Southwestern Quinoa Bowls, and why sofrito is one of the best things ever

Chef Kirsten Helle is a mom to two crazy kids who lost over 100 pounds when she set out to create a healthy new family legacy.  She turned her passion for healthy cooking and exploring culturally rich recipes into a career as a personal chef for professional athletes and high-profile clients.

You can learn more about Chef Kirsten on her website and you can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Southwestern Quinoa Bowls

Still trying to get your family over to the healthy side? Or maybe your family is like mine: we eat really healthy, but my kids still turn their nose up at a pile of plain quinoa on their plate.

As a personal chef I work with many families that are just learning to appreciate healthy, unprocessed foods and natural flavors, as well as families that ask me to sneak the vegetables into their children who are not yet willing to dig into their greens, or they’re still picking out the veggies they can see.

Two of the ideas that solve these issues every time? Dinner-in-a-bowl and sofrito.

The dinner-in-a-bowl concept is simple: Take something ordinary like tacos, shepherds pie, chicken stir fry and veggies, lasagna, samosas and pile the deconstructed ingredients into a bowl. The bowl looks like a party and just begs you to dig in. Below I share my Southwest Quinoa Bowls that will convert most quinoa-haters. The reason why? It is cooked in delicious, super nutritious sofrito!

Sofrito is a popular recipe base in Latin American, Portuguese, Haitian and even Valencian cooking. It is basically aromatic vegetables extremely finely minced or pureed and cooked down to create an incredible flavor base to anything you add to it.

Ingredients for Sofrito

I use sofrito for almost everything I cook not only because it adds the depth of flavor to my recipes (the vegetables get sweet, the onions are pungent, the garlic bright), but also because it adds so much nutrition! I take at least a carrot, bell pepper, tomato, onion, garlic and from there I add whatever else is on hand.

Usually I throw in a handful or two of kale, some spinach, fresh herbs, zucchini when it’s in season and hot peppers. The best part is that you just chuck it all into the food processor and blend until very finely minced or slightly pureed. Nobody can pick the veggies out of their meal! Try this for your next batch of spaghetti squash, chili or enchiladas. (Check out my guest post from last year for a great Enchilada recipe and more information about my 100 pound weight loss from going #Unprocessed.)

Making softrito for Southwestern Quinoa Bowls

The recipe below calls for cooked quinoa. (Here’s how to cook it to perfection.)  If you’re not batch cooking your grains ahead of time or doing a little bit of prep every night for the following night, I highly recommend getting into this habit. It saves you so much time during the week and if you plan it right several of your meals every week can be practically no-cook, just throwing together some of the things your prepped already. That’s how I created this recipe – I had some leftover quinoa, leftover chicken, some veggies and voila – dinner!

Check out my other bowl recipe for an Indian samosa-style bowl that is incredibly delicious too! I doctor up the plain quinoa by tossing it with the delicious sofrito which makes it so tasty (and disguises a little bit of that bitterness many people don’t like about quinoa). Your family will be sure to gobble it up!

Southwest Quinoa Bowls
Recipe Type: Entre
Cuisine: American
Serves/Yield: 4-6
For the sofrito:
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 handful cilantro
  • Additional add-in’s you’d like: kale, spinach, zucchini, hot peppers
For the bowls:
  • 2 tsp healthy, unprocessed oil/fat of your choice
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 1 batch of sofrito
  • 2 pinches Kosher/sea salt
  • 2 cups cooked chicken breasts, reheated and cubed (I toss mine with some lime juice and chili powder)
  • *Or make these vegetarian by using cooked black beans instead of chicken*
  • shredded romaine lettuce
  • shredded cheese (optional)
  • cubed avocado
  • fresh cilantro, for garnish
To make sofrito:
  1. Toss the sofrito ingredients into the food processor and pulse until very finely minced and just starting to turn into a purée.
To make the bowls:
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, when hot add oil, swirl to coat. Add the sofrito (notice how AMAZING it smells!) and cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has cooked off. Stir in the quinoa and toss to coat.
  2. Assemble the bowls by layering the quinoa in the bottom of a bowl and topping with the chicken/beans, shredded lettuce, cheese, avocado, and cilantro. Serve and enjoy!

A bed of Quinoa for Southwestern Quinoa BowlsAdd chicken or beans for your Southwestern Quinoa BowlEasy, Southwestern Quinoa Bowls

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32 Comments on "Southwestern Quinoa Bowls, and why sofrito is one of the best things ever"

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I am so excited to try sofrito. I had never heard of it til now. Thanks for introducing me.

Chef Kirsten Helle

I hope you enjoy it! I have a link over to my site showing another delicious way to use sofrito – I use it in almost everything. 🙂 My personal chef clients with picky eaters can’t pick their veggies out. 🙂


This is my first time hearing if it also! So excited to try it!

Trish @infinebalance

This is how I love to eat during the week. Making stuff ahead of time makes things so much easier during the week. The sofrito looks delicious and would be such a great way to get veggies into a meal.

Chef Kirsten Helle

So smart to make things ahead Trish! I hope you enjoy the sofrito too!


Sofrito sounds amazing! Sure beats dried spices for flavouring. How long does sofrito last in the fridge? Can it be frozen?

Chef Kirsten Helle

I hope you try it Firesparx! Sofrito adds so much nutrition too! It will last a couple of days in the fridge, freezing is definitely okay too! I like to keep it as fresh as possible though so I usually just make it when I need it, it’s so fast. To save time you could always chop your veggies ahead of time to be able to toss into the food processor and buzz up for the best flavor when you need it. I hope you enjoy!

Jennifer L.

Yes, sofrito is freezable. EZ. Pour puree into ice cube trays. Freeze trays, put frozen cubes into freezer bags labled with contents and date. Remove cubes as needed. Enjoy!

Cathy @ She Paused 4 Thought

Simply wow! I am making this for dinner tonight.


I cannot wait to try this…I love quinoa anyway (especially for breakfast!) so making it in big batches is already a good habit here!


Quick tip: if you freeze your leftover sofrito the add a few more fresh herbs when you thaw it out, freezing dulls the flavor.

Chef Kirsten Helle

Good tip Beth!


Oh, good GRAVY, that looks delicious! Going on the must-try list!


Just this week I learned about sofrito from my Hispanic friends! I’m really excited to try it out. How great is it to have a veggie-filled base for meals?!


So pleased to learn about Sofrito. I was looking for something a little different to use in wraps, tacos, burritos etc., that didn’t involve meat (we have a vegetarian household) or, of course, any of the processed vegetarian soy mince that’s available. This is perfect.

My mouth is watering now just thinking of Sofrito in a wrap with fresh lettuce…..

Chef Kirsten Helle

So glad you all enjoy the recipe! I hope you love it! For sofrito I like to just prep the ingredients ahead and make it in seconds before I need it in the food processor to keep it at it’s freshest. But yes, it freezes well, just not as much “punch”. 🙂 Enjoy!


The only Sofrito I’ve seen is in a jar at the store…it was a disappointment. I just KNEW there was a way to make homemade, thank you!! I was taught that you can avoid any bitterness in quiona by placing it in a mesh strainer and rinse, rinse, RINSE. Then, you receive more nutrition (because it digests better) if you soak it (all grains, including oatmeal) overnight. RINSE THEN SOAK. If you are following the cooking instructions on the box, you’ll have to adjust liquid and time but that wasn’t a problem. It takes way less time than rice so don’t leave it alone!

Chef Kirsten Helle

I love using sofrito to make a base for delicious rice and quinoa – good point on soaking the grains too. I have many personal chef clients with very intense needs and I soak their nuts/seeds like you recommended. Can’t say that I do it for myself, but I sure should try more often. I hope you enjoy the sofrito!

Mary Papoulias-Platis

On my way to pick up these ingredients…


This was cool on so many levels! I just typed “cheddar unprocessed” in the search bar, trying to figure out if it’s ok to eat this month. I found Mesa de Vida’s enchilada recipe, which looks amazing, and answered my question. I figured, if cheddar in the recipe, it’s probably ok. 🙂 Then, imagine my surprise, when I clicked to refresh the page & check out today’s post, and find Mesa de Vida again! Ha!!! How awesome!

Thanks for the inspiration!


I really need to add a “Like” button to my comments section. 🙂

Chef Kirsten Helle

AWESOME! 🙂 Enjoy!

Devani Freeman

Oh my this looks delicious and so healthy! I’ve been a loyal follower of Mesa De Vida for a while and she never let’s me down! Excited for this challenge! 🙂

Chef Kirsten Helle

Thanks Devani! Glad you’re taking Andrew’s challenge, it really can be life changing!

Cheryl Pierce

So, today I made a batch of sofrito for dinner tomorrow. I got carried away and made waaaaay too much, so I used it as the base for the 3 Bean Sweet Potato Chili from Wednesday’s post. It smells divine in my kitchen right now!



Chef Kirsten Helle

There you go! Great idea!