Chipotle Taco & Quinoa Bowl
Every day I pick my kids up at the babysitter after work and every day I get the same cranky question:
“Moooooom, what’s for dinner?”
They’re not even completely inside the car before they’re hounding me about what we’re having to eat. And for the record, it’s not just a casual question. There’s no “Hey Mom, how are you? What’s for dinner?” or “You’ll never guess what happened at lunch today! By the way, what’s for dinner?” No, there is none of that. It is a daily query, raised with the explicit expectation that they will be disappointed, so it is therefore asked in a tone dripping with contempt. Dripping, because there is so much disdain for the as-yet-unknown dinner, it can’t be contained by a simple question. As they sit there in the backseat, every part of their being is exhibiting a hostility with regard to the dinner, that mind you, I haven’t even disclosed yet. But when I respond with “We’re having tacos!” then I get cheers and all is well…for the time being.
I’m not going to pretend that when I make my kids tacos it’s anything outside the box or extraordinary. There are no blackened fish tacos with mango salsa. They wouldn’t eat that. They get your basic venison taco, made with a seasoning packet and refried beans (mixed in with the taco meat so they don’t actually know what they’re eating), and corn, which altogether make for a complete sodium bomb of a dinner. It’s a serious missed opportunity when it comes to the awesome potential of Mexican food. But, for the time being I pick my battles so that’s what they get. As for me, it just doesn’t work anymore. Try finding a taco seasoning packet that doesn’t include wheat or dairy. Instead, I’ve started mixing up batches of my own taco meat and I freeze it in little containers which works out splendidly. When taco night comes around, I can easily get the kids their sodium bomb in a tortilla, and I have something ready that I can eat too.
It was one of these such occasions that I first made this taco quinoa bowl. I happened to have some pico de gallo left over from the weekend so I made up a salad with arugula, taco meat, pico, avocado, and I threw in some leftover quinoa. It was a winner, winner, taco dinner! I liked it so much that I ate it for lunch the next two days. And then that weekend I made up another batch of everything so I could eat it for lunch again the following week. And here I am, about 10 taco quinoa bowls later, sitting and contemplating making up a double recipe tomorrow so there is never a time that I am without the meat mixture ready to go in my freezer.
I love using chipotle chili powder in this seasoning mix because it gives the meat a smoky flavor that you don’t find in your average taco mix. I also like adding some water and tomato paste to the meat so that it gets a little bit saucy. You need some water to loosen up the tomato paste, but then I also add arrowroot starch to thicken it up again as it simmers. Arrowroot starch is a gluten free/Paleo-approved thickening agent that you can probably find in the natural food section of your grocery store. If you don’t follow either of those eating philosophies, then regular cornstarch would be a fine substitute.
The individual components can be spicy between the jalapeños in the salsa and the chipotle chili powder in the meat, but when you put it all together, the creaminess of the avocado and sweet & briny pickled onion help to balance out that heat. I’m not a fan of overly-spicy food and this works fine for me, but if you are really spice-averse, you could cut back on the chili powder (instead of a full tablespoon, try 1/2 – 3/4 of a tablespoon) and only start with half of a jalapeño in the salsa. And don’t forget – make sure you remove the jalapeño seeds, unless you like it really spicy, then keep them in.
The pico de gallo has my favorite pickled onions, which add a really nice sweetness to the salsa. You may be inclined to skip them because you should make them a few hours before the salsa, but it only takes about 5 minutes to slice the onions and mix up the brine so give them a try. If you need them for dinner, make them in the morning, or the night before. Once you have the meat and salsa made, you can use however much you like of each component to make your bowl. In the recipe below, I indicate that I use about 2 cups of arugula, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1 cup of meat, 1/2 cup of salsa, and 1/4 – 1/2 of an avocado per bowl, but feel free to adjust as necessary.
Arugula is a hearty green and will hold up fine if you want to assemble the components in the morning and take them for lunch. Pack your meat in a separate container so you can heat it up quickly and put it on top, if you like. The meat and bean mixture freezes really well if you have extra or want to consider making a double batch.
Someday, my kids will embrace the glorious flavors of cilantro and chipotle chilis. When they do, I’ll be ready!
- Cooked quinoa
- 2 cups diced tomato
- 1 cup chopped pickled onions
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 2 Tbl. fresh lime juice
- 1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed, minced - use the whole pepper if you like it a little spicier
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 lb. ground turkey, lean beef, or venison
- 1 Tbl. chipotle chili powder
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 Tbl. arrowroot starch
- 2 Tbl. tomato paste
- 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1. Combine all ingredients and mix well.
- 1. Brown meat and drain any excess fat. Return meat to pan and add kidney beans.
- 2. Combine all dry ingredients, including arrowroot starch in a bowl. Whisk together so that arrowroot starch is well distributed. Add water and tomato paste and whisk until well mixed.
- 3. Pour chili mixture on top of meat. Bring to a boil and simmer meat in the sauce for 5-7 minutes or until thickened.
- 1. Place two cups (about two handfuls) of arugula at the bottom of a bowl.
- 2. Add 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa, 1 cup of taco meat, 1/2 cup of salsa, and 1/4 - 1/2 of sliced avocado.
- Taco meat freezes well, so feel free to make a double batch!