Carolyn here today. I have been spending the last 18 months working on a book about why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. It covers what Tucsonans have been eating over the last 10,000 years and also delves into many of the foods we love but aren’t found elsewhere. Along the way, I’ve talked to anthropologists, farmers, chefs, teachers, and people working hard to see that the less fortunate have enough food. And I’ve also kept an eye out for what my fellow writers have been producing. Over the next year, I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned. Today, we’ll start with Rita Connelly’s new book Arizona Chimichangas.
For ten years Connelly provided the restaurant reviews for the Tucson Weekly, so she’s been in a fair number of local restaurants. She’s seen them come and go. Actually, she wrote an earlier book about beloved restaurants that have vanished.
Chimichangas have a cache about them that somehow is more than a sum of their parts. A chimichanga is a deep-fried burro, and a burro is just a flour tortilla wrapped around a filling of beans or meat. Somehow, dropping that humble burro into a sizzling pan of oil transforms it into a flaky pleasureful indulgence. It becomes even better when topped with your choice of condiments such as melted cheese, sour cream, guacamole or enchilada sauce.
Chimichanga “enchilada style” or a “wet” chimi. Photo from Arizona Chimichangas.
Tucsonans want to believe that the chimichanga was invented here in Tucson by accident, but in Connelly’s six-month odyssey of scoping out Mexican restaurants in little towns all over Southern Arizona, she found a fair number of people who swear the delicacy originated right in their restaurant. She even found people who suggest that the chimichanga is an outgrowth of the egg rolls produced by the Chinese who settled in Northern Mexico. And because good flour tortillas are key to a good chimi, Connelly takes us into a tortilla factory.
The reputation of chimichangas is worldwide. Here is a picture I took of a restaurant marquee in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, offering a Balkan version of Mexican food. Looks like they are into the sweet version of the chimichanga.
Menu from Mexican restaurant in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
If you love chimichangas, if you really love chimichangas, you’ll want to read Connelly’s book on the multi-generation traditions from family restaurants all over Southern Arizona. Use it as a guide to where to get your next chimi fix. Arizona Chimichangas is available at local bookstores.
You really don’t need a recipe for a chimichanga. Brown some ground beef or shred some chicken or beef or pork roast. Sauté it with some chopped onion and garlic, maybe some green bell pepper, maybe a little tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper. If you want a vegetarian version, use some nicely cooked beans or cooked veggies. Wrap up the filling in a flour tortilla, tucking in the sides as you roll to contain the filling. Heat some neutral vegetable oil in a frying pan until it is about 375 degrees. Fry the chimis until they are golden and crispy, using tongs to turn them. Drain on several thicknesses of paper towels. Serve with guacamole and sour cream or enchilada sauce for a “wet” chimichanga.
Carolyn Niethammer writes about the food and people of the Southwest. See all her books at www.cniethammer.com. Cooking the Wild Southwest covers identification information and recipes for 23 delicious, easy-to-gather, and easily recognized edible wild plants of the Sonoran Desert. Order it from the Native Seeds/SEARCH store.