Build a Bowl: Easy Grain Bowl Formula


Are you in a rice, pasta, or potato rut, and searching for delicious, simple ways to eat more whole grains?  Grain bowls, the west coast’s healthy obsession, are a perfect solution!  These aren’t too unfamiliar, given that Chipotle’s best-selling item, their burrito bowl, is just a Mexican version of a grain bowl. These bowls are the ideal way to make a fast, tasty DIY meal using leftovers and ancient whole grains, any time of the day. Cooked whole grains like farro, barley, brown or black rice, or quinoa keep for about five days in the refrigerator, so you can prepare them in advance in a rice cooker or on the stove top and use them throughout the week as the base ingredient of this tasty new trend, in various combinations.

It’s so easy for quick, causal restaurants to put together a burrito bowl or a rice bowl right in front of you – you tell them what you like, and they throw it in a bowl. It’s not much harder to do this at home, and it may just become your go-to weeknight staple. Make variations using one or a mixture of whole grains as a base, and then top it with ingredients that combine different textures and a balance of flavors between salty, sweet, and acidic. In other words, use my simple Grain Bowl Formula below to build the best bowl ever!

Whole Grains:  Place cooked whole grains like farro, brown, black or wild rice, quinoa, sorghum, barley, wheat berries, rye berries, Kamut, freekeh, etc. in the bowl first.  Feel free to mix two or three different whole grains together!

Vegetables: Any raw, steamed, roasted, sautéed, or pickled vegetable works. For heartier greens like kale, collard greens or cabbage, rub with a little vinegar to tenderize. Roasted vegetables are magnificent in these bowls, and a bit of pickled vegetable (like kimchi) adds lots of flavor as well.

Protein: Creamy cheeses like ricotta or fresh mozzarella; poultry, pork, beef, lamb or fish (leftover or freshly cooked); eggs (over-easy, fried, soft boiled, poached, or scrambled); and chickpeas, beans, lentils, dried peas, edamame, tofu, tempeh, or seitan. Smoked meats and strongly seasoned meats go a long way to add flavor to the whole bowl.

Fruit: Avocado offers delicious creaminess, but other fruits also add a bit of sweetness to balance the flavors. Pineapple, pomegranate, papaya, chopped apples, pitted and sliced Medjool dates, and dried cranberries or cherries are a few possibilities, but don’t limit yourself.

Sauce/Dressing: Olive oil, infused or regular balsamic vinegar, other types of vinegar, pesto, infused olive oil, vinaigrette, tahini sauce, sesame oil, peanut sauce, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce, fish sauce, tamari, soy sauce, liquid amino, salsa, chutney, anchovy paste, chili-garlic sauce, gochujang (Korean chili sauce), harissa, Sriracha, miso, hummus, plain yogurt, and fresh lime or lemon can be used to add flavor and moisture to your bowl.

Topping: Preserved lemon, pickled vegetables, pickled peppers, toasted seaweed, fresh herbs, Feta cheese, goat cheese or Halloumi, chutney, and Kalamata olives add flavor, while sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts, or pomegranate seeds add crunch.

That’s it, folks. No measuring needed. Use what’s in your refrigerator. Keep food close to bite size unless the food is soft, like a runny egg or an avocado.

Roasted vegetables are “the bomb” in these bowls and can be cooking while you gather the other ingredients. Place a sheet pan in your oven and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the vegetables and toss with a little high-heat oil like regular (not extra virgin) olive oil, avocado oil, or refined safflower oil. Add salt and pepper and then spread the veggies out on the hot pan and cook until tender and a bit browned (sometimes I put finish it by putting it under the broiler). Below are a few examples of the many possible combinations:

Italian Bowl:  Cooked farro + roasted red onions, roasted zucchini and yellow squash+ roasted grape tomatoes + fresh mozzarella balls + avocado + balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil (plain or infused with Tuscan herbs) + fresh basil leaves, and salt and pepper.

Asian Bowl:  Black and brown rice + thinly sliced red peppers, chopped cabbage, and matchstick carrots + shelled edamame + runny over-easy  egg + Asian dressing (honey, soy sauce, sesame oil) or peanut sauce.

Mediterranean Bowl:  Barley or farro + cucumber, red onions (roasted or thinly sliced raw onion), tomatoes (roasted or raw), marinated artichoke hearts (optional) + chickpeas (roasted or not) + avocados + fresh lemon juice, tahini sauce, hummus or baba ganoush (optional)+ olive oil + feta cheese + fresh mint and fresh parsley.

Spinach Mango Bowl:  Quinoa or sorghum + baby spinach and red onions + grilled chicken (or fresh mozzarella balls) + avocados and mango + vinaigrette (made with fresh lime juice, olive oil, and a touch of real maple syrup) + fresh mint leaves and toasted cashews.

Hawaiian Bowl: Black and brown rice + green onions and roasted sweet potatoes + kalua pork + avocado, fresh pineapple or papaya + chopped macadamia nuts.

That’s all it takes to build a scrumptious, hearty grain bowl. Enjoy!

Italian Grain Bowl