These rice bowls are crazy delicious, make ahead friendly, customizable, hearty and healthy!
These rice bowls are inspired by my favorite restaurant CAVA, bursting with exotic, fresh Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors you are going crave! I guarantee they are going to become a lunch and dinner favorite AND they are fabulous for meal prep! These rice bowls are loaded with your choice of Greek chicken or chicken shawarma (or go vegetarian), rice, lettuce, roasted veggies then piled high with your choice of toppings such has pickled red onions, cucumber salad, feta, almonds, avocados and hummus, all drizzled with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce. The combination is nothing short of mesmerizing. I can’t wait for you to fall in love with these rice bowls too!
More Rice Bowl Recipes!
I am such a fan of rice bowls, burrito bowls, taco bowls, any type of bowl! They boast boast some serious swag with their rainbow stack of ingredients that always taste exponentially more delicious than the sum of their parts. If you love bowls like me, don’t miss these must try recipes: chipotle chicken burrito bowls, chipotle lime shrimp bowls, beef barbacoa taco bowls, honey lime chicken fajita bowls, Cajun chicken black bean bowls, Korean beef and veggie bowls, mojo salmon bowls, teriyaki chicken bowls and egg roll in a bowl.
RICE BOWL RECIPE
My favorite restaurant in the world is CAVA (in 13 states). Cava is a build your own rice bowl joint that results in a hypnotic spectrum of flavor and texture that somehow taste new with every bite. Since Patrick and I are playing it extra safe right now, I have been making my own CAVA rice bowls at home and loving it. The layer upon layer of crunchy, creamy, juicy textures and smoky, spicy, earthy, bright, tangy, fresh flavors is just so deeply satisfying. I want, I crave, I need! Best of all, these sensational rice bowls are guilt free!
Here are more reasons to love this rice bowl recipe:
- Delicious! The bold, juicy chicken, cooling creamy cilantro yogurt sauce, the roasted curry cauliflower and melt-in-your mouth sweet potatoes, the fresh crisp cucumbers, the juicy tomatoes, the salty Kalamata olives, the zesty pickled red onions, the crunchy sliced almonds and the creamy roasted red pepper hummus all piled on textual rice. It does not get any better!
- Make ahead. I love making all of the rice bowl components ahead of time and storing them separately in the fridge. At lunch or dinner time, just assemble your bowl exactly how you want it in minutes!
- Stores & reheats well. Enjoy rice bowls for dinner then enjoy the equally delicious leftovers for lunch!
- Versatile. This is one of my favorite aspects of this rice bowl recipe! Use all or some of the suggested fixings to completely customize you rice bowls – use your favorite type of rice, protein, veggies sauce and add-ins or create a rice bowl bar.
- Family friendly. To that end, everyone can assemble their own rice bowls with their favorite ingredients to make their perfect bowl.
- Healthy. These rice bowls can be devoured guilt free and you’ll love every bite. Best of all, they are hearty, filling and satisfying.
- Freezer friendly. No matter which chicken you choose, you can make a big batch and freeze some for later.
- Great for entertaining. Stick this recipe in your back pocket for when it’s safe to gather again. You can prep all of the rice bowl ingredients ahead of time for stress free entertaining then line them up CAVA style so everyone can assemble their own rice bowls. This makes YOUR life easier and THEIR dish perfect for them!
Rice bowl Ingredients
Rice bowls can be customized to suit your tastes but I’ve outlined below my personal favorite combination. To build the rice bowl, you’ll need:
Part 1: The base:
You can customize the base and make it all grain bowls, grain/greens bowls or even eliminate the rice altogether for low carb.
- Rice: use your favorite rice – brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, cauliflower rice or even quinoa and lentils. I suggest keeping the rice flavor profile simple, seasoning with just salt and pepper because the rest of the bowl ingredients are so flavorful. To make the rice, it can be as simple as dumping rice into your rice cooker or even using microwavable rice packets for individual rice bowls.
- Greens: again, pick your fav! I use a spring lettuce blend but you can use arugula, spinach, Romaine, etc.
Part 2: The protein:
The flavor profile can lean Middle Eastern with chicken shawarma or doner kebabs or go Mediterranean with Greek chicken. I could say each of them is my favorite because I love each of them so much! I’ve also included a 10-minute Greek chicken for all those busy nights.
- Chicken shawarma: is intensely flavorful laced with cumin, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves to create a warm, earthy, smoky, pungent marinade brightened by a splash of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. The chicken can be grilled, baked or cooked in a skillet.
- Doner chicken kebabs: marinated in an intoxicating yogurt bath spiked with cumin, smoked paprika, coriander, cinnamon, and garlic then threaded on skewers and grilled or baked. The resulting chicken boasts a tantalizing charred exterior while the inside remains splendidly juicy and flavorful as it’s thinly sliced off the skewers.
- Greek chicken with marinade: juicy chicken marinated in a blend of lemon juice, oregano, garlic, basil, onion powder, paprika and cumin for a bright lemon/oregano forward flavor.
- 10-minute Greek chicken: is so quick, easy and tasty – and did I say 10 minutes already? You’ll whisk the same ingredients used in the Greek chicken marinade together (in smaller proportions), stir in shredded rotisserie then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Part 3: The Roasted Veggies and Fresh Veggies
The rainbow of veggies make this rice bowl recipe, so please don’t skip! The roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes and chickpeas will knock your socks off with their warm, spicy, smoky, sweet flavoring and delightful textures, and the fresh veggies are the perfect, vibrant compliment. There are a few seasonings going on here, but I promise they all come together beautifully.
- Cauliflower: You’ll need one head cauliflower for this recipe. You can either purchase a small cauliflower and cut it up yourself, or save time by purchasing a bag of pre-chopped florets (about 5 cups). The cauliflower and chickpeas are seasoned with curry powder, salt and pepper. You will CRAVE them. It is by far my favorite seasonings for both. The cauliflower and chickpeas will have a mild kick but are more flavorful than “spicy” and still kid friendly when combined with all the rest of the ingredients.
- Chickpeas: Add so much texture to the bowls not to mention are high in fiber, protein, folate and phytonutrients. Make sure to drain and rinse them well before roasting them. If you want crispier chickpeas, roast them for 10 additional minutes after you roast all the veggies together.
- Sweet potato: Seasoned with brown sugar, chili powder and paprika for a sweet and spicy creaminess your taste buds will swoon over. Use one large sweet potato chopped into 1/2-inch pieces. You can actually eat the skin, so no need to peel first if you wish! If leaving the skin on, rinse the potato under warm water to remove any dirt.
- Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes combine with the sliced, quartered cumbers with a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano to make a simple fresh salad. Use cherry tomatoes verses grape tomatoes if you have the choice because they are inherently sweeter.
- Cucumber: Adds a delightful fresh, crunchiness. I prefer an English cucumber so I don’t have to peel it, but you can also use a good old slicing cucumber and peel it first.
Part 3: The Toppings
Now comes the fun! The toppings can literally be whatever you choose, but these are my favorites:
- Pickled red onions: I have an entire post dedicated to pickled red onions because I love them so much! Even if you don’t think you love pickled red onions, I highly suggest you try them; they’re bright, tangy with a slight sweetness and subtle crunch and are a highlight in these rice bowls. You can purchase jarred pickled red onions at the grocery store located by the capers, pepperoncini, etc. or they only take 15 minutes to prep and then 30 minutes to rest with my quick recipe.
- Radishes: Add a zesty, crisp, peppery crunch to your rice bowl.
- Avocado: The creamy avocado complements the tangy pickled red onion and radishes and spiced veggies perfectly.
- Blueberries: Add juicy pops of unexpected, delightful sweetness.
- Kalamata olives: gems of dark, rich intensely fruity, salty flavor. I use pitted Kalamata olives and then slice them because they are juicer and tend to hold together better than jarred sliced olives.
- Feta cheese: Rich, creamy, salty, tangy cheese adds SO much flavor! It is sold by the block or in crumbles. I always have a large container of feta crumbles in my fridge from Costco, so that is what I use but if you can get your hands-on chunked feta, it is fabulous!
- Sliced almonds: Brings the nutty crunch!
- Hummus: Creamy roasted red pepper hummus is my first choice for this rice bowl recipe. It is silky smooth, divinely creamy nutty, tangy, smoky, bright, garlicky, and weaves the ingredients together.
Part 4: The cilantro yogurt sauce
You will want to put this cilantro yogurt sauce on everything! It’s lusciously creamy, tangy, super flavorful and a MUST to marry all of the flavors and textures together. The sauce is easy to make in your food processor (or blender if you don’t have one). You will need:
- Greek yogurt: You must use Greek yogurt verses regular yogurt because Greek yogurt is much thicker. You may use either Greek whole-milk yogurt, low-fat or non-fat yogurt and they will all produce excellently thick, creamy results.
- Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice is preferred, but you may substitute with bottled lemon juice.
- Cilantro: Fresh, tangy, citrusy, and zesty. Use the top of the cilantro bunch no need to separate the leaves from the stems.
- Parsley: Clean, slightly peppery with a touch of earthiness and almost anise-like. Use the top of the bunch, no need to separate the leaves from the stems.
- Garlic: I use 2 garlic cloves for but you are welcome to add more or less to taste.
- Seasonings: Salt, pepper and ground cumin round out the flavor profile. Use more or less to taste.
You can swap out the rice bowl ingredients but I suggest plenty of variety – salty, crunchy and creamy. I’ve listed a few pickled options, but I would just choose one. Here are a few ideas:
- Low-carb rice bowls: Make low-carb rice bowls by replacing the rice with cauliflower rice.
- Vegetarian rice bowls: You can make the rice bowls vegetarian by omitting the chicken. You can double the chickpeas for added protein if you’d like.
- Roasted Veggies: Swap in butternut squash, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts which require the same roasting time. My honey sriracha Brussels sprouts are a personal favorite.
- Red or green cabbage: Also bring the crunch. Cabbage or coleslaw can be used in addition or instead of lettuce. Shred part of a head of red cabbage yourself, or you can buy a bag of pre-shredded cabbage or slaw.
- Carrots: Can be swapped for the cucumbers for a sweet, crunchy flavor. You can spiralize, shred, or cut the carrots into matchsticks.
- Corn: Roasted corn or charred corn salsa would be amazing! Can be used in addition to the tomato cucumber salad or instead of.
- Tabbouleh: Can be swapped for the cucumbers/tomato salad. Tabbouleh can be homemade or purchased in the deli of most grocery stores. It’s made of tomatoes, mint, parsley onion, bulgur, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and sweet pepper.
- Nuts: Swap the sliced almonds for chopped almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds or pepitas.
- Green onions: Adds a more subtle, mild onion flavor. They should be sliced thinly so you don’t bite down on a big piece of raw onion.
- Pickled turnips: Can be used instead of the pickled red onions. Pickled turnips are described as the pickle of the Middle East with their vinegary bite of heat and contrasting crunch. They can be found at some grocery stores, Asian markets and always on Amazon.
- Giardiniera: Can be used instead of the pickled red onions. Marinated, pickled vegetables such as celery, cauliflower, onions, carrots, red bell peppers and green olives with loads of tangy flavor. Even though it’s technically Italian, it blends nicely with the flavors of the rice bowl. It comes in both MILD and HOT – so pay attention!
- Amba: Can also be used instead of the pickled red onions. Amba is a tangy mango pickled condiment made of pickled green mangos, vinegar, salt, turmeric, chili and fenugreek.
- Mangos: Swap the blueberries for mangos or mango chutney.
- Tzatziki: Swap the cilantro yogurt sauce with tzatziki made with Greek yogurt, cucumbers, fresh dill, lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper.
- Harissa: Spice up the rice bowls with harissa, a Tunisian hot chili pepper paste. It is made of roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, spices and herbs such as garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin and olive oil.
How to Make Rice bowls
These healthy rice bowls require some extra prep work, but the recipe as a whole is so easy to make and can be prepped in stages. So, pop on a podcast or your favorite playlist and get to chopping!
Step 1: Chicken & Pickled Red Onions
- Marinate chicken if required according to recipe directions. You can grill or bake the chicken when you’re ready to assemble the bowls or make it ahead of time and serve cold, room temperature or warmed.
- While the chicken is marinating, make the quick pickled red onions if using. Simply simmer vinegar, water, salt, sugar and pouring it over sliced red onions. Let rest for 30 minutes or refrigerate until ready to use.
Step 2: Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
- You can make the yogurt sauce and prep your toppings while the chicken is marinating.
- To make the cilantro yogurt sauce, add Greek yogurt, cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and seasonings to a food processor and blend until the herbs are chopped, scraping down the sides as needed. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.
Step 3: Roast the Veggies and Chickpeas
- Add cauliflower and chickpeas to one side of a large sheet pan and toss with olive oil, curry powder, salt and pepper. Move to one side of the pan.
- Add sweet potatoes to the other side of the pan. Toss with olive oil, brown sugar, chili powder, ground cinnamon, paprika, salt and pepper.
- Spread vegetables into a single layer and roast for 25 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.
- Meanwhile, combine the cucumbers and tomatoes in a bowl. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, dried oregano and salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
Step 4: Assemble the Rice bowls
- Layer the bowls with cooked rice, lettuce, roasted vegetables, and chicken followed by the desired toppings.
- Drizzle with yogurt sauce and dig in!
Tips for Rice bowl recipe
- Prep ahead: Every single component of the rice bowls can be prepped ahead which will make “go time” quick and easy.
- Pickled red onions: Make the onions when you marinate the chicken so they’ll be ready when you need them.
- Chill the cilantro yogurt sauce. Also make at the same time as the chicken and onions so it has time to chill which marries all the flavors together.
- Blender cilantro yogurt sauce: You can also make the sauce in your blender but it will be thinner. For a thicker sauce, stir in additional yogurt (don’t blend).
- Don’t skip the sauce! The yogurt sauce is a key component in this rice bowl recipe. Its creamy consistency is needed to marry all of the ingredients together and its refreshing tanginess cuts through the earthy flavors of the chicken and roasted veggies. If someone in your household has an aversion to cilantro, add additional parsley or mint instead.
- 90-second rice: Save time by using brown rice or quinoa packets, which take 90 seconds to cook, perfect for individual rice bowls.
- Customize rice bowl ingredients: The ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. You can use add/swap any ingredients for your favs.
- Serve CAVA style: You can create a serving bowl bar and let everyone build their own bowls.
- You don’t have to make a rice bowl! Turn these rice bowls into a salad or wrap!
make Ahead Rice bowls
One of my favorite aspects of this rice bowl recipe is that EVERYTHING can be made ahead. Simply store the ingredients in separate containers until ready to serve. Reheat the rice, roasted veggies and chicken just until warm or room temperature or you can even serve everything cold.
How to Store Rice bowls
Rice bowls will last approximately 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
The cooked/warm components can be stored together (chicken, roasted vegetables, rice, and chickpeas) and will allow you to heat them in the microwave without heating the fresh components.
I suggest storing the fresh/cold components in separate containers (veggies and yogurt sauce) so they don’t become soggy.
How to Reheat Rice bowls
The cooked ingredients are typically served more room temperature than hot, so heat the cooked components for just 60 seconds or so, or longer if desired. Then, top with fresh components and yogurt sauce. You can also completely assembly the bowls with cooked and fresh ingredients and microwave for just 30 seconds to take the chill off for room temperature rice bowls.
how to Meal Prep Rice bowls
Rice bowls make excellent meal prep if you want to prep them ahead of time for convenient, on the go lunches. You can completely assembly the bowls with cooked and fresh ingredients together and microwave for just 30 seconds to take the chill off for room temperature rice bowls or store the cooked and cold ingredients separately. Here’s how to meal prep for the latter:
- Divide rice between 4 containers.
- Top with chicken, roasted vegetables and chickpeas. Don’t close containers until everything has cooled to room temperature.
- The following cold toppings can be stored together layered in this order: pickled red onions, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, radishes, almonds, feta. The lettuce and cilantro yogurt sauce should be stored in separate containers.
- When ready to eat, warm the chicken, rice and roasted vegetables, then top with remaining ingredients.
Helpful Tools to Make Rice bowls
- Large Jelly Roll Pan (15”L x 21:W x 1”H): I use this pan all the time for sheet pan meals and roasting vegetables. You don’t want your veggies to overlap or they will steam instead of caramelize. This pan is commercial grade, 18-gauge aluminum for great strength and durability and can hold your heaviest food without warping.
- Quality Knives: A chef’s knife will be your most used kitchen tool by far!Quality knives make prep time much quicker and are important for safety as well. If you’re concerned about moola, please remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 25 years or more. I love my Wusthof but there are hundreds of less expensive knives with great reviews such as this one.
- Cutting Board: I use my big, solid cutting board daily so it’s worth the investment. This extra-large cutting board allows you to prep all your veggies on one surface and the bamboo is easier on knives than plastic.
Looking for More Healthy Dinner Recipes?
- Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowls
- Chicken Shawarma (Plates or Bowls)
- Mojo Salmon Bowls
- Chipotle Lime Shrimp Burrito Bowls
- Honey Balsamic Tuna Veggie Bowls
- Teriyaki Chicken Bowls
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