrito recipes mix rice into the ground meat. You can choose to go that way too: simply add about 2–3 cups of cooked rice to your browned and seasoned meat (depending on how much rice-to-ground-meat you prefer).
But I chose black beans and sweet potatoes for a few reasons:
- Black beans and sweet potato have higher protein and lower glycemic index than rice. That means that while they offer more nutritional value, their carbohydrates are more complex and more slowly absorbed. Thus, they won’t cause the blood sugar spikes and crashes that are typical with simpler carbs. In this case, we already get simple carbs from the flour tortilla (or see below), so I like mixing in low-glycemic-index ingredients.
- Black beans are loaded with:
- folate: a B-vitamin that, among other things, is important for cell division and in making DNA and RNA (check out this folate fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health for more info)
- Sweet potatoes—in addition to being chock full of vitamins and fiber—contain antioxidants, which combat DNA damage and inflammation. (NOTE: to cook the sweet potato, simply stab it a few times with a paring knife and microwave for about 5 minutes, or until soft [listen carefully for squealing and turn the microwave off to prevent the sweet potato from exploding!])
Plus, as far as flavor, black beans and sweet potatoes are a match made in heaven—not only for each other, but also for the smoky flavor of the enchilada sauce. Speaking of that…
If you use my Quick, Smoky Red Enchilada Sauce in this smothered burritos recipe, it’s delicious and low-calorie. Even better, it takes less than 20 minutes—and you can make it in advance. If you decide to opt for a store-bought sauce, be sure to check the calorie content.
For this smothered burritos recipe, I used a regular burrito-sized flour tortilla. However, if you want to lighten up your burritos even more, there are lots of lower-calorie options out there, like whole wheat and various low-carb tortillas.
How to make smothered burritos
You can follow along in the photo collage below! First, brown the ground meat, drain, and mix with seasonings (photo 1). While the meat browns, peel and cube the cooked sweet potato (photo 2). Next, mix the ground meat, sweet potato, black beans, and enchilada sauce (photo 3). At this point, you can store the mixed filling and reheat when you’re ready, OR move on to rolling the burritos.
Assembling the burritos
Place the filling (about 1 cup each) on the tortilla (photo 4). Fold the sides of the tortilla inward over the filling (photo 5). Then, holding the sides in place, fold the bottom of the tortilla up and over the filling and roll until you have a tight burrito (photo 6). Rub the tortilla sparingly with olive oil, then lightly brown the burrito in a non-stick skillet over medium heat (photo 7). Finally, top the burrito with sauce and cheese, then set under a broiler until the cheese is melted.
I love to serve my lightened-up smothered burritos with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced scallions, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, and a lime wedge to squeeze over the top. Other possible serving options are sour cream, your favorite hot sauce (ours is Cholula), and thinly sliced radishes.
As mentioned in the instructions above, you can prepare the filling in advance. Simply refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days. The same goes for the sauce. I always meal-prep the lettuce, scallions, and tomatoes, then refrigerate them in screw-top containers. The same is NOT true of avocados: since they start oxidizing the minute you cut into them (that’s what makes them turn yucky brown), I slice these just before serving (while the burritos are under the broiler).
That’s all there is to it! This is a quick, easy meal—especially if you use the work-aheads. I hope your family adores these lightened-up smothered burritos!
Lightened-Up Smothered Burritos
FOR THE SAUCE (see Recipe Note #1)
- 29 oz canned tomato sauce
- 2 tbsp ground ancho chile - (up to 3 tbsp if you like more spice!)
- 1/2 tbsp ground chipotle chile
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp salt - (or to taste)
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
FOR THE BURRITOS
- 1 lb ground turkey - (you can also use ground chicken or beef)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans - (see Recipe Note #1)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked sweet potato
- 2 tbsp ancho chile powder
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper - freshly ground
- 2 cups enchilada sauce
- 4 burrito-size flour tortillas - (see Recipe Note #2)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup cheddar cheese - grated
- 1/2 cup cotija cheese - grated
- 2 cups lettuce - shredded
- 1 cup tomato - diced
- 1 avocado - sliced
- 1 cup scallions - sliced
- 2 jalapeno - thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup cilantro - chopped
- 1/2 cup sour cream
TO MAKE THE SAUCE
- Mix all ingredients and simmer over low heat in a saucepan until slightly darkened and fragrant, about 15 minutes.
TO MAKE THE FILLING
- Saute the ground meat until browned (5–7 minutes) in a non-stick skillet over medium heat, breaking up into small chunks as you go. Drain and mix with seasonings.
- While the meat browns, peel and cube the cooked sweet potato. Mix the ground meat, sweet potato, black beans, and enchilada sauce.
TO ASSEMBLE THE BURRITOS
- Place the filling (about 1 cup each) in a roughly burrito-shaped line along the middle for the tortilla, leaving plenty of space on either side of the line for rolling (see step 4 in the preparation collage above). Fold the sides of the tortilla inward over the filling (see step 5 in the collage). Then, holding the sides in place, fold the bottom of the tortilla up and over the filling and roll until you have a tight burrito (see step 6 in the collage).
- Rinse and wipe out the non-stick skillet. Place over medium heat. Rub each burrito sparingly with olive oil, then lightly brown on all sides in the skillet (see Recipe Note #3).
- Top each burrito with 1/2 cup of the sauce, 2 tbsp of the cheddar cheese, and 1 tbsp of the cotija cheese. Set under a broiler until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately with desired garnishes.
- You can substitute cooked rice for the black beans and sweet potatoes. Add 2–3 cups, according to the consistency you like. (Note that this significantly changes the nutritional value of the meal; see post above.)
- To cut more calories, use whole wheat or low-carb tortillas. Keep in mind that they may brown up differently.
- To have all four burritos ready at the same time, I'd suggest rolling two and browning them up in the skillet while you roll the other two. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then set the first two burritos on the sheet and place in a pre-warmed oven (150º—don't turn the broiler on yet!). Brown up the other two burritos, pull the baking sheet out of the oven, and add the remaining burritos. Turn on your broiler. Now, sauce the burritos and top with the cheese. Place the baking sheet under the broiler until the cheese is melted. Serve.
- WORK-AHEAD: you can prepare the filling and sauce in advance. Simply refrigerate in airtight containers for up to 2 days. Meal-prep the lettuce, scallions, and tomatoes, then refrigerate them in screw-top containers.