As previously seen on Wit & Delight
Editor’s Note: Whether you’re craving some lighter fare in preparation of (or following) the richer meals that tend to come with the holiday season, or you simply want to add some new variations to a go-to meal, this post is for you. In it, Sonja Overhiser breaks down exactly what you need to know to craft a delicious grain bowl every single time. Enjoy!
There’s one question I get the most as a food blogger slash cookbook author. What are the best easy and healthy dinner recipes? (Well, that and how you get one million followers on Instagram.)
The first question is much easier to answer. And here’s what I turn to most often: grain bowls! Bowl meals, Buddha bowls, quinoa bowls, rice bowls: Whatever you call them, these bowls are where it’s at for dinnertime without thinking too hard. Why? They’re easy, they’re full of flavor, and they come together quickly. They’re also great for reducing food waste in the kitchen. Because let’s face it: What other way can you throw random leftovers in a bowl and call it a meal?
Grain bowls might seem overly simple, but there’s actually an art to this concept. You need to play up contrasts in flavor, texture, and color or you’ll end up with a dull and mushy grain bowl. But do it right and you’ll want to stuff your face. Here are the three main rules for a kickin’ grain bowl.
3 rules for a great grain bowl
1. Pick your base grain.
There are lots of whole grains to choose from: some standard, some more unique! If you’ve got a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, now’s the time to use it. You can cook all of these in advance and refrigerate until serving. Here are a few options:
2. Add toppings.
Here’s the real “meat” of your grain bowl: the toppings! There are two main divisions of toppings: vegetables and proteins. Make sure to mix it up with some of both. Here are some ideas:
- Plant-Based Protein: My favorites are these quick and easy chickpeas, black beans, or white beans. Another go-to: the meat-like eggs from these 5-minute tacos. Or try pan-fried tofu, marinated tofu, or a quick tofu scramble.
- Lean Protein: Shrimp and seared tuna take just 5 minutes to cook. Ahi poke makes a great bowl, or use cooked chicken or baked salmon.
- Raw Veggies: Vegetables add a fresh contrast! Try raw tomatoes, cucumber, spinach, baby kale, bell peppers, avocado, cabbage, zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, or shredded Brussels sprouts.
- Cooked Vegetables: Add your favorite roasted vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, squash, and more.
- Flair (optional): Finish with a contrasting crunch! Sprinkle on chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or feta cheese.
3. Bring it together with a sauce.
Got your grain bowl together? Great! Let’s tie it all together with a homemade sauce. I find that once I’ve compiled everything, I only have energy for the simplest of sauces. Here are my two favorites that don’t even require a blender:
- Tahini Sauce: Creamy and zingy, it works for a wide variety of bowls (it’s also vegan).
- Cilantro Lime Sauce: This play on ranch is seriously tasty and works with Latin-style flavors.
Tip: Play up the contrasts!
One last thing to remember: Grain bowls are all about contrasts! No one wants a drab bowl that’s all brown and yellow, or a bowl that’s total mush. It’s important to think about contrasts in flavor, texture, and color.
For example, pair soft and fluffy quinoa with crunchy cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, and savory chickpeas, then top it with a creamy and tangy sauce. Not only do the textures and flavors contrast but there are also a variety of colors. Remember: We eat with our eyes!
Example grain bowl recipes
When acquiring any skill, I find it’s easiest to learn from examples. So here’s the fun part: Take a look at these tasty grain bowl recipes! There are a few of my favorites and some ideas from trusted sources around the web. You’ll see lots of examples of the components arranged with contrasts and themes in mind. Good luck and let us know how your grain bowl turns out!
Sonja is author of award winning food blog A Couple Cooks and the cookbook Pretty Simple Cooking. Together with her husband, Alex, the two are leading voices on plant-based eating, and authors of a recipe series with Washington Post Food called Voraciously: Plant Powered. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.