You don’t have to be a foodie to know that grain bowls are taking over restaurant menus and meal plans. Bowls as meals have become part of our culinary vocabulary, and these colourful, layered, satisfying meals are as convenient as they are pretty. They’re also extremely family-friendly, wholesome, healthy and perfect for feeding flexitarians as well as choosy eaters.
Now that we’re eating at home more than usual, here are my best tips for making these on the regular in your kitchen:
1. No Special Equipment Required… Except for Bowls
Unlike other popular cooking trends, bowl food doesn’t require any special kind of equipment. Keep a collection of low bowls on hand and use them frequently! A fine-mesh sieve is also helpful for washing grains and beans.
2. Grain Bowls are Like Going to the Buffet
The best thing about making a grain bowl is that each eater is able to customize their bowl according to their own taste preferences. This is a great way for kids to sample things they may believe they don’t like, and also experiment with unfamiliar ingredients.
3. These Four Grains Make the Best Bowls
Any grain works well in a grain bowl, but my four favourites are quinoa, farro, rice, and couscous. They are inexpensive, versatile in how they pair with other ingredients, and reasonably quick cooking. They also fare well when prepared in bulk, allowing you to make large batches in a single cooking session.
4. Cook Grains in Anything but Water
Stock imparts so much more flavour than water, so that’s my preferred liquid when cooking grains, but you can also get creative and use fruit juices (orange juice is particularly nice), vegetables juices like carrot and tomato, tea (green tea pairs nicely with rice) and coconut milk (I like to use a 1:1 ratio of water and coconut milk when I do this. These simple swaps add so much flavour to the base of the bowl with very little effort.
5. Use the Weekends Wisely
Meal prep and general food organization are the two pillars for eating healthy and deliciously, and when it comes to making grain bowls this is certainly no exception. Use the weekends to cook grains in large batches and then store them in the refrigerator or freeze in individual portions (use 1 cup per serving). You can also cook and slice meat (I like to do this with chicken), roast vegetables, make meatballs, sauces, marinades and dressing.
6. Don’t Skimp on the Sauces
For me, these are the silent superheroes of the grain bowl. They impart tons of flavour and can change the profile of a dish easily. Combining rice, chicken, avocado and salsa gives the bowl a Mexican vibe, but replacing the salsa with soy sauce and garlic chilli oil brings the flavour of the bowl East. Feel free to get creative with your condiments and use a variety of homemade and store-bought sauces to elevate your bowl meals.
7. The Anatomy of a Grain Bowl
Grain bowls should be a mix of vibrant flavours, contrasting textures and temperatures (think using both roasted and fresh vegetables). This is easily achieved by using the following formula to assemble your bowls:
Grains + Protein (animal or plant) + Cooked Vegetables + Raw Vegetables + Sauces (condiments and marinades included) + Garnish (fresh herbs/green onions) + Crunch (nuts, seeds, chips) or Cheese
Having said that, omitting one or two elements will still bring a delicious dish to the table, so use what you have and what you like, and think of my formula as nothing more than a guide. These types of dinners are meant to be easy and stress-free, not overly complicated.
8. Grain Bowl Recipe Ideas
Here are some suggestions for grain bowls you may want to consider preparing for your family. Most of the ingredients are easily found, inexpensive and beloved by everyone in the family.
- Couscous + sliced chicken + roasted cherry tomatoes + cucumbers + tzatziki + feta
- Rice + beans + charred corn + cucumbers + salsa + tortilla chips + feta
- Rice + roasted chickpeas + roasted sweet potatoes + broccoli + tahini sauce + slivered almonds
- Quinoa + steak or fried egg + roasted sweet peppers + avocado + ranch/blue cheese dressing + shredded cheddar
- Farro + Italian sausage + roasted broccoli + cherry tomatoes + bocconcini
Our recipe to try: Grainy Burrito Bowl