Have you noticed how the popularity of “bowls” has skyrocketed in the recent years? I’m not referring to the bowl as the round, high-sided vessel – I’m talking about the “bowl” as a type of food. We’re consuming sooo many bowls these days. There’s the grain bowl, the kale bowl, the burrito bowl, the poke bowl, the soba noodle bowl, the acai bowl, the chia pudding bowl, and don’t even get me started on the smoothie bowl – a smoothie is a job for a glass! And despite the enormous number of meticulously plated smoothie bowls I’ve seen on the ‘gram, I still can’t fathom why, oh why Lord, is it such a pervasive trend.
I think the popularity of the “bowl” can be, at least partially, attributed to today’s fast-paced American culture. You see, foods in bowls don’t require a knife to be eaten – just a spoon or fork. Thus, you only need one hand to scoop the food into your mouth, leaving the other hand free to type emails or reply to texts, which absolutely cannot wait until after lunch. Because we all know that our entire lives would implode if we put our phones down even for 10 minutes. Regardless, I’m a huge fan of the grain bowl since it’s the fastest foolproof way to a healthy meal and most variations can be batch-prepped in advance.
So how do you make a weeknight grain bowl? The key to the perfect grain bowl is the contrast of hot and cold temperatures, and of chewy and crunchy textures, as well as a killer dressing to tie it all together.
Here’s my vegan grain bowl formula:
A warm grain, like brown rice, quinoa, millet, barley, or farro
A warm cooked vegetable, like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, or beets
A cold raw vegetable and/or greens, like carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, avocado, radishes, spinach, kale, or arugula
A plant-based protein, like beans, chickpeas, lentils, edamame, tofu, or tempeh
A yummy sauce, like a classic vinaigrette, creamy tahini dressing, or the sesame ginger sauce below
A fun topping or 2, like sesame, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, nuts, croutons, crumbled nori, fresh herbs, or sprouts
The inspiration behind this particular vegan, Asian-style bowl comes from Original Grain, my go-to lunch place in downtown Syracuse. It’s a fast-casual spot with a ton of healthy options that specializes in poke bowls and nori burritos, so most of their ingredients skew toward Asian flavors.
For my homemade version, I recreated their sesame ginger sauce and I gotta say, I like it even better than OG’s. It’s strong on the umami from the soy sauce, nutty thanks to the peanut butter and sesame oil, and has just a hint of sweetness from the maple syrup and seasoned brown rice vinegar.
I suggest doubling this batch and keeping it in the fridge for drizzling on basically everything, or for marinating tempeh or tofu. I also took inspiration from Original Grain by using not one grain but two, since I love the combination of earthy quinoa and chewy millet, but you can use just one if you’d like. (What is millet? An ancient nutrient-dense gluten-free seed – or “pseudo-grain” – that hails from Africa). Feel free to use this recipe as a template to create the grain bowl of your own dreams!
Make a double batch of the sesame ginger sauce and keep it in the fridge for drizzling on basically everything, or marinating tempeh, tofu, chicken, beef, or salmon. I love the combination of earthy quinoa and chewy millet, but you can use just one grain here if you’d like. Feel free to use this grain bowl recipe as a template to create the bowl of your own dreams.
For the Bowl:
- Sea salt
- ½ cup quinoa, rinsed
- ½ cup millet, rinsed
- 1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
- 1–2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ½ bunch curly kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 2 cups thawed, shelled and cooked organic edamame
- ¼ head purple cabbage, finely shredded (about 2 cups)*
- Toasted sesame seeds, to serve (I like to use a mix of black and white)
For the Sesame Ginger Sauce:
- 2 small or 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 3 tablespoons canola or other neutral-tasting oil
- 2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or honey
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- Bring 1 ¾ cups of water to a boil in a small pot. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and add the rinsed quinoa and millet. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly with a lid, and simmer until all the water is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn the heat off and let stand covered for 10 minutes to steam.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Place the broccoli on a baking sheet and toss with enough oil to cover the florets evenly. Season with the paprika, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper. Toss and arrange in a single layer. Roast for about 20 minutes, tossing once halfway through cooking, until the broccoli is nicely browned and crispy.
- Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a bowl, whisk together the garlic, ginger, canola oil, vinegar, soy sauce, peanut butter, maple syrup, and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. (Prepared dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 10 days).
- Place the kale in a bowl and drizzle with a tiny bit of dressing. Using your hands, massage the kale for 1 minute, until it is slightly wilted and darker in color.
- To serve, divide the kale among 4 bowls and top with the grains, charred broccoli, edamame, purple cabbage, and sesame seeds. Drizzle with dressing as desired.
*For uniformly shredded cabbage and to save time, use your food processor fitted with the shredding attachment.
- Serving Size: 1/4 of the recipe with dressing
- Calories: 488
- Carbohydrates: 55.1 g
- Fiber: 10.1 g
- Protein: 18.1 g