Burrito Bowl

If you had to use one word to describe a Dinner: A Love Story recipe, what would it be?

A reporter asked me this last year when my book came out. Is there a harder question to answer in the world than one that begins “If you had to use one word…”? I mulled it over for a little bit.  I thought about “real,” (there’s my dinner diary and all); I thought about “nostalgic” (porcupine meatballs!); I thought about my friend Sally, who, when asked by a younger, cherubic coworker “If you had to use one word to describe your newborn what would it be?” replied: “Annoying.”

Over the years, the one word I’d use to describe a DALS dinner has evolved right along with the family and the family’s dinnertime needs. Early on, pre-kids, it might have been “ambitious.” With new babies around, probably “Quick” or “Easy.” With toddlers: “White.” But these days, for a recipe to earn a spot in the family dinner rotation, above all it has to be flexible. And by that I mean not only flexible because of how beautifully it can be deconstructed for picky eaters and flexitarians, but because of how you, the cook, are able to prepare it.

Take these burrito bowls, which I have been meaning to make ever since the girls walked into Chipotle for the first time and declared it the best restaurant in New York City. I knew the burritos-without-tortillas would become a major player in our family dinner lives because I could make the meal as simple or as complicated as my time and energy allowed. In other words: Every component in a burrito bowl can be either storebought or made-from-scratch (or some combination of the two) and still yield a healthy dinner. The black beans can be just black beans — or they can be black beans simmered with a bay leaf and some onions. The avocado can be chopped avocado, or it can be avocado mashed with cumin and red onion and salt. As I was making simple white rice — one of the few things I thought was a pretty straightforward task — Andy wandered by the stove and said, “You’re gonna add cilantro, lime and a ton of salt in there like Chipotle rice, right?”

Uh, right.

On a weeknight, you’d probably want more of the components to be simplified. On the weekend, it would serve you well to go all out because, obviously, if you put that much work into it, it’s gonna be badass. Come to think of it, maybe that would be a better word that flexible.

Burrito Bowl
I gave two versions of each component below: the “weeknight” (quick) and the “weekend” (less quick). Take a look, then expend energy building flavor on the things you like the most — or whatever the clock allows. (The only thing I insist you don’t shortcut is the chicken.) To serve: Present fixins on the table or counter, serve everyone a half cup of rice, then let them top as they please.

I like this meal to be more veg-heavy, so I only cooked two (boneless, skinnless) chicken breasts. You can add another if you think your family will eat more than shown in the above bowl. To make: Cube two medium-size chicken breasts into pieces as shown above. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 onion (chopped finely), then the chicken. Sprinkle everything with 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and more salt & pepper. Let chicken brown a little before tossing around in pan. When chicken is cooked through (about 5-7 minutes total), remove to a bowl. Squeeze a little lime juice on top.

Weeknight version: Heat a 14-ounce can of black beans in a small saucepan until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
Weekend version: Heat 1/4 onion (sliced) in a small saucepan with a little vegetable oil. Add a 14-ounce container of black beans, a bay leaf, and simmer until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Weeknight: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. (This is based on a 1/2 cup rice per diner — you know your family better than I do, so make more if you think you’ll need it.)
Weekend: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. When rice is finished, toss in a generous handful of chopped cilantro, the juice from 1/2 lime, and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt.

Weeknight: Use your favorite storebought salsa. (We like Trader Joe’s Salsa Autentica or Roasted Tomatillo.)
Weekend: Finely chop 2 cups grape tomatoes (or any tomato if it’s summer) with 2 tablespoons chopped red onion, handful cilantro, splash of red wine vinegar,  salt, pepper, 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper.

Quick Guacamole
Weeknight: Slice an avocado into chunks
Weekend: Using a fork, mash one avocado with 1/4 teaspoon cumin, salt to taste, and a heavy squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Other components
Sharp cheddar (sliced or grated), fresh cilantro, sour cream, shredded lettuce. (Me: “What do you think about using shredded kale instead of romaine?” Andy: “Sounds great as long as I don’t have to have it.”)

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Ellen @ CheapCooking

This is also a great fast lunch if you work at home. I usually do something like this with leftover cooked chicken. I like to marinate and grill the chicken breasts on the weekend and cook one or two extra for a mid week dinner like this. And adding the cilantro to the rice really does jazz it up doesn’t it? I’ve done similar add-ins to go with curries.


This is absolutely going on next week’s menu. I love how something like this can be deconstructed to fit my healthy eating needs while allowing the man of the house to go crazy.

The Lazy Fair

DUH! I literally slapped my forehead with this one. I order the naked burrito all the time at Qdoba. We make bean burritos and chicken fajitas at home all the time. And yet, it never occurred to me to make this at home!

Amanda @ DinnersintheFourOneFive

I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve been watching my carb consumption lately. As a result, I make a version of this *for myself*whenever we have taco night at our house, but it never occurred to me to see if the kids would like it. Great idea!

For the record, if I was asked to sum up your book in one word it’d be, “bible.”

Sarah Griffith

This is exactly what I needed for tonight. My goal is to clean out the fridge and freezer by making creative dinners and have any empty freezer by the weekend. That stuff sits in there waaaaaay too long. To avoid the store, I’m going to use my leftover steak and season it like you did the chicken, weeknight black bean version, slow cooking brown rice in my rice cooker, jarred salsa, no avocado because I’m avoiding the store at all costs, and either frozen soy beans or another frozen veggie. It’ll be great. I customize your recipes all the time and they turn out wonderful. Thank you and good night!

margaret blackwell

Question: you say “brown rice in rice cooker”…..would you please tell how you do this…any adjustments you make??? Thanks for taking time with this!!


Like The Lazy Fair, I had a real head-slap here too. I have probably eaten a Chipotle burrito bowl at my office desk a dozen times in 2013 alone and it never occurred to me to attempt this at home for my kids who love all things Mexican. I’ll be starting with the all-weeknight version!

Julie C

We make a version of this using your quick pickled onions from the black bean burritos in the book — the ultimate yum topping! But the chicken and rice with the lime-y goodness needs to happen here ASAP.


I probably shouldn’t admit this, but my first thought was “YESSSS” because this will be easier to eat on the couch in front of Netflix than an actual burrito. The lower carb thing? Bonus.


I’ve re-created their chicken before, but couldn’t seem to put it all together in a way that comes close to Chipotle’s. I’m excited to try your version!

Carlinne @Cook with 2 Chicks

This is such a “why didn’t I think of that” idea. That is what is so perfect about DALS. Your ideas are genious AND simple/doable. I would LOVE kale instead of romaine, but Andy’s response is too funny.


This is an absolute favorite requested regularly by my children. We usually go without the chicken and just call them bean bowls… We sometimes put on Lemon Goddess dressing to mimic the flavor of the special sauce from the Whole Bowl food truck in Portland, OR. LOVE IT!


We make this but we also marinate the chicken and grill it over the weekend to have ready during the week. A good marinade for this is chili powder, cumin, balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil and a little lime juice.


Thank you for this post, I wanted a lunch idea and you gave it to me! We had everything already in the fridge-beans, chicken to be sliced, cheese to be grated, lime to be juiced, rice already cooked, etc! We’ve been eating gluten free this week to try challenge ourselves to eat better and read labels more and I was getting sick of salads. This was delicious and neither husband nor I ever thought of doing this before, though we don’t know why!


Ha! I love that your girls think Chipotle is the best restaurant in NY. Thanks for the weeknight vs. weekend versions. Flexibility is something I need in my life. I love being inspired by how other people cook.


Great idea. We do a similar kind of thing but with an Asian flair. Rice and chicken or tofu or beef, a scrambled egg cooked flat and sliced into strips, chopped cashews or peanuts, and whatever veggies are around cut into long strips and sautéed quickly with ginger. But my favorite part of it is the paste we make to flavor the rice: minced fresh ginger and scallions with toasted sesame oil. Stir it into the hot rice right before serving and you may never make rice another way.


I’m making that soon. As in tomorrow.
I have chicken in the fridge and when I intimated that we might be having pulled chicken – again? so soon? – I was greeted with a loud chorus of boos.
Thanks for keepin’ it real.


OH.MY.GOSH. We are burrito bowl fans. This is in our regular week night rotation in 709. So happy we aren’t the only ones trying to be Chipotle 🙂


Oh yeah, I’d say badass is an accurate description of DALS recipes, writing, and overall attitude. Rock on!


Ok thank thank thank you for this! I eat the Chipotle chicken burrito bowl way too much and it never occured to me to try and make it at home! I have printed this off and we are having this tonight!


i love your friend sally. and, since you mentioned flexitarian, i’m compelled to add: during a week-long “cleanse” of eating vegan and g-free, a version of this bowl got me through many nights of dinner. Trader Joe’s fat-free refrieds, avocado, brown rice, lettuce, salsa, and this phony cheese called “Veganrella” whose very existence should be awaiting trial at The Hague.

A Life From Scratch

First of all, your comment about ‘real’ and your dinner diary made me laugh out loud.

Secondly, sigh. I love recipes like this. We are currently in the newborn and K phase – so trying to juggle those two ‘extremes’ can prove to be interesting around dinnertime.

P.S. I have read pages 125 – 128 of your book over and over. There are even tear stains to prove it. The exhaustion of a child that does not sleep, well, you get it! I guess I just wanted you to know I feel less alone when I read that section and it means a lot to me!


This week we had burrito bowls at a local Mexican place here in Glasgow and I told my husband… “I can make this!” Thanks for making it even easier! Mexican food here in the UK is pretty expensive but this makes it much easier to do on a budget.


Fantastic idea! We already love your salmon teriyaki bowls, using the teriyaki from Time for Dinner and topped with furikake (mixed dried seaweed, sesame, salt, sugar that we discovered on a vacation in Hawaii.)


I dream about Chipotle’s rice! Such cilantro-Limey goodness. And their guacamole. Yum. Making these bowls tonight, thanks Jenny!


Thank you! I made these Saturday night (a version between weeknight and weekend) and the kids loved it! My 6-year-old made 3 bowls and declared it, “The best dinner ever!” My 3-year-old made two bowls. They were still talking about it at Sunday breakfast and wanted to know when they make their own dinner again.


I love your new deconstructed series! This was a hit with all ages. And the non-bean eaters actually let a few slip in! Keep them coming.


A tip I read on smitten kitchen.com….Goya brand black bean soup is a great shortcut for seasoned beans like Chipotle’s. I recommend it for burrito bowls!


Great recipe! I like the fajita veggies at Chipotle so I sliced green pepper and an onion and tossed them with olive oil/salt/pepper. I roasted the in the oven while cooking everything else and the added black beans to the mix for the last few minutes.


I made a version of this for my kids tonight. All went spectacularly well except for the 9 year old freaking out about the black beans. The more adventurous 5 year old loved it all. Added a little Sriracha for the adults and we were all set.


Jenny, this is absolutely terrific! I used to live in D.C., and my train stop after work was right by a Chipotle – must confess I inhaled their chicken burrito bowls for dinner with regularity. We regularly make burritos with lots of the same components, but somehow, this is just more…fun! We made the “weekend version” tonight (our kids aren’t home anymore, so we can be more leisurely), except we cheated and subbed in pre-cooked brown rice that we doctored up. Absolutely fabulous! I could eat this every night. Thanks!


This was delicious and devoured by all! Including my two year old! My older son suggested this become our plan for all dinners between Sunday and Thursday. He will be getting more deconstructed meals for sure. Thank you!


A few hints and shortcuts, some from Chipoltle employees!
1) Add 2 bay leaves whiles cooking the rice, remove, then mash the cilantro with the lime juice, and little lemon juice, and the salt…then add to the rice
2) An employee gave me the marinade for the chicken and beef….take a can of chipotle peppers and one onion and whiz together into a paste in the food processor. That’s all. I only use 2 peppers and it’s spicy enough.
3) Canned seasoned black beans are a quick substitute!
4) Their guacamole is spicy…I use mashed avocados with some salsa and garlic salt. Perfect.
5) If you use kale, put it in the bowl and massage it to break up the fibers…..it’s much better.


i have to contribute my friend julia’s blender salsa recipe that has been such a hit with pretty much anyone who tries it –
1 nice ripe tomato (i like to use cherry tomatoes)
big handful of cilantro
small piece of an onion (1/4 of a small onion)
juice from a lime
good amount of salt
1 tbs or 2 of vegetable oil – grapeseed or similar
optional – small slice of jalepeno pepper

blend all in blender lightly just until mixed.
we put this on our burrito bowls.


This is AMAZING! Thank you for the recommendation. This is taking our Mexican nights to a whole new level!


I’m making a version of this–using back-pocket tacos from the book–for tonight’s supper. i’ve been meaning to tell you: my family loves that chicken!! so glad to have it in my rotation.


We made it with cauliflower ‘rice’. Just grate or put the cauliflower through the food processor and then drizzle olive oil and seasoning and roast on 200C fan oven for 12mins. Worked really well and makes for a lighter meal.

Nicole Shugars

This has been one of my family’s favorites for years after I found it in your Celebrate Everything book. Of course, the family loves the make everything from scratch version — they can be so high maintenance 🙂 Thanks for another great recipe!