Burrito bowls are one of my family’s favourite meals, quite possibly because no two bowls (or plates) look exactly alike and everyone can customize theirs to their exact liking.
Burrito bowls are also a super option for buffets, meals with guests with wide-ranging tastes or dietary needs, and the majority of it can be prepped in advance. How many meals can do that?! Burrito bowls are a regular occurrence in my meal planning rotation and if I plan ahead I can do most of the prep for it at the same time as making other meals. Win!
Burrito bowls are basically deconstructed burritos because they don’t have the corn (or wheat) tortilla wrapping them up and sealing the goodness inside. They’re similar to a taco salad, except taco salads have a base of lettuce inside or on top of a tostada (a crispy, fried tortilla). All tasty options!
Burritos themselves have a wide range of varieties, and are representative of the regions from which they hail. Likely originating in northern Mexico some time in the 19th century, there are burrito varieties that have evolved in the many places in the world where people with Mexican backgrounds have settled, taking their delicious food with them.
Burritos, by necessity and like most food specialties that evolve over time, seem to include whatever items are readily available and combine well, whether that’s because of taste, longevity, or ability to cook and store.
Burrito Bowl Ingredients
With that in mind, burrito bowls are so easy to customize to your particular tastes. The basics for me are as follows:
- Saucy beans
If that’s all I had available I’d still consider that a tasty lunch. I’d top it with a bit of grated cheese, garnish with a blob of sour cream, and apply a liberal amount of whatever hot sauce I’m craving that day.
If I have more time and fixings then my ultimate burrito bowl is like this:
- Rice base
- Saucy beans
- Chopped, grilled chicken
- Diced tomatoes
- Shredded cheese
- Shredded cabbage (try purple for variety!)
- Diced avocados
- Chopped cilantro
Sometimes I’ll make red rice (may be called Spanish rice or Mexican rice) or other times I use brown rice, which I prefer to plain white rice much to my children’s dismay. I’ll make red rice if I’m having a crew to eat. I’ll tend to make brown if I’m doubling up my cooking and using it for another meal in the week. I tried black rice a few times and I think it adds an interesting colour to the bowl, but it generated a lot of grumpy faces at the dinner table for my white rice-loving kids.
Saucy beans are a staple that I make in my Instant Pot and are dried black beans with onions, garlic, and broth. Beans can just as easily be replaced with a can of beans, refried beans, or no beans at all. This time I did a mixture of black beans, navy beans, and pinto beans to finish up some open packages.
If I’m prepping these ingredients just in time to eat them then I’ll often “hot pot” the beans and rice in my Instant Pot. I time it so that the dry beans cook in under an hour and I immediately transfer them to a dish with a lid to stay warm. Then I start the rice straightaway without even rinsing the cooking pot. While the rice is doing its thing I’ll prep the other ingredients.
Cook chicken on the BBQ, or bake or pan fry in advance with another meal’s food prep, or make it specifically for this meal. You might also use leftover shredded pork (another excellent Instant Pot option), thinly sliced beef, prawns, or go meatless. Using frozen meat leftovers would also work if you warmed them up prior to serving.
Diced tomatoes and shredded cabbage are easy to prep in advance or on the spot. I like to prep enough that I know I’ll have leftovers that I can easily grab for lunches. Same with cilantro (it’s okay cilantro haters, you can just leave this one out).
Avocado does not keep well in the fridge once cut. Cross your fingers that the one on your counter is the perfect ripeness for when you need it and add it at the last minute!
Custom Burrito Bowls
My favourite way to make burrito bowls is with a dollop of sour cream, and a very generous topping of hot sauce. These days it’s Franks, sriracha, green Tabasco, or the tomatillo salsa I recently discovered. I scoop it up with corn chips. I often wind up building my tower of deliciousness too high for one meal, but that’s okay. It keeps well enough that I can just save the bit left over and eat it later as a snack.
My kids build theirs very differently though. One doesn’t like sour cream at all, and the other prefers to just put it all back into a wrap. As long as they’re getting some protein and vegetables they can craft it however they like, and that is very much the point!
Back to how to customize this for your family or for guests. You can add or subtract anything you want! Other tasty options include corn, cubed sweet potato, green chiles, other veg raw or cooked, or shredded lettuce. Consider pre-packaged guacamole instead of fresh avocados. Keep a stash of beans in the pantry for last minute additions. Make it gluten-free, dairy-free, make it vegan or vegetarian.
I like to use shallow bowls – probably known as pasta bowls – for this meal rather than plates, but the serving dish isn’t fussy, use what you have.
Have it hot, cold, warm, or a mixture. Mine tend to be hot on the bottom, and then cool off as I add the shredded cabbage, cilantro, and avocado. Do not heat avocado though, it’s the most vile flavour ever and you will instant regret it.