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Chicken & Quinoa Burrito Bowls with Spicy Green Sauce

5 stars based on 26 votes

burrito bowls

Is it weird to say that Mexican food makes me feel happy about life, especially this time of year? Margaritas, guac, chips and salsa, mariachi, summer nights – I just love it all. As such, I’ve got plenty of Mexican recipes on the site, but these protein-packed chicken and quinoa burrito bowls are my latest south-of-the-border obsession. The recipe is really three stand-alone dishes in one: an easy grilled chicken recipe you’ll put on repeat throughout grilling season; an addictively creamy and spicy yet cooling green sauce; and foolproof quinoa. The toppings are up to you – fresh corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, or whatever your heart desires. These burrito bowls are totally doable for a dinner party since you can do most of it ahead, and everyone will love assembling their own bowls. They’re festive, healthy, and gluten-free to boot. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Mexican Quinoa Bowl-2

Begin by making the marinade for the chicken. To make life easy, I combine everything in a ziplock bag (no dirty bowls!).

Mexican Quinoa Bowl-4

Lime gives the chicken wonderful flavor but note that I only use the zest. Lime juice, or any acidic ingredient, will turn lean boneless skinless chicken breasts to shoe leather before they ever hit the grill. To zest the limes, it’s best to use a rasp grater like the one above.

Mexican Quinoa Bowl-5

Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least six hours or overnight.

Mexican Quinoa Bowl-6

Next make the sauce.

Mexican Quinoa Bowl-7

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You’ll notice that I add some of the seeds of the jalapeño to make it spicy — go easy at first and add more to your liking.

Mexican Quinoa Bowl-8

Finally, make the quinoa by combining the quinoa, salt and water in a medium saucepan. You’ll notice that my recipe calls for a little less water than the instructions on the package. I find it comes out better (read: less mushy) this way, and you can always add a little more water at the end if need be. Cover and simmer until the quinoa is cooked.

Mexican Quinoa Bowl-9

Up to this point, the entire recipe can be made ahead. Come dinnertime, preheat the grill. Place the chicken on the grill and cook, covered, for 2-3 minutes per side, turning only once.

grilled chicken

Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and serve with the quinoa, green sauce, and toppings of your choosing.

chicken quinoa bowl-11-

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Chicken & Quinoa Burrito Bowls with Spicy Green Sauce

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour, plus at least 6 hours to marinate the chicken

Ingredients

For the Chicken

  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest, from two limes (save the limes for the green sauce)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins (or boneless skinless chicken breasts pounded to an even 1/2-inch thickness)

For the Green Sauce

  • 1 jalapeño chili pepper, seeded and roughly chopped (reserve the seeds) (see note)
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, from 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Quinoa

  • 1-1/2 cups pre-washed quinoa (or rinse it before cooking)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Suggested Toppings

  • Fresh corn, tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers, beans, cilantro

Instructions

For the Chicken

  1. Combine all of the ingredients except for the chicken breasts in a 1-gallon freezer bag. Close the bag and squish the marinade around to mix. Add the chicken and massage the marinade into the meat until evenly coated. Seal the bag and place it in a bowl in the refrigerator (the bowl protects against leakage); marinate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Clean the grill and preheat to high. Lightly dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and, using tongs, carefully rub over the grates several times until glossy and coated. (Alternatively, you can spray the grates generously with a non-flammable cooking spray.) Place the chicken on the grill and cook, covered, for 2-3 minutes per side, turning only once. Transfer to a cutting board and slice into bite-sized pieces.

For the Green Sauce

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend into a smooth sauce. Taste and then blend in some of the reserved jalapeño seeds to add heat, if desired. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Transfer the sauce to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the Quinoa

  1. Add quinoa, salt and 2-2/3 cups water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked. You'll know it is done when the little "tails" sprout from the grains. (If necessary add 1-2 tablespoons more water if the quinoa is not cooked by the time all the liquid is absorbed.) Transfer to a serving bowl.

To assemble

  1. Scoop warm quinoa into bowls and top with grilled chicken, optional toppings, and green sauce.
  2. Note: After touching the seeds of the jalapeño pepper, be sure to wash your hands well and avoid touching your eyes.
  3. Note: Nutritional information was calculated assuming that approximately 3 Tbsp. of the oil is absorbed by the chicken while marinating.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Serving size: 1 bowl (data does not include green sauce or vegetable toppings)
  • Calories: 627
  • Fat: 33 g
  • Saturated fat: 6 g
  • Carbohydrates: 53 g
  • Sugar: 3 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Protein: 29 g
  • Sodium: 701 mg
  • Cholesterol: 62 mg

Reviews & Comments

  • Hi Jen,
    This recipe has been on my list to try for months, but nobody in my family likes cilantro. Do you have any ideas for a different sauce I could make or a substitution for the cilantro?

    - Helene Winschel on September 20, 2017 Reply
    • Sure, Helene – you can use parsley.

      - Jenn on September 20, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This recipe is a family favorite. The marinade is spot on and the spicy green sauce is the perfect finishing touch. I make the marinade the night before and in the morning place the chicken in the bag.
    This is a great week night dinner.

    - Leslie on September 15, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This was addictive! The flavors were bright and spot on, and this will be in my normal recipe rotation. I broiled my chicken instead of grilling it, and I think my ancho chile powder had lost it’s punch, so I’ll buy fresh and give this another shot…maybe add some dried chipotle powder for a smoky hint of heat. Thanks so much, Jenn!

    - Cyndy G. on September 14, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Love this recipe! I have made is a few times now and even a hit with friends that aren’t into those “weird grains”

    - Cherie on September 14, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this last week and it was delicious! This is perfect for when you’re craving Chipotle but want to save money/calories! In addition to the sauce (my fiance doesnt like Cilantro) I made an additional sauce with nonfat plain greek yogurt. I thinned it out by putting a little water in it and mixing it up so it drizzles over the dish so you still get the look and the taste with more protein and less fat. I also finish it off with Cholula because I love spicy and jalapenos are just not enough sometimes 🙂 I would recommend this for a big group as well and serve it Chipotle style!

    - Julie U on September 14, 2017 Reply
  • If I do not like mayo can I sub extra sour cream or plain greek yogurt?

    - kristen Conord on September 5, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Kristen, you can use plain yogurt in place of the mayo, but it will make the dressing a bit tangier, so you may want to cut back on the lime juice. Enjoy!

      - Jenn on September 5, 2017 Reply
  • I’d like to make the chicken and quinoa burrito bowl for my book club. We usually drink wine, but it doesn’t seem like that would work with this. Any suggestions for beverages?

    - Tami Kaminsen on August 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Tami, I think a bright and dry white or sparkling wine would work – but margaritas or a tequila-based punch would be good too.

      - Jenn on August 2, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    A new healthy family favorite. The marinade and green sauce flavors make this quinoa dish fantastic. Thank you!

    - Liz Stewart on July 28, 2017 Reply
  • If subbing plain yogurt for the mayo, would you suggest plain Greek yogurt? And would you suggest a cup?

    - Lynne Harris Marsh on July 27, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Lynne, yes, either plain Greek or traditional yogurt would work in place of the mayo. And I’d use 1/2 cup (the same amount of mayo that is called for). Enjoy!

      - Jenn on July 27, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I was skeptical after l I started making it since we don’t eat a lot of quinoa but I’m definitely keeping this recipe.The sauce is the boss and the honey in the chicken plays up nicely with the spice in jalapeno. My son was planning a super sandwich using the sauce. Thanks Jenn
    I have Chicken Tikka on the menu as well.

    - Liliana on July 26, 2017 Reply
  • What can I use instead of mayo in the green sauce?

    - Laura on July 23, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Laura, you can use plain yogurt here, but it will make the dressing a bit tangier, so you may want to cut back on the lime juice. (Also, if you’re using the yogurt here, you could just use it in place of the sour cream as well.)

      - Jenn on July 25, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hi Jenn,
    I haven’t done a review in a while but don’t think that means I am not making your recipes on a regular basis! This one is another “keeper.” The cilantro sauce is delicious and versatile. I’ve used it as a dip for grilled shrimp and a spread for sandwiches too. Love the smoky, lime flavor of the marinade. Will use it for shrimp next. Tonight we will try your version of Chicken Tikka. Can’t wait!

    - Kitty on July 8, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this pretty much as instructed in the recipe. It became a n immediate favourite and, now, it’s a Go-To for myself and anyone within serving distance. I’m rarely, if ever, one to talk to friends in terms of “you gotta make this,” but, yes, with this one I’ve become that person.
    I actually triple the green sauce and use it on salad and as a condiment. It lasts for 3 days if properly refrigerated. Oh! Yeah. I used yoghurt instead of sour cream. Also served the chicken cold. It’s a great summer, patio dish and very high yum factor.

    - Lee on June 22, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Burrito Bowls are delicious! Great meal to take to a casual summer Bocce game to share with fellow players as they can choose from the several toppings and your friends who don’t eat bread are happy too.

    - Dolores Fisette on June 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is awesome! Made the recipe as written except used flat leaf parsley instead of cilantro. The sauce definitely took this dish up a notch! I did use the fresh corn and was amazed at the flavor it added! Thank you! DELICIOUS!

    - Karen S. on June 4, 2017 Reply
  • I served this to a group of men and women at our church staff meeting. There were 25 people there. The men were very skeptical, but Everyone all 25 liked it! Love this and I’m sharing this recipe a lot!
    Thank you

    - Cathy Lamb on May 31, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Gotta tell you ! your ‘green sauce’ is awesome & i make it weekly! I put it on almost everything.. Not sure if i read correctly but this recipe serving is 600+ calories? And that’s without the green sauce, .. I don’t get it.. It’s chicken & vegetables & quinoa… By the way, I have NEVER had a fail recipe with you.. thanks for helping us all out!!!

    - Penelope on May 28, 2017 Reply
    • So glad you like the green sauce– it’s kind of addictive! And yes, I know the calories seem high (I checked it twice) but the nutritional information is correct.

      - Jenn on May 29, 2017 Reply
      • How do you calculate calories with the marinade? It’s hard to determine how much oil is absorbed.

        - Alicia Arens on September 11, 2017 Reply
        • Hi Alicia, I calculated the nutritional information based on the assumption that about 3 Tbsp. of the oil is absorbed. Hope that helps!

          - Jenn on September 12, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Absolutely delicious! I broiled the chicken in the oven along with some peppers and onions, then served everything with roasted corn, homemade pico de gallo, fresh avocado and the spicy green sauce. It was excellent. How long will the sauce last in the fridge? Thank you for another great recipe!

    - Erin on May 24, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    We loved this, made following your directions exactly, Jenn. There are just two of us and I am so glad to have some leftovers for another delicious meal. The chicken and green sauce are so delicious, and I think they would be terrific in fajitas or tacos. I think I will make extra marinade next time to brush on onion slices and peppers before grilling them while the chicken grills, and give it a try, maybe with avocado… I can almost taste that! I will also use more of the jalapeno seeds in the sauce. I suspect the grandkids will give me even more ideas for using that green sauce and delicious chicken. Thank you so much!!!

    - Judy on May 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Oh my. This was delicious, and I don’t usually like quinoa. Chicken was super tasty, and sauce was fantastic. I had it cold (made chicken and quinoa this morning, ate it tonight for dinner). Made enough to have for dinner tomorrow night as well, and will be looking forward to it all day at work.

    - Kim Johnston on May 17, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn, Can the sauce be made dairy free? If so, what would you recommend to replace the sour cream? Thanks, Elisa

    - Elisa Wernick on May 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Elisa, Not sure if they make non-dairy sour cream, but if not, you could use non-dairy yogurt instead. Enjoy!

      - Jenn on May 16, 2017 Reply
  • Recipe sounds intriguing and I want to try it. My problem is I really cannot abide cilantro. Any ideas on another sauce or a substitution?

    - Mommo on May 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Mommo, while it does have a different flavor, you could get away with using flat-leaf parsley here.

      - Jenn on May 16, 2017 Reply
      • Thanks Jenn. I’ll give it a try.

        - mommo on May 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Rave review. This meal was so delicious, people were fighting over the leftovers. Glad I made a double batch. I added lime juice to the marinade and more lime juice in the green sauce (love that, so basic, green sauce because it is) but otherwise followed the recipe. My “that’s a keeper” pinterest file is getting loaded up with Once Upon a Chef recipes.

    - Marji on May 15, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Fabulous and easy dish to make.

    - Ava Dellamar on May 15, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Wow. This is one of the best dishes we have ever made. Everyone in the family including my sometimes picky 5 year old loved it. We will definitely make this again. Not everyone in my family loves spicy food so I omitted the chilli powder and jalapeños. I put some jalapeños on the side for whoever wants it. I also don’t like using mayo so used Greek yogurt instead of the mayo and sour cream, still very yummy.

    - Travellerwannabe on May 13, 2017 Reply
    • Forgot to mention that we make the chicken in the oven it took a good 20-30 minutes though, maybe it was too thick.

      - Travellerwannabe on May 13, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This was incredible and fairly easy to make. I made extra of the sauce and want to put it on everything- makes a great salad dressing.

    - Elissa on May 11, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I especially loved the marinade and will use it again with other dishes. The only two things my husband and I thought could make this recipe even better was to add another jalapeño to the green sauce and to add crushed tortilla chips to the topping list for some added crunch. Lovely again Jen, thanks!

    - Ellen on May 11, 2017 Reply
  • Recipe states Total Time 1 hour but doesn’t mention the 6 hours to marinate!

    - Christine on May 9, 2017 Reply
    • Thanks for catching that, Christine – it has been corrected!

      - Jenn on May 9, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This could also be turned into a fantastic vegan dish. We used cubed tofu instead of the chicken and marinated it the same way. I broiled it in the oven to get a beautiful crust. We used vegan sour cream and vegan mayo for the green sauce It turned out just wonderful. This is a keeper recipe. Thanks, Jenn!

    - Mary on May 7, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Love this recipe! I skipped the cilantro since I don’t like the taste of it, but everything else is very delicious! I broiled the chicken 10 mins each side instead since they were pretty thick, also with the oven door slightly opened, cus I forgot to pound the chicken evenly. Then I cutted the chicken into strips and broiled about 3 more mins on the thicker parts to make sure they were fully cooked. With a little chard on the outer edge, the chicken was perfect! Thank you for this awesome recipe!

    - Serena on May 6, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Jenn, you have done it again! I feel like I say the same thing about every recipe of yours that I try but this was so delicious. I knew the minute I tasted the sauce that this was going to be a winner. My son, who is my barometer of sanity and second set of taste buds, was floored. His comment was, “this is better than Chipotle!”, the highest compliment imaginable from a teenager 🙂

    - Victoria on May 6, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Delicious! Adding this to my favorite recipes! I made a few slight changes; chicken broth for the quinoa, ranch dressing for the Sour cream (I didn’t have any!) an extra jalapeno in the sauce. We also added black beans and salsa in the bowl. That chicken was delicious!

    - Kathy on May 6, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Made this burrito bowl last night and, both my husband and I agreed, it was amazing! Beautiful to look at, healthy to eat, and very flavorful. I left out the chili pepper in the sauce, and it was still spicy enough. Thanks for sharing this great recipe with us.

    - Paula on May 5, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This has to be the best burrito bowl I’ve ever had! Beautiful to look at, chicken flavorful and juicy and the sauce was absolutely incredible! I will be making this again in a few days for company. Delicious!

    - Jo-ann on May 5, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn, if I don’t have a grill, how can I cook the chicken in the oven?

    - Serena on May 4, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Serena, sure, you can broil the chicken for the same amount of time specified for the grill (2 – 3 minutes per side). Enjoy!

      - Jenn on May 5, 2017 Reply
  • This looks fantastic! Can’t wait to make it.

    - Sally on May 4, 2017 Reply
  • What’s the spice level for the chicken? I’m concerned because my young kids won’t eat anything spicy. Can I substitute something else for the ancho chili powder? I love your site and can’t wait for the cookbook! Thanks!

    - Pam on May 4, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Pam, The chicken is not at all spicy — all the heat comes from the sauce. My kids leave the sauce off and gobble this up! I’d use the ancho chili powder if possible but you can sub regular chili powder if need be. Hope you enjoy it and so glad you’re enjoying the site!

      - Jenn on May 4, 2017 Reply
      • 5 stars

        This was delicious! Didn’t change a thing and the kids and adults all loved it. Definitely a keeper.

        - Pam on May 11, 2017 Reply
  • Jenn, can the chicken be air fried? This recipe looks like a winner. Thanks.

    - Paula on May 4, 2017 Reply
    • Paula, I’m not familiar with an air fryer, but it if cooks chicken nicely, I suspect it should work (though it won’t have the same grill marks and flavor you get from the grill). Enjoy!

      - Jenn on May 4, 2017 Reply
  • Can you substitute nonfat yogurt instead of mayo?

    - Gwen on May 4, 2017 Reply
    • Gwen, Sure, but it will make the dressing a bit tangier, so you may want to cut back on the lime juice. (Also, if you’re using the yogurt here, you could just use it in place of the sour cream as well.)

      - Jenn on May 5, 2017 Reply

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