Cha Cha Bowls

It’s been nine years since we ripped off the bandaid, sold our place on the Monterey Bay in California, and settled here in the Midwest.  And for nine years we’ve done a fairly good job of becoming sort of hybrid transplants.  Our roots reach down fairly deep into this Midwestern soil now, and it is home.  But I’m not really sure how long it takes to transform one’s cultural identity, or if that ever actually totally happens.  For the most part, our lives in California have been relegated to history, except for one thing…

We will always and forever be die hard Giants fans.  We cannot, nay, will not give up our allegiance to the boys in orange and black, and every year we pay enormous sums of money to Directv and MLB so that we can get "out of market" games and watch as much Giants baseball as possible.  Yep.  I'm a "gamer babe" from several thousand miles away and grabbin' some pine in the Midwest.  We do miss those days of driving up the coast to catch a game in that beautiful stadium, PacBell, SBC, AT&T park.  Sigh.  And when it comes to ballpark food, AT&T has some pretty good eats.  Except the hot dogs.  I never could figure out why they couldn’t do a better dog.  I grew up on Dodger dogs, so the bar was set pretty high from the get go.  But fortunately, at AT&T, there are numerously awesome alternatives to just having a mediocre hot dog.  But I digress…

For those of you who have been to AT&T park and ventured up to Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ and snagged yourself a Cha Cha bowl, you know the awesomeness of eating something crazy good and actually fairly healthy at a ball game.   Next to the garlic fries, I’m pretty sure that Orlando’s Cha Cha bowls are the best selling thing at the park (besides beer, of course), and for good reason.  They just happen to be completely delicious.  They cost like ten bucks, but each bowl weighs nearly 5 lbs, so there’s plenty in there for 2.  You could easily share one of these babies, but I'm not all that good at sharing.

You can probably already guess my dilemma, in that getting to a game is not something we can now easily pull off.  So if we want a Cha Cha bowl, we’re going to have to rely on the Circle B Kitchen to provide.  And as it turns out, that’s not a bad thing at all.  A little internet research turned up sort of a half-assed recipe put out by Orlando’s Cha Cha people, but it was easy enough to fill in the blanks and tweak the quantities, and after a little trial and error, lo and behold, here you have it...a chance to make yourself your very own Cha Cha Bowl!  Just think of it! 

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty here.  You’re going to need some rice.  I like using brown jasmine rice, but they use white rice at the park, so pick your fave and go with it.

Next, we’ll need some black beans and for this you’re going to want to start from scratch and infuse those beans with lots of flavor, but of course, you can use canned beans if time is not on your side.

The beans get topped with some tender, tasty chicken that spent a good amount of time in some Caribbean jerk marinade before hitting the grill...

The chicken then gets topped with a wondrously spicy and flavorful zucchini pineapple salsa, although the last time I had one of these at the ballpark, the pineapple was nonexistent :-(, but believe me, it's not optional.

And then I added avocado chunks, fresh cilantro and lime wedges.  I don’t even need to explain my thinking there, right?

Cha Cha bowls are completely customizable, so play with the seasonings and heat levels.  We like spicy, but not so that it sets your hair on fire, and that's what you'll get with this recipe (moderately spicy). We think good baseball and good food should be friends for life, so Go Giants!  And how 'bout a Cha Cha Bowl??  Here's the recipe...

Orlando Cepeda's Cha Cha Bowls

Click here for a printable recipe

The original Cha Cha bowl served at AT&T park in San Francisco (go Giants!!) didn’t include avocado, cilantro or lime wedges, but those are no-brainer additions and make these rice bowls extra delicious!  The recipe here may look rather long and involved, but each component is pretty simple to make.  Make the beans a day or two ahead of time to cut down on same day prep.  You can certainly use canned beans if you prefer, but cooking them up from their dried state brings a lot more flavor to the party.  Most jerk marinades will be fairly spicy, so adjust the heat levels of the beans and the salsa to your own preferences.  I sometimes like to chop up a poblano pepper and add it to the beans too.

Makes approximately 4 cha cha bowls

Black Beans (*see below for instructions on using canned beans)

1 lb dried black beans

½ of a large onion, cut in half through root end

2 large cloves garlic, smashed

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 or 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped fine (or more to taste)

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro 

Pour the dried beans onto a baking sheet, and pick out any small stones or debris. 

Place the beans in a heavy pot and cover with about 4-5 cups of water.  Cover and bring to a boil.  

Boil for 2 minutes and then remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for about an hour and a half. 

Drain the beans.

To the same pot add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil along with the coriander, oregano, chile powder, salt and cumin.  Saute for about 2 minutes or until fragrant and then return the beans to the pot with about 3 or 4 cups of water. 

Partially cover the pot, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the beans simmer for about 2 hours. 

Remove from the heat and let the beans sit for about an hour to finish absorbing the liquid.  Taste for salt and seasonings and then stir in the cilantro.

*If using canned beans...

2 cans of black beans

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon chile powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 chipotle in adobo sauce (or more if you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon salt 

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro 

Drain the beans and rinse them well.  Set aside

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium high heat.  Add the chopped onion and saute for until softened.  Add the garlic and the remaining spices to the oil.  Saute until fragrant, about 3 - 5 minutes and then add the beans along with 1/2 to 3/4 cups of water.  Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and let simmer for at least an hour, longer if possible.  

Taste the beans for salt and seasonings, adjust if needed, and stir in the cilantro.  Keep warm until ready to serve.

Zucchini Pineapple Salsa

1 medium zucchini, grated

1 small-ish carrot, grated

1 cup diced fresh pineapple

2 (or 3) green onions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)

1 or 2 jalapenos, seeded and minced

½ cup chopped cilantro

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar 

Grate the zucchini and place on a paper towel to remove some of the moisture.  Mix with the rest of the ingredients and store covered in the fridge until needed, but no longer than a couple of hours.  Bring to room temp before serving. 


You will need about 4-5 cups of cooked rice.  I like to use brown jasmine rice, but choose whatever rice you’d like.  Add 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic along with the salt to the water before adding the rice.

For the Chicken

Note:  I used a prepared Jerk marinade, but if you’d like to make your own, here’s Bob Marley’s recipe.  A stovetop grill pan works great to cook the chicken if you can’t use an outdoor grill. 

1 ½ - 2 lbs boneless chicken breasts

1 cup Jamaican Jerk marinade 

Place the chicken in a bowl or Ziploc bag with the marinade for at least 1 hour, but preferably longer.  If marinading for longer than an hour, place in the fridge. 

Heat an outdoor grill to medium high heat and grill the chicken breasts until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side, depending on their thickness.  Do not overcook the meat.  (These can easily be grilled on a stovetop grill pan) 

Let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes and then cut into large-ish chunks. 

To Serve:

1 large or 2 medium avocados, diced

chopped fresh cilantro

Lime wedges

Place some rice in the bottom of each bowl.  Top the rice with some beans and then the chunks of chicken.  Top this with a good amount of the zucchini salsa and then the diced avocado and a good sprinkle of chopped fresh cilantro.  Serve with lime wedges.

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