This is my absolute favorite kind of slow cooker recipe — one that takes less than five minutes to pull together and then rewards you with a delicious, healthy dinner at the end of the day. These burrito bowls are full of chili-spiced brown rice, black beans, corn, and yes, tender bites of shredded chicken. Everything gets cooked right in the pot, so all you need to do is dish yourself a bowl and sprinkle with cheese.
I usually do this recipe in two stages. First, I get the chicken going with some broth and diced tomatoes, and then I add the rice, beans, and corn midway through cooking. This ensures that everything finishes cooking at the same time and the beans don't get too mushy. If I'm going to be gone for a while and won't be home to add the rice, I just leave it out of the slow cooker and cook it separately on the stovetop just before serving. It dirties one more pot, but it gives me some flexibility with my schedule.
The first few times you make this, pay special attention to the rice. I like using brown rice here because it holds it shape better over longer cooking, but it can be a bit hard to judge exactly when it will be done. I use a basic grocery-store brand of rice and it typically finishes cooking in 3 1/2 hours on low in this recipe; whichever brand or variety you use, I suggest checking it after about 2 1/2 hours to see how quickly it's cooking and if it needs more liquid. (Speaking of liquid, you'll get some from the canned tomatoes, so you won't need to add as much broth as you normally would if you were cooking the rice by itself. Even so, use your best judgement if you think more or less liquid is needed.)
I use my small 3-quart slow cooker for this recipe. It's just big enough to fit everything at once and give the rice plenty of room to expand as it cooks. If you have a larger slow cooker, I'd suggest doubling the recipe and freezing half for other meals.
One of the best things about this recipe, aside from how easy it is to make, is the way all the flavors and ingredients mingle during cooking. The chicken cooks in a tomato-rich, cumin-spiked broth, which then gets absorbed by the rice later on. Every bite ends up deeply seasoned and fragrant with spices.
Eat it in a bowl with slices of avocado and a dollop of sour cream, or roll it up in a burrito for lunch. Either way, it's a win. This simple slow cooker meal has more than earned its spot in my regular line-up.
Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls
Serves 6 to 8
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, chicken thighs, or a mix
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 to 1 1/4 cups chicken stock, divided
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 cup brown rice
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
Optional toppings: shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, sour cream, diced avocado, salsa, hot sauce, diced green onions, shredded lettuce
Combine the chicken breasts, diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of chicken stock, chili powder, salt, and cumin in the bowl of a 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-quart slow cooker. Make sure the chicken is covered. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.
Remove the lid and add the rice, black beans, frozen corn, and another 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Replace the lid and continue cooking on low for another 3 to 4 hours. Check the rice periodically in the last hour of cooking, stirring once or twice to make sure the rice cooks evenly and adding more chicken broth if the mixture seems dry. Cooking is done when the rice is tender — if the rice is done while there is still liquid left in the slow cooker, remove the lid and cook on high to let the liquid evaporate. Total cooking time from start to finish is 6 to 8 hours.
Use two forks to shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. You can do this either in the slow cooker itself and then mix it into the rice, or you can transfer the chicken to a cutting board if you prefer to keep it separate. Taste the burrito mix and stir in more salt or other seasonings to taste.
Serve burrito bowls with a selection of toppings. The burrito mixture will keep for 1 week refrigerated or for 3 months in the freezer. This recipe makes about 7 total cups of burrito mix.
Cooking the Rice Separately: If you won't be home to add the rice to the slow cooker, you can skip this step and cook it separately on the stovetop just before serving (use these directions). To modify the recipe, combine the chicken, diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of stock, and spices in the slow cooker and cook for 6 to 8 hours on low. Add the black beans and corn, and cook for another 1/2 hour, or until warmed through, while you're cooking the rice (omit the remaining chicken stock).
Vegetarian Burrito Bowls: Combine the diced tomatoes, 1 cup of vegetable stock, spices, rice, black beans, and corn in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours, until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the liquid. Stir once or twice toward the end of cooking to make sure the rice is cooking evenly.
Beyond Burrito Bowls: Besides burrito bowls, you can use this filling to make regular tortilla-wrapped burritos or freezer burritos
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)