Technique Guide: Build an Awesome Burrito Bowl

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(Note: this post was originally published on January 15, 2021, although additional examples have been added subsequently. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)

Burrito Bowl Love

Is there a more perfect meal than a giant bowl filled with all your favorite burrito ingredients? No way! I've always been a big burrito bowl lover, but have recently become especially enamored with them. I want to share with you some tips and examples I've picked up along the way, so that you too can be loving the burrito bowl life.

Before we dive in, what exactly is a burrito bowl? I think it's whatever you want it to be! But in my mind, it's Mexican-inspired ingredients (think classic taco or burrito fillings) assembled in a bowl rather than in a tortilla. I love how easily-customizable these bowls are and how many great, nourishing ingredients you can pack in.

The other thing I really love about burrito bowls is that everyone can design their own. This is especially great if you're cooking for people with different diets or different preferences. You can customize them for each person (for example, I like more veggies whereas Dave likes more protein) or set up a assemble-your-own bar. We've even done this with great success as a potluck dinner party, where everyone brings one or two components to share.

Example #1: Take me to my island paradise! This one is inspired by the tropics and organized into stripes. From left to right, it includes a corn and red pepper salsa, spicy black beans, a kale and romaine salad, more black beans, and a papaya salsa. It's topped with coconut, lots of fresh cilantro, and sliced avocado.

Goals of This Post

In this post, I'll discuss some of the primary components I like to put in a burrito bowl, how to organize a burrito bowl, and some tips for making them super-satisfying (and also easy!). But my biggest take-home message? You do you! There's no right or wrong way to do this, and creating the bowl is half the fun.

To get you started, you'll see loads of examples scattered throughout this post. Make sure to check out the caption for each, which is where you can find additional details about the bowls that are pictured. I'll also keep adding to this post as I create new bowls, so don't forget to bookmark it and check back.

Example #2: Sweet and spicy! This bowl has great balance between cooked and fresh ingredients, and also sweet and spicy ingredients. The left side is good old rice and beans. The right side is basically a small version of my Blistered Shishito Pepper Salad, which includes sweet juicy mango. It's garnished with fresh cilantro and avocado slices.

Components

What should go in your burrito bowl?? Here's how I tend to think about things:

  • Carbs. My go-to options are quinoa, brown rice, roasted sweet potatoes, and/or a few tortilla chips. Given that this is probably one of the heaviest aspects of the bowl, I use a smaller amount.
  • Protein. Black beans or refried beans are great options, totally on-theme, and so easy. Your grilled protein of choice is also awesome, but a bit more labor-intensive. Or see the walnut taco "meat" in Example #3!
  • Something slaw-like or salad-like. I love some freshness in a burrito bowl, so I almost always include something salady. This could be a quick cabbage slaw, some massaged kale, some romaine, or a mixture of them all. Opt for hearty greens that can stand up to all the other goodies in the bowl rather than something delicate like leaf lettuce that will get smooshed.
  • Other veggies. The sky is the limit! Corn is an easy, obvious choice. Raw veggies like bell peppers or tomatoes can add freshness, whereas cooked veggies (think chili-roasted squash or cauliflower, stir-fried onions and peppers, etc) add depth of flavor.
  • Salsa. I'm listing this as a category separate from the toppings since I think it depends on your salsa. A good, robust salsa can actually serve as a whole component rather than a topping (see Example # 1 for a double-salsa bowl: corn and papaya!).
  • Toppings. Go crazy! I always love to incorporate avocado in some way, either in slices or as a sauce. Other great options are a spicy salsa or hot sauce, a drizzle of crema (or cashew crema), and some fresh cilantro. Crunchy toppings (e.g. roasted salted pepitas) are always fun, as are super-flavorful toppings like pickled jalapeno slices. This is a good opportunity to dig through your pantry and fridge and grab anything and everything.

Example #3: Everything but the kitchen sink. A burrito bowl is a perfect excuse for using whatever you like, whether it's three ingredients or 20! This one is a really fun mash-up of a whole bunch of different things. From the top working clockwise, there are grilled baby bell peppers, walnut taco "meat", a romaine and grilled red onion salad, papaya-mango salsa, coconut rice, baby cukes, and grilled corn. It's topped with pepitas and fresh mint. There's no right answer here, so use whatever you love!

Tips for Efficiency

Okay, so you want an epic burrito bowl but don't want to spend all evening on it. Me too! Here are a few tips for how to make this multi-element meal come together without a fuss:

  • Use leftovers. See Example #s 4, 8, and 9 in particular. This is a great way to use whatever odds and ends you have in the fridge. Things like bean salads, quinoa salads, grilled proteins, slaws, etc, are all treasures when it comes to making a burrito bowl. Best of all, you don't need a whole lot of any single thing.
  • Think ahead. Are you making burrito bowls tomorrow night? Then cook some extra quinoa or brown rice tonight!
  • Focus your efforts. Sure, you could make half a dozen really intricate components, but who has time for that? I like to make a couple really special things, then take the easy way out on a couple things. Canned black beans or refried beans and frozen corn are great shortcuts, and chopping up some romaine takes seconds.
  • Delegate. Are you having people over for dinner? Ask everyone to bring a few components to share. It makes for a really fun potluck option, and your guests might come up with things you never would have thought of.

Example #4: Let leftovers be your best friend! This one is complicated and has a lot of components, but they were almost all random leftovers. From the bottom left working upward, there's leftover purple cabbage slaw, romaine, leftover rainbow black bean salad, cucumber slices, and leftover papaya salsa. There are a load of toppings too: homegrown spicy red pepper slices, fresh cilantro, pepitas, avocado slices, and chili salt. Everything is organized into stripes.

Tips for A Killer Bowl

How do you make your burrito bowl feel really special and interesting? How do you make it fun? Here are a few of my preferred strategies:

  • Think about textures. Your bowl won't be very exciting if everything is the same texture. Try to combine chewy (e.g. kale, brown rice) with soft (e.g. roasted squash) with crunchy (e.g. cabbage, peptias, chips) with juicy (e.g. cucumber or fruit) with creamy (e.g. avocado, crema). This makes for a bowl that's super-satisfying and interesting.
  • Think about temperature. I think bowl meals are most successful when they have a mixture of warm and cold elements, or a mixture of cooked and raw elements. The warm or cooked elements add heartiness, substance, and deep flavor; in contrast, the cold or raw elements add freshness and juiciness. Trust me, this combination is magic! See Example #s 2 and 5 for half-and-half bowls that juxtapose cooked and raw elements very clearly.
  • Think about color. Burrito bowls should be fun, and they just won't feel that way if everything is brown. I love to incorporate all sorts of colorful ingredients, and sometimes I even organize the different components by color.

Example #5: Half and half! This one features a quinoa and black bean salad on the left side, and a cabbage, kale, and romaine salad on the right side. It's fun to play with the textures like this, making the hearty left side and fresh right side distinct elements. It's topped with juicy orange slices, fresh cilantro, crunchy corn nuts, and an avocado-cilantro sauce.

Recipe Suggestions

Lastly, here are a few suggestions for some components to add to your bowl. Most of these will work great in your bowl as leftovers, so make a couple for a weekend get-together and then enjoy the fun leftovers the next few nights.

  • Carb: Jicama Ceviche. It actually gets better as it sits in the fridge, so make a double batch and use the leftovers in burrito bowls all week. Jicama is a great, light, juicy option that works well as a carb stand-in.
  • Carb: Patatas Bravas. You'll see leftover potatoes in a couple of my examples, above! They're a fun way to add carbs and heartiness in an unexpected format.
  • Carb: Tropical Sweet Potatoes. Yup... more potatoes!
  • Protein/Carb: Nourishing Taco Pasta. Leftovers of this are wonderful in a burrito bowl the next evening. Plus, there's so much going on in this pasta already that you just need to add a few fresh components to make a super-satisfying bowl.
  • Protein: No-Cook Rainbow Black Bean Salad. Works great as leftovers!
  • Protein: Kaua'i Hummus. If any chick pea hummus can work in a burrito bowl, it's this one! It's loaded with tropical flair thanks to macadamia nuts, coconut milk, and lime zest, so it's great in a burrito bowl with tropical flavors,
  • Protein: Nacho Cabbage. This black bean filling is dynamite, and easy too! Make a double batch of the filling when you make the nachos, or just make the filling (minus nachos) for your burrito bowl.
  • Veggie: Margarita Cauliflower. My absolute favorite! Plus it's easy enough to make just for the purpose of your burrito bowl, especially if you have an air fryer.
  • Veggie: Mojito Corn Salad. Another awesome leftover option.
  • Veggie: Blistered Shishito Peppers. Just use the pepper part of this salad recipe and you can thank me later. Blistered shishitos are truly amazing.
  • Veggie: Orange Jalapeno Brussel Sprouts. One of my favorite recipes ever, these are a delight. Make them specifically for your bowl or make a double-batch the day before.
  • Veggie: Kabocha Squash Dippers. Make these for a party, but stash a couple in the fridge for a burrito bowl the next day. They work especially great if you roast the squash in chili powder and cumin!
  • Veggie: Mexican Street Corn. Make these stuffed peppers, double the filling, and use the extra filling in a burrito bowl the next night.
  • Salsa: any sort of fruit salsa. Especially awesome in a tropical bowl! You'll see lots of uses of fruit salsa throughout the examples I've shown here.
  • Topping: Tropical Guacamole. So darn fun and summery!
  • Topping: Green Goddess Avocado Dressing. Scroll down, they're listed alphabetically. Use it leftover, or make it specifically for this bowl (in which case, use all cilantro instead of the other herbs).

Example #6: Another tropical bowl! This one has symmetrical stripes: quinoa in the middle, honey-sriracha black beans to the outside of the quinoa, and a fresh rainbow salad (cabbage, romaine, colored bell peppers, mango) on the far outsides. It's garnished with crunchy macadamia nuts, fresh cilantro, lots of lime juice, and the most epic guacamole-stuffed papaya half!

Even More Examples

Since I'm pretty much always making burrito bowls, I'm continually creating new and different examples. I'll keep adding to this section moving forward, so remember to bookmark this page and check back. You never know what will appear!

Example #7: All about crunch. I love a burrito bowl with diverse textures! This one has it all with chewy quinoa, succulent grilled peppers, crunchy tortilla chips, crisp romaine, juicy kiwi, and hearty black beans. What a fun bowl! This is a great way to use up a random leftover handful of chips after a weekend party.

Example #8: Sometimes messy is best. This one was a very eclectic hodge-podge of leftovers after a Cinco de Mayo party (see Example #4 above for more thoughts about why leftovers rock!). Starting at the top and working clockwise, this one has leftover chili-roasted baby potatoes, leftover black bean and feta salad, leftover corn salsa, leftover black bean dip, and leftover chips... plus a simple cabbage, carrot, and romaine salad to freshen things up. It's topped off with avocado (of course) and pepitas.

Example #9: Another leftover bowl after another summer weekend party! Have I convinced you yet that the best burrito bowls are actually leftover bowls?? Starting from the top and working clockwise, this one has a black bean salad, blistered shishito peppers, grilled corn, a romaine salad, chili-roasted baby potatoes, and a pineapple cabbage slaw. It's topped with lots of fresh cilantro, a sprinkling of chili salt, avocado, and some flaky sea salt.

Closing Thoughts

And there you have it! All my tips, tricks, and examples to help you construct your own perfect burrito bowl. Whether you have these as an easy "fridge clean-out" weeknight meal or a fun dinner party, they're a great way to make sure everyone gets exactly what they want. Doesn't a burrito bowl just make you so happy??

Share It!

It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.

Technique Guide: Build an Awesome Burrito Bowl

Burrito bowls are EVERYTHING! The absolute best meal! This guide will walk you through lots of tips, tricks, and examples to help you build burrito bowls that are exciting and loaded with flavor.

Author:
Lee

Ingredients

Instructions

Because this post is more conceptual, there's no actual "recipe". Please refer to all the tips, tricks, and examples above, then create your own recipe!

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