In two weeks, I will be running the Chicago Marathon. In case you don’t know, a marathon consists of running 26.2 miles. Yes, in a row. Yes, voluntarily. I used to think this was strange, too, and part of me still does.
Be that as it may, in order to fuel my training, I’ve been trying to eat things that are much more balanced. If I had my way, I’d eat nothing but carbs and carbs and carbs with tiny teensy amounts of protein. But, after a 20 mile training run, my muscles need both carbs and protein to recover. Cue my Better Than Chipotle Sofritas Bowl.
Why do I call it “Better Than Chipotle”? Because it is. I was traveling several weeks ago with my husband and his go-to meal when we are on the road is Chipotle’s sofritas bowl. I’d never had it before, but I was starving. He offered me a spoonful and I was surprised. It didn’t taste as flavorless as expected. However, I knew I could improve on it when I got home.
What is Sofritas Anyway?
When I first saw “sofritas” on the Chipotle menu, I assumed it was some processed meat alternative. I don’t really like the texture of meat alternatives and thus never bothered to try it. But, “Sofritas” is actually just shredded tofu, braised in a bunch of different flavors. Now, tofu is something I’m not only quite familiar with, but a protein I absolutely adore. So, for this recipe, we start out with a block of extra firm tofu that I’ve pressed.
What does it mean to “press” tofu? It means that you’ve added weight to it and squeezed out all the excess liquid. Tofu is made up of a lot of water, and the water makes it rather jiggly. If you want a firmer texture (i.e., “meatier”), reducing the liquid content will go a long way. Once you’ve pressed your tofu, slice it up into 1/2-inch thick slices. Then fry them up in a little oil to add more texture and flavor.
Honestly, the hardest part about this recipe is flipping the tofu. You have to cook it in the oil for awhile–around 7 minutes on each side. Why? Again, because of the water. However much you press the tofu, there’s still a ton of water stuck inside. That water is what makes everything take so darn long! Make sure to cook the tofu in one layer. This is not going to turn out nearly as well if you try to just dump everything into your pan and cook it. You’ll end up with a lot of soggy tofu with very little texture.
Speaking of texture, you can create a “crumbled meat” effect by using your chopsticks or a spoon to break up the fried tofu. It’s not “shredded,” but it achieves the same effect. Next, it’s time to add a bunch of flavor to your tofu!
First, you add a bunch of spices. Here, I’ve added the following:
- Smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
- Garlic powder
- Chili powder
- Ground cumin
You can, of course, add whatever spices you like. For example, add some cayenne powder for extra heat or even some fennel seed to give the tofu more of a sausage like flavor. Add turmeric and your favorite garam masala blend to give it more of an eastern vibe. The point is, it’s only going to be better than Chipotle if it appeals to your spice palate!
As I mentioned earlier, the point of this bowl is to add a bit more protein to my diet. Accordingly, I dumped an entire can of black beans over my tofu. Black beans are about the most perfect food in the world for anyone who is very physically active. Just 1 cup of black beans has:
- 16 grams protein
- 0 grams fat
- 40 grams carbs
- 14 grams fiber
- 0 grams sugar
Now, here is the secret to any good sofritas recipe: the salsa. You can definitely marinara if you’re in a pinch, but the idea is to “braise the tofu” in chilis, and therefore, a really good salsa is critical. Mine happens to be homemade (YUP!), but obviously, you can use a solid store bought salsa that you enjoy. I also added shallots for a little extra zip.
To amp up the flavor profile, I added some soy sauce and of course some liquid smoke (which is what I prefer to worcestire sauce).
Add your favorite vegetable broth to bind all the flavors together and allow the tofu to braise for about 3 minutes, until the liquid reduces down to a thick sauce.
Assembling the Bowl.
Now comes the fun part: assembling the bowl!
So, Chipotle’s sofritas bowl starts out over its cilantro lime rice. The problem is, my tastebuds viscerally reject cilantro (it’s in my DNA–I tested it!). Accordingly, I sub in some flat leaf parsley. Obviously, use whatever you like or both! I squeeze in a bit of fresh lime juice, together with some sea salt, and my rice is ready to go. Oh, and the rice? I used brown basmati rice, but you can use whatever kind of rice you like.
After that, the sky is truly the limit here. It was corn season, so I steamed up a couple ears of corn to add a bit of summer sweetness to my bowl. Then, because my husband loves them, I also diced up some fresh tomatoes (tbh, I could do without them, but they are pretty).
Then, of course, the obligatory avocado fan for some healthy fat:
And finally, for a bit more texture, I crumbled some tortilla chips into the bowl:
And last but not least, just the tiniest bit of grated vegan cheese:
Heading into the Marathon.
Just a brief word on running and how to eat in the weeks leading up to the big race. I’m not a nutritionist, but I have fun multiple half-and full marathons. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that each body is somewhat unique and therefore, what works for may not perfectly work for you. That said, there are some fundamental rules to fueling that apply to everyone:
- You have to eat. Severe calorie restriction is not consistent with the goal of finishing a half or full marathon. Your best performances require food. Full stop.
- Eating a balanced diet is best. Loading the plate completely with carbs or completely with protein or (worse) completely with fat will give you digestive issues and will not promote maximum recovery or muscle generation. You may lean more towards one of these macros, but your plate should have some portion of all three.
- Eating right after your run is important. I used to poo-poo this rule for a long time (think years) after reading some non-scientifically backed blog post that said it didn’t matter when you ate after your run. But, after working with a licensed sports dietician who specializes in female runners, I started eating right after my runs and it has made an enormous difference.
- It should be delicious. Eating healthy and balanced does not have to equal bland and flavorless. There are a lot of ways to inject flavor without screwing up your macros. For example, spices! Soy sauce! Liquid smoke!
Finally, for those of you who are new to running or thinking about hitting the pavement, might I suggest looking at HOKA. They have a shoe for basically every kind of foot and runner. I’ve been training in the Mach 4s and they are easily the most comfortable running shoes I’ve ever worn!!
Quick Tips for Making Better Than Chipotle Sofritas Bowl:
- Make sure to press the tofu to get rid of as much of the excess liquid as possible.
- Cook the tofu in one layer with a little oil in order to achieve the desired texture and to prevent it from getting soggy.
- Add whatever spices you like–this is about making it enjoyable to your palate!
- Add beans (I used black beans) for more bulk and protein.
- Use a really good salsa to create depth of flavor for your braising liquid.
- When creating your bowl, it should look balanced–don’t go overboard on the sofritas while having 1 tablespoon of rice or the other way around. Your body needs both!
Better Than Chipotle Sofritas Bowl
- 1 block extra firm tofu pressed
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 3/4 cup cooked black beans
- 1/2 cup salsa
- 1 shallot sliced
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp liquid smoke
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 3 cups cooked brown basmati rice
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
- 1/4 lime
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup cooked corn
- 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
- 1/2 avocado sliced
- 2 tbsp crumbled tortilla chips
- 2 tbsp grated vegan cheese
- Slice the tofu up into 1/2-inch thick slices.
- Add the oil to a large pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmery (about 1 minute), add the tofu slices in one layer to the pan.
- Cook the tofu until the bottom side is golden brown (around 7 minutes). Carefully flip them over and cook until both sides are golden brown (another 7 minutes).
- Using a spoon or chopsticks, begin breaking upon the tofu until it resembles crumbled meat.
- Add the paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin.
- Add the black beans and shallots.
- Add the salsa.
- Add the soy sauce and liquid smoke.
- Add the vegetable broth and stir everything together. Cook until the liquid reduces all the say down (around 3 minutes).
- Add chopped cilantro or parsley to cooked rice.
- Squeeze lime juice into rice and next add sea salt. Stir everything together.
- Scoop your rice into the bowls. Then, scoop sofritas into your bowls.
- Garnish with corn, tomatoes, tortilla chips, avocado, and grated cheese.