Grain Bowls

Our family is making a strong effort to eat healthier – and it’s working for the most part! For us, ‘healthier’ means more vegetables and plant-based proteins, fewer refined grain products and animal products. We need to avoid gluten in our kitchen, but otherwise allergies aren’t a concern, which means we can look to nuts, seeds, seafood, and soy to replace the meat we’re skipping.

The kids miss their pasta, but really, I’ve been the biggest whiner! I hate learning to shop and cook a new way! I have to learn new paths through the grocery store, find new recipes, and learn new ‘go to’ recipes I can cook without a cookbook on the counter. Ugh!

Grain bowls to the rescue! Grain bowls (some people call them Buddha Bowls) have been a life-saver as this old(er) dog learns new tricks. Keeping the ingredients on hand is pretty easy, and there are lots of ways to vary the end product to keep things interesting. Grain bowls combine different flavors, textures, and healthy ingredients into one simple bowl for a healthy and savory meal. Layer the ingredients into a Pyrex bowl with a silicone lid and it’s easily portable.

Grain Bowl Basics

Most grain bowls are assembled from the same 5 items, but the combinations are endless. I’m not great about batch cooking (who wants to spend all day cooking when you can get outside on a Sunday??) but there are a few ways to prep ahead for easy grain bowls throughout the week. (See my Kitchen Hacks posts for ideas about how to keep yourself stocked on prepped raw veggies, frozen cooked grains, and quick-pickled condiments.)

1. Grain base: sprouted brown rice, quinoa (white, red, or mixed), bulgur wheat, even whole grain pastas. If carbs are a concern for you, avoid white flour pasta, couscous, or white rice.

2. Vegetables: here’s your opportunity to eat the rainbow! Try roasted root vegetables like sweet potato or beets, red cabbage or jicama for crunch, cucumber, red or yellow onion, red/yellow/orange peppers, leafy greens like kale or spinach, and a few slices of avocado to make it decadent.

3. Protein: toasted nuts and seeds, cooked beans, tofu, edamame, tuna, smoked salmon, cheese, or hard-boiled eggs all work well.

4. Herbs (Including Adaptogens): use a generous hand with fresh herbs – in addition to being delicious, herbs like parsley, basil, and mint are high in nutrients. Add adaptogens like powdered green tea (Sencha) and Sei Mee Tea Adaptogen blends to amp up the health value of your bowl and enhance the savory flavors.

5. Condiments and sauces: pickled ginger, tahini, spicy harissa, peanut sauce, pesto vinaigrette, sriracha, garlicky aioli…the possibilities are endless! Try the tart, bright green sauce at the end of this post to get you started…

Tips

* The same basic ingredients can be used each day, with a different sauce to keep things interesting. For example, quick-pickled veggies in seasoned vinegar will play well with Mediterranean flavors of pesto, kalamata olives and feta one day, and just as well with pickled ginger, toasted tofu, and peanut sauce the next.

* Mix up your grain game! Sprouted brown rice, quinoa, and fancy rice blends are all delicious, but challenge yourself to try some of the less commonly used grains like millet, kamut, wheat berries, or farro.

* Kids may prefer the different elements of the bowl served separately, instead of mixed together. Metal ‘cafeteria tray’ style plates, a group of small bowls, or a large plate with space between each food can help kids control the amounts of each flavor they eat. Our rule is ‘one taste of each,’ which generally works pretty well. (I always make sure at least one item on the plate is something they actually like.)

Lime-Cilantro-Green Tea Sauce

Small bunch of cilantro, washed well and coarsely chopped

Juice and zest of one lime

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, chopped

¼ tsp salt

½ green bell pepper (or use one seeded jalapeno or serrano pepper if you like a little heat!)

½ tsp powdered Sencha 

Combine in a blender or food processor. Keeps 3 days in the fridge, or freeze in ice cube tray for future use. This sauce if flexible, and combines well with Southwest flavors as well!

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