When I was a kid one of my favorite dinners was tacos. I loved it because it was delicious, but I also loved it because it was fun. The table was filled with bowls full of all kinds of colorful options: green chopped lettuce, red chopped tomato, bell peppers of various hues, black or brown beans, white cheese and sour cream, red or green salsa, maybe a meat of some sort, Tabasco sauce, onions, etc. I loved that I was about to make my meal my own. I loved that it was such a communal experience—passing bowls, discussing our favorite ingredients, seeing who could pile their tacos with the most food and still fit it into their mouth. It was wonderful.
In my own house I have taken that same approach and expanded it to include all sorts of rice (and other grain) bowls. There are a number of reasons why these are a staple in our house:
1) They are incredibly flexible! If I have a grain, a protein, a couple different vegetables, and some condiments, I’ve got dinner. Many people tend to think of rice bowls as a type of Mexican food with beans and salsa, but there are many flavor profiles you can use: make it Middle Eastern with some feta and olives, make it Indian themed with some Indian spiced roasted vegetables and chutneys, make it Asian-inspired with soy sauce and quickly stir-fried veggies, the possibilities are endless! There are weeks when I will use similar ingredients with different condiments to make completely different meals with almost no effort.
2) They are quick to put together. I often will do a rice bowl dinner as a way to use up leftovers. Leftover beans, leftover meat, remaining roasted vegetables, a little bit of cheese, anything can get thrown onto the table. If the grains are already cooked, dinner can be on the table in 10 minutes. If I need to cook the grains, then throw all the other ingredients together while the rice/quinoa/millet/couscous cooks.
3) They are a great way to please everyone. Because each person gets to make the meal his or her own, everyone leaves the table satisfied. And the conversations that come with each person making their bowl their own can be really fun!
4) Kids love them! They love how they get to interact with the food (touching it, combining it, tasting it) and how they get to make their meal their very own—one of my boys will pile his bowl high mostly with vegetables, while the other seeks out the protein. I also have to say that this is a meal that often motivates my pickier eater to try something new. Like here when he tried lime (apologies for the fuzziness of the photo):
Meanwhile, my older son tried to make his as beautiful as possible:
And then he ate it all up.
So how do you make rice bowls? It is really simple. For four people you’ll need:
2-3 cups cooked rice/quinoa/millet/couscous
2 (or so) cups of protein (beans, chickpeas, meat, tofu, etc.)
4 or more cups of chopped raw vegetables (lettuce or other greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, radishes, avocado, etc.)
Condiments (salsa, vinegars, soy sauce, hummus, ketchup, lime, etc.)
Other possible toppings (cheeses, olives, pickles vegetables, fermented vegetables, roasted vegetables, hot sauces, etc.)
Put all of the ingredients out on the table with serving utensils. Give each person a bowl and let them build their own bowl. That’s it!
Try these out and let me know how they go and what your favorite flavor combinations are!