bowl building: ready to roll

How to Build a Bowl

Bowls have been a thing since long before you saw “bowl” on offer everywhere you looked. I’m a grazer, so bowls are pretty  much my favorite way to eat. This super simple guide promises super easy bowl building with whatever ingredients and combos float your boat.

Bowls optimally include the following:

  • Dressing, which goes on the bottom of the bowl; for this one, I made a balsamic mustard maple vinaigrette.
  • Grain or starch: I used quinoa here, into which I grated a beet.
  • Roasted veggies; here, I diced up some sweet potatoes.
  • Raw veggies: Kale and cabbage are ideal because they’re so sturdy.
  • Protein: Mine of choice was feta cheese.
  • Something sweet: I had a pomegranate on hand.
  • Something crunchy, and if you’re traveling, packed separately: I roasted some walnuts.

bowl building ingredients

I used this recipe from Clean Eating pretty much verbatim, except that the dressing they recommend is WAY too tart for me (1/4 cup of vinegar and no oil?? that’s nuts.) So I just made your basic vinaigrette, which is pretty dark due to balsamic and maple syrup.

Now the thing with published bowl recipes is that they put them in Mason jars, which looks beautiful but has never worked for me. I like to be able to toss my salads so they really get coated in dressing, and just shaking a packed Mason jar up and down doesn’t cut it for me.

We like to do a little bowl building before a road trip, so we just layer ours in this handy plastic bowl. As noted, keep the roasted crunchiness (nuts in this case) separate and add when you eat. Soggy crunchy stuff is for the birds. Actually, watching the birds chow down on sunflower seeds right now, I must argue with myself and say birds look askance at soggy crunchy stuff, too.

Here’s how our to-go pack looks.

bowl building: salad packed and ready to hit the road

And here, taking with unfortunate night-time overhead lighting, is how our salad looks plated. It tasted really good. Please excuse the near-sepia tone.

bowl building: plated salad

Bowl Building: Inspirations and Ideas Aplenty

You can find good bowls all over online. Check out my Pinterest board for suggestions from around the web, or try one of my recipes.

Or just give bowl building a shot on your own. Enjoy!



Vegan Mole Bowl

Vegan Mole Bowl

Mole—rhymes with “guacamole”—wears its Aztec roots with pride. This vegan mole bowl revels in a deep, thick,  mysterious sauce, which livens up what’s otherwise a simple of rice, beans, and vegetables.

There is, however, not a simple way to make mole. This recipe, adapted from a recipe by Margaret Shakespeare*, is close. If you get all the ingredients out ahead of time…

mole-ingr

….you can pretty easily get your mole on while everything else cooks.

mole-cooking

That, by the way, shows the chocolate before it melts. The chocolate is what gives mole its color and hard to pin down flavor.

(Click this link for the mole sauce on its own.)

As stated, this is a vegan mole bowl, relying on my old favorite cauliflower. (I’m not sure where I’d be without that vegetable.) If you don’t have a cauliflower, zucchini will roast up nicely, though in about half the time. If you have fresh corn, spectacular. And the mole will complement chicken, steak, or a robust seafood like scallops, shrimp, or cod—in other words, a fairly sturdy fish, though more bland is better. Salmon is out. Fresh tuna…you’re on your own.

Meanwhile, I turn once again to the awesome rice/quinoa mix put together by Seeds of Change, which we buy in 6-packs at Costco and that I go through about as often as I do cauliflower. You could also, of course, use your own cooked brown rice, quinoa, or your own blend of pretty much any grain you like.

mole-rice-pkg

Have fun with your toppings. I had a mango on hand and opted for sliced avocado so the mole could star. But if you don’t mind a crowded flavor party, throw a little guacamole on there and the two great Mexican creations can duke it out. Just be sure to have some fresh crunchy Romaine—possibly mixed up with a little green cabbage. Enjoy.

mole2

Sopa Seca

A few months ago I discovered the joy of cooking pasta in just enough liquid to bubble up over the top of the noodles. (Thanks to Cooking LIght magazine for the inspiration.) I realized that this dish translates easily to sopa seca, the wonderful “dry soup” of Mexico.

There’s nothing dry about sopa seca, but there’s not a whole lot of liquid. The method defies the conventional wisdom of giving pasta plenty of room in pot as they boil. Indeed, I still cook pasta that way when it’s the right way to cook it.

This method—which uses just 2 1/2 cups of broth for 4 ounces of pasta—behaves in an interesting way with any pasta, and particularly with gluten-free versions. I feared that it might dissolve into mush, which can happen pretty easily when you boil g.f. pasta in a giant pot of water. But Full Circle Gluten-Free Spaghetti, made from corn and rice, stayed stubbornly intact, remained pleasantly “to the teeth,” as they say in Italian.  Additionally, the corn and rice starch soaks into the broth, boosting it with subtle flavor. Given both grains’ close association with Mexican cuisine, it worked perfectly.

(If, by the way, you’re interested and even skeptical about cooking pasta in less water, read this entertaining NYTimes article.)

For the zucchini, I used Steve’s trick for even browning; he’s a stickler for getting all sides seared. Rather than cube the zucchini before hand (thus having to turn over each individual cube), we slice the zucchini lengthwise. We end up with 5 or 6 slices that are easy to turn; then we cut them afterward.

Zucchini is roasted before adding to sopa seca.

It goes together quickly. Non-vegans can add any number of protein choices to it, but it’s wonderfully filling and you really don’t need them, especially if you go a little hog-wild with the toppings. Is the vegan version of hog-wild….I dunno, avocado-wild? I kinda like that. May keep it. Or send your own nominations in the comments section. Above all, simply enjoy this lovely meal.

Sopa seca featuring roasted zucchini, avocado, cilantro, and other garnishes.

The Maharajah Bowl

Indian cooking—the northwestern branch of it specifically, as “Indian” is as sweeping a description as American, Italian, or Spanish—is the first exotic cuisine I can remember getting a proper introduction to as a kid. My parents hosted some Pakistani missionaries at our home; and while, of course, Pakistan is not India, the cuisine across the subcontinent has some shared characteristics: rice, spices, vegetables, amazing and mysterious smells, singing sweet music to my suburban California child’s soul.

maha-component3

When I met my daughter’s father Joel, he gave me what has become a cherished lexicon of food from across the vast country: Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, a massive and lovingly assembled compendium from Yamuna Devi, whom Joel had known when he lived in India.

lord-krishna

The sheer luxuriance of color that occurs when I muster up the ingredients for an Indian dish gives me a little shiver. For this one, I knew I wanted to use up some apricot-hued lentils, as well as (of course) a cauliflower and an eggplant that had been waiting patiently. A mix of whole and ground spices provided the depth and complexity that makes good Indian food so special; no curry powder circa 1970, please, which has  unfairly convinced more people they don’t like Indian food than any other single factor. Plenty of mint and parsley on hand, because I had them and didn’t have cilantro, which also would have worked.

maha-ingr

I’ll be the first to admit that the dish, when you first glance at the recipe, is going to seem overly complicated. It DOES have quite a few components. Feel free to skip any of them, and to assemble the dish any which way that suits you. For instance, leave out either the carrots or the roasted veggies, or both, simply serving the lentils with the various toppings and the rice if you like. Or leave out the lentils, which take the longest. Even better, make the lentils and the carrots the day before; the flavor gets better as they sit.

maha-lentils

Another way to simplify is to simply pick up a bottle of garam masala already mixed, and replace the spices with that. One of the great joys of Indian cooking is its improvisation, which rivals Coltrane, Bird, and Monk in their finest hours.

The point, of course and as ever, is to make it yours. And most importantly, as Joel told me, to make it and offer it with love. Namaste.

maha-bowl1

Meditteranean Bowl with Eggplant and Basil

The Mediterranean Basil Veggie Bowl

It’s eggplant season. I mean, technically, you can get eggplant pretty much year ’round, but I tend to crave it in summer, when tomatoes are at their best and the eggplant was freshly harvested someplace relatively close, as opposed to flown in from some hot and faraway place.

Meditteranean Bowl with Basil and Eggplant

I had a huge bunch of basil, and also have a big old jar of quinoa sitting around that I need to make a dent in. This dish came together super easily. Follow a few simple rules of thumb, and yours should come out perfect and yummy.

1. Always salt your eggplant first and let it sit for about 20 minutes. There are two reasons for this: 1) to get rid of bitter juices, and 2) to get the super spongy eggplant as water free as possible. Eggplant is wonderful when you can get it to brown. When you can’t, it’s a weird-textured soggy mess. The initial salting is key.

2. If you’ve been following my recipes, you’ll notice that I nearly always say to heat the pan first—naked, with nothing in it—then to add oil when the pan is hot, then to add food when the oil is hot. An empty pan heats faster. Oil can’t heat properly if it’s got stuff in it. You can’t sauté properly if your oil’s not hot enough. This is the way to love an eggplant, or really, any sauteed veggie.

3. Take your time with the sauté. We just got a new induction cooktop and it ROCKS. Responsive as gas, cleaner than gas as well as the electric ceramic top that I truly found…..challenging. (Or despicable, when I’m in a non-diplomatic mood.) My new cooktop makes it easy to regulate heat, and you want your sauté to be briskly browning without burning, and with the right amount of heat.

Sauteed Eggplant

This is something you just have to learn given your own cooking stuff. Pay attention, smell, look, and taste often. Just get it right the first time. Do-overs can happen, and can make a good dish out of a potential bad one, but it’s so better to just engage in what you’re doing, and constantly ask yourself, is this what I want to eat? If yes, continue; if no, figure out the issue. Not brown enough? Cook longer and increase the heat a bit. Add salt. Or sugar. Or a spice that just seems right.

The vegan-inclined can skip the cheese. (This recipe from Teagan at Half-Baked Harvest includes an amazing vegan Parmesan, as well as an amazing salad that I eat at least once a week.) Lavish on the basil. It’s one of the true delights of summer, and will transport you to a Mediterranean meadow when you close your eyes. Enjoy.

Meditteranean Bowl with Eggplant and Basil

The Raw Salad Fitness Plate

The Swiss are famous for piling on the food, whether it’s an outsize serving of fondue (approximately 1 pound of cheese per person), or the outright terrifying Bernertafel, or “Bern plate,” a manhole-sized platter heaped with sausages with a little potato and pickle on the side “for digestion.”

Fortunately, they’ve devised a remedy for those of us who aren’t packing in the calories at lunch in preparation for a day of scrambling up mountaintops with goats. They call it the Fitnesstafel, or “Fitness Plate,” and we found it on various menus as we traipsed from Bern to Vaud to Basel a few months ago. I snapped a picture of one that Steve ordered, and here it is:

bern-fitness-tafel

It’s basically a bunch of shredded veggies and some salad, lightly dressed, surrounding some type of protein. What better way to consume a ton of raw veggies? So I went to work developing this version. And since the key to the original inspiration is its simplicity, I assembled just a few workhorse seasonings that basically take care of everything. The lucky winners are: brown sugar, celery seed, salt, and cider vinegar, with some shallots lending support.

fitness-seasonings

Now you chop, grate, and/or, in my case, play with a new toy. I had bought two crappy spiralizers because they were cheap. How could I lose?? D’oh. Fortunately, the sum total I paid for my two dumb spiralizers was still less then I would have spent in the first place. Lo and behold, my sister Becky said, “I have a spiralizer, do you want it?” So now I got the real deal, baby.

fitness-beets

As you can see, it makes awesome psychedelic work of beet. I still haven’t gotten the knack of it with a carrot; this particular version likes a big round thing like a beet, not a skinny long round thing like a carrot. But seriously, this is fun, and I’ll try it more. That said, grating is also dandy.

For your cup o’ herbs, choose what you have on hand, or what sounds good, or both. I have learned from Yotam Ottolenghi (you can see his book Plenty, a personal favorite, in the background of the seasonings picture, along with books from my hero Bert Greene) that you really can mix fresh herbs with a fair amount of impunity. Dill seems particularly Swiss to me. The overall mix above—dill, parsley, mint, and chives—transported me to a Swiss meadow, which I hope everyone can experience at least once because Switzerland is awesome.

fitness-herbs

And then there’s cabbage. Wherever I am fortunate enough to travel, I can always count on cabbage. The stuff grows absolutely everywhere, no matter if you’re in the tropics or the Alps, and it’s always crisp. I get very Zen when I cut it, which I recommend, because it just takes a while to plow through.

fitness-cabbage

Now, you have all these fabulous little raw salads.

fitness-components

I sort of picked and chose my herbs to keep each component somewhat distinctive, which you’ll see outlined below  fitness-cabbage2But if you want to just mix everything together in one carnival of flavor and color, feel free.

Protein is the key in the Fitness Plate, and it’s important to me to be able to offer a vegan version, so I relied on the awesome Seeds of Change rice/quinoa mix combined with chickpeas and some pine nuts. Using a little yogurt, either dairy or plant-based, gives you a little additional hit and just the right amount of creaminess to complement the crunch.

fitness-plate4

Steve could use a protein hit, and we had some leftover grilled chicken; you can see his salad in the background of the picture at the top of this post. Do what sounds good, but I can promise you that the vegan version will keep you full all day long as it sparkles up your tastebuds.

fitness-plate1