The infinitely adaptable grain bowl is a seemingly simple meal, ideal for using leftover ingredients and reducing waste. I used to think of them as a quick way to get nutrients using a hearty carbohydrate, a variety of vegetables, protein, and a plethora of my favorite toppings.
When in reality, I’ve come to realize that it’s the perfect opportunity to play with contrasts in flavor, texture and color. More than a simple meal, now I consider grain bowls to be an experimental vessel that may just lead to an unbelievable combination!
I’ve compiled my favorite ways to elevate a grain bowl in new ways for you to use at home to turn something seemingly basic into a culinary one-bowl meal wonder.
I’d like to first break down what elements I consider necessary to create the basic anatomy of these bowls before I share some tips on how to elevate them.
Grain: As the name suggests, first, you’ll need a grain base. This may consist of traditional white or brown rice, quinoa, couscous, orzo, and more. When I’m feeling exceptionally adventurous, I like to add in grain blends like RiceSelect® Royal Blend® Rice, as I know that grains in these mixes have been carefully selected for optimal use.
Vegetables/Fruit: Choose your favorite and eat them uncooked, or sautée, roast, grill, or serve them however you like. Getting creative and slicing or chopping them using new techniques is an essential part of any elevated meal. I’ll get into more of those techniques later on.
Protein: Make your meal complete and filling with protein. Use chicken, pork, steak, duck, eggs, or fish, or go vegetarian with tofu, tempeh, beans, or lentils.
Sauce or Garnish: The grains in your bowl will appreciate a bit of moisture that will also tie everything together. Use a homemade sauce or vinaigrette of choice with anything from yogurt to hummus, oil or tomato-based sauces, warm broth, hot sauce, or soy sauce.
This example Egg Edamame Brown Rice Bowl uses a whole grain base of RiceSelect® Texmati® Brown Rice, veggie edamame and scallions with poached or fried eggs on top for protein. Its garnish includes a blend of creamy sliced avocado and fresh Thai basil to counteract the bit of hot sauce drizzled over the top.
Apply these keys to elevate any grain bowl from your morning energy boost bowl to a complete dinner using your favorite grain of choice.
Once I’ve chosen my grain base, I like to add a subtle hint of flavor by using something other than water to cook my grains. This, of course, depends entirely on the flavor profile you are aiming for. If you enjoy a sweet morning meal, use a bit of cinnamon or apple cider with the cooking water, fruit juice, or coconut milk for a creamier consistency. For a savory bowl, I use broth, seasonings, herbs or a combination of them all.
Try it for yourself in this Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Bowl made with a base of RiceSelect® Texmati® White Rice sautéed with onion and garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper and simmered in broth. You may also choose something on the simpler side by adding a homemade seasoning blend to the cooking water like in this Quinoa Taco Bowl, with White Quinoa.
Take the opportunity to create a full culinary experience with your grain bowl by adding not only textural variety but also a visual contrast. I love to create show-stopping meals that are not only captivating for the eyes but also the taste buds.
Grain bowls are essentially all about contrast, so it’s important to consider when imagining your ingredients combinations. If you want to use soft or chewy grains such as an orzo salad bowl, don’t forget to add a bit of crunch. Make sure to counteract a bit of spice with a creamy or tangy element. By doing this, you’re making your meal a multi-sensory experience using vibrant colors, complementing textures, and interesting ingredients of choice. Our brains naturally associate crunchy ingredients with freshness from vegetables or nuts and seeds. It also helps us to eat more mindfully, as our attention is drawn to the food.
This Turmeric Couscous Glow Bowl uses a blend of color, texture and flavor to make a wonderful pearl couscous salad. Starting with a vibrant yellow base of RiceSelect® Pearl Couscous with Turmeric topped with an assortment of elegantly spiralized vegetables, roasted green broccoli, tangy white feta cheese, salty tamari vinaigrette and crunchy sweet pomegranate seeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds.
When I cook for a crowd, I enjoy satisfying every taste, but that can often be difficult. So, I look to other home chefs for incredible inspiration like Maegan at The Baker Mama. She has created this Build Your Own Rice Bowl Board serving an array of ingredients for everyone to mix and match sweet, savory, and spicy. For contrasting textures and tastes make sure to serve yours with mango, avocado, carrots, grilled corn, chicken, and much more.
Additional pièce de résistance: Add extra finishing touches to your bowl by cutting your ingredients in new ways like a spiralized carrot, mandolined cucumber, fanned, or in ribbons.
Essential to a substantial grain bowl, using protein is the perfect way to make a filling, satisfying and energizing meal. I find that using a marinade is an ideal way to add abundantly more flavor to the bowl profile as well as incorporate a bit of bonus texture.
I find inspiration in international-inspired blends such as the Caribbean Jerk marinade. Filled with sweet, citrus and spicy flavors, I make my own simple marinade for a variety of proteins like Jerk Shrimp Rice Bowl or a Coconut Quinoa Jerk Chicken Bowl. You may also enjoy this Korean Beef Rice Bowl using an umami loaded marinade of ginger, garlic, mandarin zest/juice, honey, fish sauce, soy sauce and olive oil.
The beauty of these bowls is that I can also use a vegetarian alternative, and adjust the shrimp and chicken to tofu, seitan or another alternative.
There is a lot to be said about adding in sweet ingredients, such as fruit, for stunning and vibrant colors along with a mix of savory ingredients. Try this with fresh or dried fruit and vegetables that are in season with a hearty grain. This can also be achieved using a sweet sauce with savory protein and vegetables.
This Quinoa Pulled Jackfruit Burrito Bowl uses jackfruit cooked in a savory blend of onion, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper all topped with a spicy and sweet chipotle, pineapple barbecue sauce.
Finally, my meals in a bowl are not complete until I tie everything together with a grande finale of dressing. Liquid has the power to unite ingredients and flavors and not to mention, lend a bit of decadence.
Try it yourself and drizzle this Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with Tahini with a sweet lemon tahini sauce.
Try any or all of these tips to enhance your grain bowls and I guarantee you’ll notice the difference in your dishes! Starting with a base of RiceSelect® grains, you’re set for a glorious meal filled with spontaneous brilliance and inspiring flavors. Take a look at more wonderful tips for the home chef in the blog section to answer all of your questions from what is arborio rice exactly to discovering the world's most exceptional rice varieties!