It’s official! We’re going to have an early Spring! I heard just this morning that Punxsutawney Phil saw no shadow so winter is over or soon to be over. (It was then also independently verified by our own Woodstock Willie.) I’m not quite sure how any of this works but regardless I’ve got a good feeling about February. January was relatively mild in Chicago which is a welcome change from the past couple of years (I’m looking at you January 2014) but I still found myself having a hard time being motivated to make a healthy & tasty dinner at the end of the day. This is where the Grain Bowl really shines! It comes together quickly and can be adjusted based on what you’ve got on hand. No runs to the store required.
There are a few basic parts to any good grain bowl. The grains, the vegetables, the protein, the toppings and of course the sauce. There’s an infinite number of combinations. You could do more of an enchilada bowl with quinoa, sauteed peppers and onions, black beans, cilantro, shredded cheese and enchilada sauce. A tasty asian rice bowl could contain rice, mushrooms and broccoli, bean sprouts, shredded chicken, sesame seeds, and sauce spiked with ginger and garlic. Really just get creative! Take stock of what you’ve got on hand and go from there. Here’s some staples to consider:
Your grain is going to be the base of the bowl but really any grain will do. Rice works well with most combos but feel free to try out grains that are new to you! Farro, bulgur, quinoa, barley, couscous, etc. Whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals & antioxidants so the more you can incorporate them into your daily diet the better.
Really the sky’s the limit with vegetables! Often times when I’m first planning my grain bowl I decide which vegetables I’m going to use first. This helps me decide the direction I want to go in and then everything else falls into place. Like all of my cooking, seasonality plays a starring role and with the grain bowl this is no different. If it’s early spring I might choose some grilled asparagus and young carrots. Come the height of summer I’m likely to focus on sliced heirloom tomatoes, lightly sauteed summer squash or some grilled eggplant. Now that it’s winter you’ll find a few different roasted vegetables in my grain bowls. Greens are always in my grain bowls and I usually rotate between kale, spinach and arugula as I usually have these on hand.
Your protein source definitely doesn’t have to be animal based. Whenever I’ve made a whole chicken or some larger roast I follow it up with a grain bowl the next day as it’s a great way to use up the leftover meat. However most of the time I don’t have leftover meat in fridge so I’ll use beans, tofu, eggs or lentils.
Toppings are always the best part! Herbs and cheeses are my favorite. I really like feta which adds a nice salty note but nutritional yeast is another staple. A handful of sliced fruit, nuts or seeds work well too as they give the bowl some needed texture. Fresh sprouts, microgreens or even edible flowers add a nice pop of color! I almost always include something fermented or pickled for brightness. Kimchi and sauerkraut are fantastic as they are packed with beneficial probiotics due to the fermentation process but even just a quick pickled vegetable can add a punch.
Often times my sauce is really just a quick vinaigrette as that’s what easiest, but you could definitely spend some time tinkering with what you like best! Try a pesto, enchilada sauce, mole, BBQ sauce, hot sauce or even some curry. A simple tahini sauce can be wonderfully creamy and is great on a variety of different bowls!
Now that you’ve got the basics there’s really no excuse for a sad weeknight meal! All you need is a little bit of time and some creativity. I’ve included the recipe for the bowl pictured here for some extra inspiration!
Roasted Cauliflower Grain Bowl with Lemon Tahini Dressing
1 cup hulled barley
3 cups water
1 small head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 sweet potato, cut into smaller bite-sized pieces
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 bunch kale, stems removed and shredded
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
1/4 cup chopped chives
Handful of beauty heart radish pickles for serving (find the recipe here)
For the Dressing
1/4 cup tahini
Juice from 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 TBS olive oil
2 to 3 TBS water as needed
Place barley and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat to bring to a simmer. (Watch the pot carefully as barley has a tendency to boil over). Cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the barley is soft but still chewy. If you find the mixture drys out before the barley is actually done feel free to add more water as needed. Mine was done after 35 minutes and didn’t need any water added throughout the cooking process. Once the barley is done let it sit covered for 10 more minutes and then fluff with a fork and set aside.
While the barley is simmering cook your veggies. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cauliflower and sweet potato with the olive oil, garlic powder and paprika. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until tender and beginning to brown in spots. Every fifteen minutes you’ll want to turn the vegetables to make sure they brown evenly.
While the vegetables and barley are cooking make your dressing. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth and frothy adding more water if necessary.
To serve place a big spoonful of barley in the bottom of the bowl. Add in some of the roasted veggies along with a handful of the kale and the feta. Top with a few slices of the pickles, some chives and a handful of pomegranate arils. Drizzle over the dressing, toss everything together and enjoy!