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How to Make Awesome Grain Bowls

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Call them grain bowls. Call them macro bowls. Call them power bowls. I don’t care what you call them, just as long as you are making and eating them!

Grain bowls are exactly what they sound like—a base of healthy whole grains in a bowl with all kinds of delicious, nutritious toppings. When done well, a grain bowl is a beautiful quilt of textures, colors, and flavors that is an absolute joy to bite into. Typically, grain bowls are improvised. Sure, there are recipes out there for them (hello, Cauliflower and Quinoa Power Bowls), but the beauty and fun of grain bowls is how free you are to experiment with your meal.

Today, I’m going to teach you how to make your own (improvised) grain bowl. I’m going to teach you to fish by giving you the exact formula I use when I craft awesome and tasty grain bowls. Follow this method, and I promise you’re going to end up with something delicious in your bowl.

What goes into grain bowl recipes?

Whatever you have coming off in your garden. Whatever you got in your CSA box. Whatever you have kicking around in your crisper drawer—you can make it into awesome grain bowls. It’s a great way to reduce food waste and help you use up any produce that might be on its last leg before it hits the compost bin.

Step 1: The Grains.

What’s a grain bowl without grains? You’ll want a nice base of healthy hearty whole grains as the foundation to your bowls. Feel free to experiment here. Use leftover rice from dinner last night. Cook up some farro. Sometimes, I even roast potatoes and consider them my “grain.” Anything hearty, starchy, and carb-tastic will work.

Some options to try: Brown or white rice, farro, quinoa, steel cut oats, wheat berries, polenta/grits, roasted potatoes.

Step 2: The Protein

To give your bowls a little heft, you’ll want some protein. I almost always use beans, lentils, or tofu, but if you’re an omnivore, you can experiment with meat or seafood. If you’re using meat, think of it as a way to add flavor to your grain bowl—not as the star of the show. One slice of good bacon crumbled up will go a long way to adding a ton of savory flavor!

If you’re a fan of eggs, a perfectly poached egg on top of a grain bowl is one of my life’s greatest pleasures. It checks off both the protein requirement and the sauce requirement from step four. Yum. Here are some other ideas:

Step 3: The Veggies.

Grain bowls are not the time to be shy about veggies! Load that baby up. I highly recommend using a mix of sautéed, roasted, and raw veggies for the best mix of flavors, textures, and colors. Here are some of my favorite veggie options (no veggie is off the table though):

Roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes

Sautéed onions and garlic

Wilted greens (spinach and chard are at the top of my list)

Shredded raw cabbage (it adds such a great crunch!)

Roasted cauliflower or broccoli

Avocado

Halved cherry tomatoes (raw or roasted)

Roasted beets

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Roasted squash (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.)

Zucchini or other vegetable noodles

Sliced green onions

Sprouts (bean or otherwise)

Roasted red pepper

Cucumber slices

Radish slices or roasted radishes

Fresh or roasted corn

Olives

Step 4: The Sauce.

Now, to bring all that deliciousness together, you’re going to want some sort of sauce or dressing to pour over top—it really helps to unite the bowl and make it one big ole mess of yumminess. The sauce options are endless (seriously, if it’s liquid-y, you can probably put it on a grain bowl), but here are some old stand-bys:

Now would also be a good time to add in any additional flavors that might tickle your fancy. Like:

Extra salt and pepper

Hot sauce

Kimchi

Sauerkraut

Any other condiments

Step 5: The Crunch.

One of the most glorious things about a great grain bowl is the mix of textures. Chances are, your grain, protein, and most of your veggies are on the softer side—now it’s time to add some CRUNCH! There are a lot of ways to do this (including some of the veggies listed above), but here are my faves:

Shelled pistachios

Shelled sunflower seeds

Sesame sticks

Tortilla strips

Pine nuts

Hemp seeds (not really crunchy, but a different texture)

Peanuts

Pepitas

Pomegranate arils

Sesame seeds

Roasted chickpeas

Step 6: The Garnish.

Finally, you might want to garnish that beautiful bowl of yours. Is it necessary? Nope. But a sprinkling of fresh chopped herbs or a lime wedge can go a long way to add a bright flavor and make your bowl look even more appealing.

Don’t forget: we eat with all of our senses—eyes included! In a strange way, I feel like taking the time to plate up my meals nicely and garnish them is an act of self-care. It’s like saying, “I am worthy of nice things!” in a small way each time I eat a meal. And that’s my perfect formula for rocking a grain bowl! 

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