Fat-Free Burrito Bowl: Cilantro Brown Rice, ‘Refried’ Black Beans, No-Avocado Guacamole, and Tomato-Corn Salsa

This morning, as we walked our dogs in a county park near our home, Desi and I noticed a squirrel running frantically up a tree carrying something large in her mouth. It was a plastic water bottle. And she was not carrying it –her mouth was stuck in it.

We couldn’t help the poor squirrel because she was high up a tree and probably would’ve been too afraid  to let us approach her, so we did the next best thing we could: we spent the next few minutes picking up more than a dozen bottles and cans that people had dumped around the park despite the fact that there were at least a half a dozen trash bins within a 20-foot radius. Of course, we knew that what we were doing did not really matter– that more bottles and cans would be back on the ground a few hours later and some unsuspecting animal might stick its mouth in one in the hope of finding food. But it was a good reminder that thoughtless littering has consequences far worse than just marring the beauty of our surroundings.

You have likely seen photographs of geese with bills stuck in beer cans or duck with feet trapped in six-pack holders. In India, hungry cows on city streets munch on, often with fatal results, discarded plastic bags and cigarette butts. A lot of litter ends up in waterways, hurting the fish, turtles, and other creatures who make rivers, streams and oceans their home.

Not all of us litter, but most of us can stand to reduce the waste we create which, even when we are cognizant about putting it in a trash bin, does end up littering our Earth. Over the years, Desi and I have worked hard to cut down to a minimum the trash we generate. Here’s what we do:

1. We cook most of our meals from scratch. It is healthier to make our own food because we know exactly what’s in it, but cutting out prepared and semi-prepared convenience foods also helps us cut down on our consumption of packaging materials. You can, for instance, buy a bulk, 20-pound bag of rice in a single recyclable bag, but buy a package of instant microwaveable rice and you are buying a lot of plastic packaging for just one or two servings.

2. We don’t buy canned and bottled drinks. If there is one product in our world with absolutely no nutritive value, it has to be soda. Vitamin drinks and flavored waters are just more sugary stuff that don’t do your health any favors. And bottled water is plain silly. Filtered water is the favorite drink in our home and when we travel, we take some along in those handy little steel water bottles. Water not only tastes great, it’s good for you.

3. We bring our own ceramic cups to work (and I nag those who don’t :D). My workplace, which is very eco-friendly, doesn’t offer styrofoam cups for coffee– everyone’s encouraged to bring their own reusable cups. But almost every other office I’ve worked in previously offered employees styrofoam cups. I once had a colleague who occupied the office next to mine and I’d watch in horror as she’d go through five or six styrofoam cups each day. I talked to her about it at every opportunity I had, reminding her that it takes 500 years for a styrofoam cup to break down in a landfill. She was probably annoyed beyond imagination, but I did wear her down: she finally brought in her own ceramic cup. And she used it.

3. We bring our own bags to the grocery store. We’ve been doing this for years now, and when we do– for any reason– end up with a plastic bag, we put it to work as a trash liner, dog-poop-picker-upper, etc. Canvas and reusable plastic bags are easy to find, cheap and environmentally friendly. They even look better.

4. We reuse almost all plastic and glass containers. Most plastic and glass food containers that come into our home find a use in our pantry. Jars of nuts turn into nice little holders for beans and lentils. Hardy jars of protein powder with screwtop lids are great for storing flour. Glass bottles of jelly get washed and recycled into spice containers. Styrofoam vegetable packages become homes for seedlings. If we absolutely can’t use something, we put it in the recycle bin.

Our squirrel with her face stuck in the water bottle had a happy ending. Minutes after she had climbed to the top of the tree we heard the bottle clatter down to the street– she had managed to free herself. But not all animals are so lucky.

One of my favorite things in the world to eat is a burrito bowl. How can anyone not love the fresh, layered, healthy deliciousness of rice, beans, guacamole, and salsa?

I’ve been exploring fat-free deliciousness in my kitchen, trying to make my healthy favorites even healthier, and my last attempt was this vibrant bowl that is so healthy, it’ll make you glow.

To make my burrito bowl healthier than burrito bowls already are, I made cilantro brown rice, refried black beans, avocado-free guacamole, and a tomato-corn salsa– all of it without a drop of fat or oil.

You might wonder why I’d cut down on the avocado. After all, it is a veggie and the fats it contains are heart-healthy. I couldn’t agree more, and I love me some avocado every now and then. But the goal with my fat-free cooking recipes is to cut down on as much fat as I can and avocados do contain a fair amount of fat. Besides, if you can get the same delicious goodness without the fat, why quibble?

I used a rainbow of Mexican chilies to give my fat-free burrito bowl a flavor boost: serranos, habaneros, chipotles and jalapenos. The avocado-free guacamole is made with sweet peas and spiced with habanero. Habanero is one of the hottest peppers you can eat, but I use just about a fourth of a pepper. I love habaneros because besides the heat they have a great flavor that’s wonderful in this guacamole. I blend the peas to silky smoothness in my blender, which gives them that smooth mouth-feel that avocados have. They taste different, of course, and a bit sweeter than avocados would, but they are perfect. And they have almost no natural fat.

The cilantro rice is brown rice with a dash of jalapeno fire. Use long-grain white rice if you want to, by all means. Long-grain white rice, like Basmati, has a fairly low glycemic index, so it won’t send your sugars shooting into the stratosphere. I like the taste of the brown rice here, and the added fiber boost.

To spice my fat-free refried black beans, I used chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. I sauteed my onion and garlic in vegetable stock before adding the beans, which gives them a deeper flavor profile that goes perfectly with the cilantro rice.

Here are the recipes. Enjoy, all! And a very happy New Year to all of Holy Cow’s readers.

Fat-Free Burrito Bowl

(Serves four)

Cilantro Brown Rice


1 cup long-grain brown rice, like basmati

3 cups vegetable stock

2 cups packed cilantro or coriander leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 of a regular-sized habanero pepper (use more or less per taste).

Salt to taste

Place the cilantro, lemon juice and pepper in a blender with 1/2 cup of the vegetable stock. Blend into a smooth paste.

Place the rice in a strainer and wash it. Washing the rice ensures it won’t burn as soon as you put it on a dry saucepan (remember we are not using any oil here).

Heat a saucepan and add the washed rice. Saute for a minute or until the rice starts to dry and turn opaque.

Add the cilantro paste and the remaining vegetable stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and put on a tight-fitting lid.

Let it cook undisturbed for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it continue to stand for at least 10 minutes more.

Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 59.1, Total Fat 0.4 grams, Dietary Fiber 0.9 grams, Protein 1.3 grams

Refried Black Beans


1 cup black beans, soaked for several hours or overnight. Cook the beans on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker until tender. Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid and strain the beans.

1/4 cup vegetable stock

1 large onion, finely chopped

5-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, finely minced

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Heat the vegetable stock in a saucepan. When it simmers, add the onions and garlic. Add some salt and saute until the onions are soft and the stock has evaporated.

Add the beans and the chipotle chilli. Add the reserved bean stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and using a potato masher or a heavy ladle, mash the beans.

Add salt and ground black pepper, if desired (remember you already have the heat from the chipotle chili).

Let the beans cook until most of the water has evaporated. You don’t want the beans to dry too much because they will thicken further on standing– keep the mixture a little soupy.

Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 151, Total Fat 0.6 grams, Dietary Fiber 6.8 grams, Protein 8.7 grams

No-Avocado Guacamole


2 cups frozen shelled sweet peas.

1 jalapeno pepper, minced (deseed if you want to reduce the heat)

1 large onion, finely minced

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tbsp lemon or lime juice

1/4 cup chopped cilantro or coriander leaves

Salt to taste

Cook the peas for 2 minutes in boiling water or until just tender. Strain them immediately and place in a blender along with the jalapeno and lime juice.

Blend until the peas are smooth and creamy. Remove to a bowl.

Add the onion, garlic powder, cilantro and salt to the bowl and mix thoroughly.

Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 72.8, Total Fat 0.3 grams, Potassium 175.6 mg, Sugar 4.1 grams, Dietary Fiber 3.7 grams, Protein 4.2 grams

Tomato-Corn Salsa


1 cup frozen sweet corn (use fresh if you find it)

1 large tomato, cut into a small dice

1 serrano pepper, finely minced

1 tbsp lime or lemon juice

1/4 cup cilantro or coriander leaves, finely minced

Salt to taste

Cook the corn in boiling water until just tender. Strain and add to a bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix thoroughly.

To build your fat-free burrito bowl, layer the rice, beans, guacamole and salsa. Enjoy!

Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 53.4, Total Fat 0.5 grams, Potassium 235.7 mg, Dietary Fiber 1.7 grams, Protein 1.8 grams

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    If this is what you cook when you are busy, then i need to come visit you on all holidays and busy work weeks:))
    love the idea of green pea guac… and i love this colorful one pot meal!

    so true about all the litter.. the plastic bottles hurt the most. most of the solutions are so simple. the reusable grocery bags.. it takes just 2-3 times of consciously remembering to take them.. to make it into a habit..

    Happy new year to you and your family Vaishali! Wish you a wonderful 2012!

  2. says

    Gorgeous presentation and what a beautiful green color from the peas!
    So sad about the squirrel and the trash situation. I always feel guilty for not doing more when it’s so easy!

  3. says

    Best wishes for a Happy New Year to you and your family (including Lucy).

    I deplore litterbugs, what animal fouls his nest? answer: humans.

    I hate those stupid plastic pint bottles.

    Other countries, you can’t find throwaway bottles, they cannot afford it (thank God).

    I deplore avocados, so look forward to yours made with peas.

    Want to try your refritos but am so used to frying in lard don’t know if I can enjoy fatless beans. On vegetable beans I use olive oil.

    Thank You for all the wonderful recipes you have posted.

  4. says

    That was one great post! I really make an effort to reuse as much as i can at home… carrying my own little foldable bag for emergency shopping (it folds up into a little strawberry and fits into my handbag! cheesy, i know :D) using unavoidable plastic bags for trash, reusing plastic and glass bottles in the kitchen, etc. But just one look at the dirty litter-ridden beaches in Mumbai and my heart sinks. it feels like nothing can save the earth now :( Its insane… sigh.
    the burrito bowl does lift one’s spirits though :) love the idea of a sweet pea guacomole!

  5. says

    Awww, poor squirrel.
    It’s one thing being aware of what land pollution does to nature, humans & animals and it’s another thing actually doing something about it – everyone knows, but very few do anything.
    Very kind of you & your hubby to clean up, hope someone else at the park also saw you guys & followed your lead.
    I do a lot of recycling too, even with the cereal boxes – cutting them up & wrapping with white paper then use them to store all kinds of stuff.

    I was always curious about the ‘refried’ beans at Mexican places, never cooked or googled up but from your post I understand they’re basically soaked, pressure cooked, then sauteed, that’s about it.
    And I like the guacamole – it’s easier for me to make this from peas rather than go hunting for avocado!

  6. says

    Richa, you are welcome at my home any time. A very happy new year to you and your family!

    Tiffany, Foodfeud, Thanks!

    Anthony, so true that humans are the only ones who litter their nest. The fat-free refried beans surprised me with how tasty they were– I didn’t miss the fat at all!

    Kalpana, Kalyani, Thanks!

    SwatiSapna, Kudos to you! And thanks to people like you, I do believe things will change eventually, even in Bombay where the trash can get overwhelming. Every little bit anyone does helps.

    Nish, Nice idea with recycling cereal boxes. Original recipes for refried beans do contain more fat because cooks traditionally used lard, but most modern versions use olive oil and such and are nowhere near as egregious as the name sounds. :)

  7. says

    I want to share a ‘Puneri Paati’ with u… on a wall someone had written “ithe kachra takrnari cha navra marel”, That, was a SPOTLESS place! Some one ought to do say that for people who litter, what say? 😉

    I love the burrito bowl, u had me fooled over the ‘peasamole’! Love the vibrant colors and the nutrition!

  8. says

    thank you for adding the nutritional breakdown per serving – just wondering what measure each serving is? we’ll be making this tonight! Thanks for amazing recipes :) I love guac, but 9 times out of 10 when I buy an avocado, it goes bad before we get to it.

  9. says

    Not only am I a fan of this healthy burrito bowl (as I am with ALL of your healthy recipes) I completely agree with your stance on packaging and plastic. I admire how you are able to put this into action at home and in the workplace.

  10. says

    I’m making this for dinner tonight!

    The first time I made it (using avocados as opposed to peas in the guac), my husband loved it so much, he asked if I could make it every single night 😉

    Thanks for the idea and recipes!

  11. Anonymous says

    Dear Vaishali,
    My family is in India and just last week my mother made burrito using your this recipe of guacamole. My parents have tried original guacamole too (using avocado) and mentioned that there was hardly any difference.
    Thank you for sharing this recipe. It made my family’s day especially because as far as we know, avocados are not abundantly available in India.
    I really wanted to comment here to thank you and to encourage others to try this recipe.

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