Bountiful bowls

The beauty of bowls is that they are flexible.

 (photo credit: BEATRIZ DA COSTA)
(photo credit: BEATRIZ DA COSTA)
Bowl meals have become the rage in a variety of restaurants, from simple Mexican-American casual places making burrito salad bowls with roasted meats and beans, to eateries serving Hawaiian-style poke bowls of raw fish and rice.
Such meals are easy to prepare at home, and are the subject of Carolynn Carreño’s new book, Bowls of Plenty – Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole-Grain Meals. At her recent cooking demonstration, Carreño told us that the idea for her book came from the simple meals of brown rice and broccoli that she liked to eat at home to offset her rich, meat-laden restaurant meals that were part of her research for her articles.
For making grain bowls, Carreño’s mantra is mix ‘n’ match: create your own bowls by combining different basic components – grains, proteins, vegetables and condiments. Begin with a whole grain, such as barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, farro, freekeh, oats or quinoa. Serve the bowl of grains topped with a protein food and vegetables.
For the protein, you might choose eggs and cheese, as in rice bowl with poached egg, slow-roasted tomatoes and feta. (See recipe.) If you’d like a heartier bowl, serve pan-grilled beef or chicken and black beans over rice or quinoa and top it with avocado, chopped vegetables and hot pepper sauce. (See recipe for “Build your own Mexican bowl.”)
The beauty of bowls is that they are flexible. Make a pot of mejadra (spiced rice and lentils) and top it at one meal with grilled halloumi cheese, roasted tomatoes and kale salad (see recipe), and on another day serve it with a fried egg and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
“Although I never would have believed that my personal mechanism for coping with overly rich food would become a national phenomenon,” wrote Carreño, “now that it has, it seems... inevitable. The grain bowl is a reflection of our current attitude toward food. Yes, we’re a nation of... food snobs, but we are also a nation that worships at the altar of healthy.”
“The grain bowl manages to straddle both – that near-religious passion we have for eating well and the great American desire to have it all – particularly if what we’re having tastes terrific. In the grain bowl... we are literally able to have our cake and eat healthy, too.”
The writer is the author of the award-winning book, Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
“Breakfast rice bowls such as this have taken over Los Angeles in the last half decade,” wrote Carolynn Carreño.
“People are obsessed with them, and for good reason: they’re satisfying and healthy, and there’s just something about spooning rice and runny eggs from a bowl and into your mouth that makes you feel all wrapped up and warm.”
If you haven’t made slow-roasted tomatoes, which Carreño calls “tomato candy,” substitute sun-dried tomatoes or sliced fresh tomatoes.
Serves 4
1 cup long-grain brown rice or quinoa, cooked (about 3½ cups hot cooked grains)
1 tsp. coarse salt
4 poached eggs White vinegar (for poaching eggs)
8 slow-roasted tomato halves (see note below), room temperature, or 8 sun-dried tomatoes or 2 fresh tomatoes or 2 avocados, halved, pitted and peeled
56 to 85 gr. feta cheese (¼ to ¹⁄3 cup crumbled)
A big handful of fresh parsley and/or chives
To cook brown rice or quinoa, rinse the grain and combine it with the salt and two cups of water in a large straight-sided saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, until all liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes for quinoa; brown rice takes 20 to 30 minutes and should be tender. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff gently with a fork.
To poach eggs, fill a medium skillet 2½ to 5 cm. deep with water. Add a big glug of white vinegar and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat until water is quivering but not bubbling. Gently crack one egg into a strainer and let excess whites drip out. Gently slide egg from strainer to water. Wait 10 to 20 seconds so egg has a chance to set, then repeat, adding a second and then the third and fourth eggs, each time letting one egg set before adding another. Poach the eggs until the whites are set, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or flat strainer, lift the eggs out of the water. Blot them on a paper towel or clean dishtowel before serving them.
Mound the grains in four bowls. Slide one poached egg on each bowl and nestle the tomatoes beside it. Crumble the feta over the top and use scissors to snip the herbs over the bowl.
Note: Slow-Roasted Tomatoes: Place oven racks with 1 in middle position. Preheat oven to 150ºC. Stem six plum tomatoes, halve them lengthwise and toss them with six crushed garlic cloves, a handful of fresh thyme sprigs (six to 10), ¼ cup olive oil and 1 heaping teaspoon of coarse salt in a pie dish or other medium baking dish. Turn tomato halves cut-side up and roast until browned and beginning to collapse, about 2 hours.
Use this dish, called mejadra, as a base for any bowl with a Middle Eastern vibe, wrote Carreño, or just eat it as is, topped with a dollop of yogurt, chopped parsley and a fried egg. Makes about 4½ cups
½ cup brown lentils, rinsed
1 Tbsp. plus
2 tsp. coarse salt Olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced into rounds
1 Tbsp. whole coriander seeds
1 cup long-grain brown rice, rinsed
1 tsp. ground allspice
Put lentils in a small saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 5 cm. and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook the lentils for 12 minutes. (They’ll still be fairly hard; they’ll continue to cook with the rice.) Remove lentils from heat and drain them.
Meanwhile, pour enough oil into a large straight-sided skillet to coat it. Add onions and one teaspoon of remaining salt and cook over medium heat, stirring, until onions are golden brown and very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer onions to a plate.
Add coriander seeds to pan, reduce heat to low and toast for a minute, shaking pan so they toast evenly. Add rice, remaining one teaspoon salt, and allspice and toast grains for one to two minutes, stirring often. Add the lentils and two cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, until water has evaporated and grains are cooked. Turn off heat and let mixture rest for 10 minutes. Uncover, add onions and fold them in gently with a fork.
When you panfry halloumi cheese, wrote Carreño, it gets golden and crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside but still holds its shape. Carreño uses halloumi cheese along with slow-roasted tomatoes as toppings for this mejadra bowl.
Serves 4
227 to 255 gr. halloumi cheese, drained (if packed in water), patted dry, and sliced into 8 slabs
Olive oil
2 cups loosely packed baby kale, or 1 bunch kale, stemmed, leaves torn into 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces
Lemon yogurt dressing (see note below)
Spiced rice and lentils (see recipe above) or 3 cups cooked brown rice
8 slow-roasted tomato halves (see note following recipe rice bowl with poached eggs above) or oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
Put the cheese in a small, flat bowl or baking dish, cover with olive oil and marinate while preparing the other components for the bowl, or up to overnight.
Toss kale with ¼ cup of the yogurt dressing.
Remove cheese from oil. Pour enough of the marinating oil into a large skillet to coat pan generously and heat over high heat for two to three minutes until oil slides like water in the pan and is sizzling hot but not smoking. Lay cheese slabs in pan and sear until cheese is a deep, rich brown, turning to cook both sides, about 45 seconds per side.
Serve cheese, kale, rice mixture, tomatoes and pine nuts in separate dishes, or arrange them in individual pretty bowls with remaining dressing on the side.
Note: For lemon yogurt dressing, Combine 1 minced shallot, ¹⁄3 cup fresh lemon juice, two tablespoons of champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar and two teaspoons coarse salt in a medium bowl and set aside for five to 10 minutes to soften the shallot. Add ½ cup olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Put ¼ cup plus two tablespoons Greek yogurt in a separate bowl. Gradually add the vinegar mixture, whisking constantly. Makes about 1¼ cups; keeps, refrigerated, up to five days.
To make a Mexican bowl, wrote Carreño, you can use grilled beef or chicken or both along with black beans, grains such as rice, quinoa or mixed grains, and fresh toppings such as avocado, cilantro, chopped onion, shredded lettuce or cabbage, or sliced radishes. When corn is in season, add grilled corn. Serve the bowl with Mexican hot sauce or homemade salsa.
Serves 4 to 6
1 bunch cilantro (fresh coriander)
½ cup fresh lime juice
¾ cup beer
1 onion, cut in chunks
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 hot pepper, stemmed (optional)
450 to 680 gr. steak for grilling or skinless boneless chicken breasts or thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil
1 lime, halved
Flaky sea salt (optional)
3½ cups cooked brown rice or quinoa
3 cups cooked black beans or two cans of 400 gr.
Homemade or purchased salsa or hot pepper sauce
Optional condiments: Sliced avocado, roasted salted pumpkin seeds or cashews, halved limes, chopped cilantro, finely chopped onion, shredded cabbage or lettuce
Tear off leafy portion of cilantro and put it in a blender or food processor; discard or save stems. To blender add lime juice, beer, onion, garlic, salt and hot pepper, and puree mixture. Put meat in a glass or ceramic baking dish or a ziptop plastic bag and pour marinade over it. (If you’d like both steak and chicken, put them in two separate containers.) Turn meat so marinade coats all of it. Cover and refrigerate two to four hours. Remove meat from marinade and scrape marinade from surface. Season with coarse salt and lots of pepper.
Brush a cast-iron skillet or grill pan with oil and heat over high heat until sizzling hot. Lay steak or chicken in pan and sear without moving it until meat is deep brown and caramelized, three to four minutes. For steak, turn and sear to deep brown on second side, about three minutes for medium-rare, longer for medium or well-done. For chicken, reduce heat to medium and cook about five minutes until cooked through; the juices will run clear (not pink) when chicken is pierced with sharp knife (74º on an instant-read thermometer).
Transfer meat to a cutting board and sprinkle with lime juice and sea salt. Let meat rest for a few minutes, then thinly slice.
To serve, fill the bowls with cooked rice and spoon beans to one side. Serve steak or chicken, salsa and condiments on the side for people to build their own bowls.