Life

How To Make The Discontinued Taco Bell 7 Layer Burrito At Home

Yesterday we found out Taco Bell is discontinuing their iconic vegetarian option, the 7 Layer Burrito. When I heard this, I was so shocked that didn’t even bother reading the rest of the menu items getting axed. Even now, I couldn’t tell you what else is being removed from the menu [RIP, Nacho Supreme! -ed]. The 7 Layer Burrito leaving Taco Bell is the end of an era for the fast-food chain.

I was a vegan back in the mid-1990s but didn’t become a 7 Layer fan when it was first released. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I rode hard for Taco Time, not Taco Bell — anyone who grew up with Mexi-Fries will understand. I didn’t even start going to Taco Bell until I moved to Washington, DC, in 1999. My girlfriend introduced me to the wonders of the 7 Layer Burrito on 2 am stoned drive-thru runs. I quickly got hooked.

There was just something about the (then) 99-cent burrito that felt comforting (and perhaps slightly more authentic than typical Taco Bell fare?) and it stuck with me. Every time I ended up at a Taco Bell — even long after living in DC — I’d always tack a 7 Layer Burrito onto my order, whether I needed one or not. Maybe it was a nice reminder of my first long-term relationship or maybe it was a way to avoid some overly processed meat or maybe I was always just high enough not to notice I’d become a creature of habit, even as the T-Bell menu expanded.

Whatever the case, the 7 Layer burrito was my jam for a good long stretch there. Allowing me to feel healthy-adjacent at a pretty unhealthy fast food joint.

Fast forward two decades and it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to a Taco Bell. They’re not really in Germany, where I live, anymore. I do have a faded memory of going to one in England somewhere over the past few years, but even that feels like another lifetime. So upon learning that I’ll likely never get a 7 Layer Burrito again (I’m certainly not going to intentionally time a trip to a re-release of the item) I knew I had to make one for myself. For nostalgia reasons.

Flour tortilla, refried beans, seasoned rice, sour cream, iceberg, tomato, three-cheese mix, and guacamole. That’s the dish we’re doing today. It’s soft, flavorful, and always lukewarm — which somehow made it more endearing. According to Taco Bell’s advertising, they look like this:

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Get lost in the layers. #7LayerBurrito

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When in reality, you’d get something closer to this (which, to be fair, is true of all fast food items):

My research started by getting the ingredients list from Taco Bell. It’s dense.

Taco Bell

I decided I wasn’t going to make flour tortillas or the sour cream. I just don’t have the time to wait around all day while making sour cream. I’m going to make the beans, rice, and guacamole from scratch. I’m jettisoning all the stabilizers and sticking to fresh ingredients. As for “natural flavoring,” that’s just MSG. So, I’ll use that there. For “spices,” I’ll generally use tried-and-true Tex-Mex mixes of cumin/paprika/onion powders and the like. Otherwise, I’ll try to stick as close to the heart of the above recipes as possible.

Layer 1: Beans

Zach Johnston

Ingredients:

  • One cup Pinto Beans (dry)
  • 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • Two cups Vegetable Stock
  • One tsp. Salt
  • One tsp. Cumin
  • One tsp. Paprika
  • One tsp. Dried Oregano
  • One tsp. Raw Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. MSG
  • One Bay Leaf
  • One tbsp. Sunflower Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Zach Johnston

The first step is to soak the beans in about two cups of boiling water with the baking soda already mixed in. Once the beans have doubled in size (about two hours), drain the water and set aside.

In a medium-sized pot, bring about two cups of veg stock to a simmer. Add in the beans, spices, and sugar. Bring to a very low simmer and place an ajar lid over the pot. You’re going to need about two hours to cook these beans.

Make sure to stir every ten minutes or so. You may need to add water after about an hour. I added about a 1/2 cup of tap water with a pinch of salt. When they’re done, they’ll look like the image below. They should be nice and soft with a slight al dente feel.

Zach Johnston

I let the beans rest for about 15 minutes off the heat with the lid on. I then salt and pepper to taste (mine didn’t really need salt) and add the oil to help velvet-ize the beans a bit.

I then used a standard potato masher to mash the beans until semi-smooth. I like a little chuck to my refried beans. But, you do you when mashing beans. A blender will give you the full-pureed bean effect if that’s your jam.

Zach Johnston

Layer 2: Seasoned Rice

Zach Johnston

Ingredients:

  • One pound Long Grain White Rice
  • One quart Vegetable Stock
  • 1/4 Green Bell Pepper
  • 1/4 Red Bell Pepper
  • One small Yellow Onion
  • One Tomato
  • One tsp. Smoked Paprika
  • One tsp. Tomato Powder (see below)
  • One tsp. Garlic Powder
  • One tsp. Onion Powder
  • One tsp. Cumin
  • One tsp. Raw Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. MSG
  • 1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • One Lime
  • One tbsp. Vegetable Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

“Tomato Powder”

Zach Johnston

This is something I just couldn’t get my hands on. So, I decided to make my own. I started with four ounces Sun-dried Tomatoes. Since the tomatoes are a little gummy, I placed them on a pizza tray and toasted them in the oven for about 15 minutes on 325F. That dried them out wonderfully.

After the tomatoes cooled, I put them in my spice grinder/mixer thingy and ground them until they were powder. Done and done. Now, I have a super umami powder to use on everything!

Zach Johnston

The Rest

Zach Johnston

Next, I blanched, peeled, and diced a whole tomato, finely diced the peppers and onion, and gathered all my spices plus sugar into a single bowl.

Since “seasoned rice” is really the “Spanish rice” you see at Tex-Mex joints, I’m making this rice the same way I’d make a paella (the original “Spanish rice”). That means I’m using a large saucepan with a few glugs of oil. I then sweat off the onions and peppers with a pinch of salt. Once the onions are translucent, I add in the diced tomato and then toast all the spices in the bottom of the pan.

Zach Johnston

Next, I add in my rice — which I rinsed with cool tap water. I then add the veg stock and season with salt and pepper. I bring that to a bare simmer and let it do its thing, making sure to stir well every five minutes or so.

Zach Johnston

About 25 or 30 minutes later, the liquid should have simmered off leaving an al dente rice. Give it a good mix, kill the heat, and cover. Let that sit for another ten to 15 minutes. The steam will finish cooking the rice. Fluff the rice again with a fork before using it.

Zach Johnston

Layer 3-6: Sour Cream, Lettuce, Tomato, Cheese

Zach Johnston

Ingredients:

  • Two ounces Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Tomato
  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • One ounce Cheddar
  • One ounce Pepper Jack
  • One ounce Low-moisture Mozzarella

This is pretty straightforward. Diced tomato. Oddly large sliced iceberg lettuce a la Taco Bell. Shredded cheese mix. Sour cream.

Layer 7: Guacamole

Zach Johnston

Ingredients:

  • Two Hass Avocadoes
  • One small Red Onion
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Cilantro
  • One Jalapeno
  • One Lime
  • 1/2 Tomato
  • Salt

This is the heart of the Taco Bell recipe for guacamole that’s pictured above. It’s also pretty simple and, truly, damn tasty — although, I left mine a little chunkier than Taco Bell’s tube distributed version.

I scooped out the avocados, added the finely diced onion, chili pepper, and cilantro. I added lime juice and salt and then mashed it together. Finally, I diced the tomato and mixed it in. Done.

Zach Johnston

The 7 Layer Burrito

Taco Bell

It is now time to build our 7 Layer Burrito. I’m using the photo from the Taco Bell menu (above) as my guide. So that’s beans, rice, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and guacamole. Does it make sense? Not really. I still don’t know why the cheese is never melted between the beans and rice but, whatever, let’s build!

Zach Johnston

First things first, I warm my eight-inch tortilla in a pan. I then add a layer of beans and rice — both about three spoons of each (I used a standard kitchen spoon, like the one you’d eat cereal with). I then top that with the rest in the above-mentioned in order. I place the burrito into a piece of paper — forgetting to take another photo — and wrap it up tightly.

Zach Johnston

I then cut it in half to see how I did… And, look at that! It’s not that far off in my estimation. The layers are there and it looks like a better put-together version than anything you’d get in-store.

Zach Johnston

The flavors are very close. There’s a fresher, crisper aspect to everything and a little more umami and acid, which are good things, in my book. The 7 Layer was always one of the few noticeably acidic items at Taco Bell and I wouldn’t want to lose that. Once, I broke out some extra hot sauce and started dabbing it on every bite, the whole thing got even better. The softness was there as well as the lukewarm aspect. It was the perfect balance of delicious, filling, and nostalgic. Plus, now I have enough “seasoned rice” for about four more meals.

So there you go — your own 7 Layer Burrito, so that the OG can rest easy. Good night sweet godfather of fast-food vegetarian dishes, rest easy knowing that you’ll be remembered fondly.

Zach Johnston
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