All the way back to the American Revolution, the government (which was then the Continental Congress) gave out rations to its soldiers to keep them fed and happy, and fueled up with energy ready for the next offensive. The M.R.E. or Meal Ready to Eat, has come along way since its beginning as a ration in the 18th century, and even more recently since its inception in 1975. Today I'm going to rundown a quick timeline of the M.R.E. and then we are going to make one of the more sought after ones, Southwest Beef and Beans! And don't worry, my recipes are good for any night of the week, not just for the next Cuban Missile Crisis or Zombie Apocalypse.
Timeline of the Modern M.R.E.
1975: The DoD started to develop the M.R.E. - which was a replacement to the M.C.I. (Meal, Combat, Individual)
1983: The M.R.E. is introduced as a field evaluation to soldiers of the 25th Infantry division for 34 days (3 times a day). Entrees included: Beef stew, BBQ Meatballs, and Frankfurters aka "four fingers of death". Even though the consumption rate was around 60%, and the meals generally thought of as "acceptable", lots of adjustments needed made.
1988: Adjustments were made and a new menu roll-out started. 9 of the 12 entrees were replaced and the serving size increased. Cold beverage mixes were added to all of the entree choices, and candy and hot sauce were also added, but only to 4 of the 12 selections.
1990's - Desert Storm Years: The military gives out a bunch of out-of-date M.R.E.'s and as the media likes to make a mountain out of a molehill, fierce criticisms started pouring in from all over and it was even speculative that these M.R.E.'s weren't fit to be eaten by anyone - even those in third world countries! Kind of like canned food, the date is only on there to act as a bit of "security theater". In reality, those meals would outlive us. Seriously. If you gave me a non-dented, properly stored can of food from the 1970's, I'd eat it just to prove a point. But out of the ashes the phoenix will rise and M.R.E.'s are again improved with shelf life extended products and even, get this... chocolate that doesn't melt in the desert heat! But best of all, in 1992, flame-less heaters were added providing more ease in heating up the meals.
1994: The packaging became more appealing. Remember the eyes eat first, so I believe this was a way for the military to trick people into thinking they were eating better food.
1996: Vegetarian option meals were added to the lineup. Entree choices went from 12 to 16. Chili was a fun addition here.
1997: Four more meals were added taking the assortment now to 20. Among the new additions were tortellini and boneless pork chop meals.
1998: The menu count is upped to 24, and that's where it remains to this day - to include the Chicken Burrito Bowl, and the Southwest Beef and Beans.
Even though the modern M.R.E. doesn't contain any of the goodies of the past (booze, smokes, or salt tablets aka amphetamines), they are engineered to have around 1250 calories, 36% fat, 51% carbs, and 1/3 of your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. And because they are shelf-stable, they come "highly-seasoned" for your convenience! Check out the recipes below and if you come across the infamous Southwest Beef and Beans, give it a try for comparison.
Southwest Beef and Beans M.R.E.
For the Beef and Beans:
• 1 1⁄2 lbs good quality steak meat (I like sirloin)
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 red bell pepper, sliced
• 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 T. tomato paste
• 16 ounces chunky salsa
• 1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
• 2 teaspoons chili powder
• 1 tsp. cumin
• Salt and pepper
• 15 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 C. corn kernels
• Cilantro and sour cream to garnish
1. In a dutch oven, Season and sear the meat on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Saute onion, peppers, and garlic, over medium – medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper.
3. When fragrant, add the tomato paste and cook until it is no longer raw and it has caramelized slightly.
4. Next add the salsa, oregano, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, corn, and black beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and reduce until the sauce has thickened to a very nice sauce. Garnish with cilantro and sour cream if desired.
For the Jalapeno Cheese Sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
2 ½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
12 ounces of pepperjack cheese, shredded (about 1½ cups)
¼ C. chopped pickled jalapeno
1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the flour to the melted butter and make a roux.
2. Whisk in the milk and combine well so there are no lumps. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin. Increase the heat to med. High. Simmer until thickened, stirring CONSTANTLY.
3. Turn the heat down to low and in 2-3 additions add the cheese, making sure it is fully incorporated before adding more. When all of the cheese is incorporated, stir in the chopped jalapeno. Season with salt and pepper.
For the Chipotle Flour Tortillas:
• 3 c. flour
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 1.5 tsp. chipotle seasoning
• 1/3 C. lard
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 2/3 C. warm water, may need up to a ¼ C. more
1. Sift the flour, salt, chipotle seasoning, & baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
2. Into the dry ingredients cut in the shortening, or add oil if you are using this option, & mix with your fingertips to combine.
3. Add the water, working the liquid into the dough until a sticky ball forms.
4. Wrap in plastic and let rest for at least 5 minutes.
5. Divide the dough into 12-16 balls, cover them again with the damp cloth.
6. Using a tortilla press, individually flatten each ball.
7. Heat a dry griddle or heavy skillet over high heat for 5 minutes. Cook the tortillas 30 seconds on each side or until the dough looks dry & slightly wrinkled & a few brown spots form on both surfaces. Do not over cook or they will be hard. Wrap cooked tortillas in a towel to keep warm.
For the Lemon Poppyseed Poundcake:
• 1# butter
• 2 c. sugar
• 10 eggs
• 3 ¾ c. flour
• 1 lemon, zested
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 2 tsp. poppy seeds
Cream together the butter and sugar in the mixer with the paddle attachment, until fully incorporated, scraping the sides and bottom often. Next, add the eggs and the flour, alternating after every three. Then add the lemon zest, vanilla, and espresso powder. When batter is fully mixed, place in a prepared shallow loaf lined with parchment and sprayed with oil. Bake on 375 for 40 minutes and check. Add time from there as needed. If the top gets too brown, cover it with foil.