Grain Bowls with Miso Dressing

We recently discovered the wonder of the homemade grain bowl. With easy, relatively inexpensive make-ahead components, whipping up a week’s worth of quick meals is a snap. Even better than their simplicity, all those protein-rich grains, seeds and legumes are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you’re looking for nutritional bang for the buck, grain bowls are a great way to go. Oh, and they’re delicious, so there’s that!

A dish like a grain bowl is naturally variable. What goes into the bowl and in what proportions or combinations, is limited only by our imaginations. A grain bowl obviously calls for some sort of grain, but that could include any whole kernel or seed. If you need a plant-based complete protein, combining a whole grain like brown rice and a legume like lentils will do the trick.

We add a variety of fresh or roasted veggies to the bowl, depending on the temperature outside and what’s available in the veggie bins. For texture and color we like to include thinly shaved cabbage, fennel, or radish (or all three), as well as diced Persian cucumbers, roasted peppers, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

To keep it light on our bellies, we start with a base salad of chopped romain or arugula that we dress with a simple vinaigrette. After everything’s added to the bowl, the whole thing gets a little drizzle of a thick, aged balsamic vinegar. And then, if that weren’t enough, the top gets a drizzle of garlicky miso vinaigrette. It’s OK. The grains and beans in the bowl need the kick of flavor.

This may look like a lot to assemble, but grains are fairly quick cooking and require very little attention. With a couple of sauce pans, a measuring cup, and a kitchen timer (or two).

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Miso Vinaigrette
These are all approximate quantities. Every cook should personalize something like vinaigrette. Play with the flavors here and remember, that miso is very salty, so if you add salt, be careful with it.

1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons walnut oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
Sesame oil
Black pepper to taste

Add miso and vinegar to a salad bowl and mash miso with the back of a spoon, incorporating the vinegar, until it forms a thin paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk to blend. Adjust seasoning as desired.

Grain Bowl Basics
These grain quantities, cooked and stored in the fridge, will provide approximately 8 servings throughout the week:

1 cup 11 grain blend, dry (or your choice of rice, wheat, millet, whole oats, rye, barley, etc.)
1 cup French lentils, dry (the little ones)
1 cup quinoa, dry
1 bay leaf

For the lentils:
Lentil should be sorted to help remove tiny stones and clumps of dirt, then rinsed under cold water to remove dust.

Add lentils to a small pot with enough water to cover them by a couple of inches and turn the heat to medium. Add a half teaspoon salt to the water and the bay leaf to the pot. Once water comes to a boil, turn stove down and simmer lentils over low heat for approximately 25 minutes. The lentils are done when they’re tender but easily hold their shape.

For the 11 grain blend:
Add 11 grain blend (or brown rice) to a medium pot along with two cups of water. Add a half teaspoon salt to the water. Cover and set pot over medium heat. The moment the water comes to a boil, turn heat to lowest possible flame and keep the pot covered. Cook grain for 40 minutes. Leave covered and remove from heat and let stand for at least 10 minutes.

For the quinoa:
In a mesh strainer, rinse quinoa well to remove dust and the slightly bitter resin on the outer coating. Add quinoa to a pot along with two cups of water. Add a half teaspoon salt to the water and set the pot over medium heat. Bring pot to a boil, reduce to lowest heat possible and cover. Cook for approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered.


Tropical Oatmeal

We eat a lot to steel cut oats. Though primarily thought of as breakfast food, they end up in a lot of other dishes in our repertoire. They’re nutritious and delicious when prepared well. Far tastier than their pre-cooked, rolled counterparts. While we really never tire of the straightforward flavors of the oats, our breakfast bowls have morphed over the years into something entirely different from the bowls of mush we grew up on. The oats’ neutral, nutty flavor opens them up to endless flavor pairings and we’re having fun experimenting with them.

Bananas are another pantry staple. And they regularly get to an overripe stage that renders them total mush, destined to the freezer to become sweetener for future smoothies. But the good ones often find their way into a bowl of breakfast oats along with toasted walnuts or almonds. Their natural sugars and creamy texture are ideally suited to a bowl of porridge.

We recently used overripe banana to sweeten a batch of oatmeal. Added to the pot at the beginning of the cooking process, the bananas break down into a sweet sauce that scents the oats with a subtle tropical fruitiness. No added sugar necessary. We garnished the bowl with toasted pecans, a big dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of toasted coconut. The result was amazing!

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Tropical Oatmeal
serves 2 

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup steel cut oatmeal
1 bay leaf
1 small cinnamon stick (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
pinch of salt
2 cups hot water
1 ripe banana
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1/4 chopped fresh pineapple
2 tablespoon chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon desiccated coconut

Place a pan over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the steel cut oats and gently toast for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add bay leaf, cinnamon and salt. Add the hot water carefully (the water will sputter). Stir until everything is mixed. At this point you can turn off the heat and allow to sit over night.

The next  morning, return the pan to heat and cook adding the banana and a little water, if necessary. Cook for about 5 minutes or until creamy.

In a small sauté pan, over medium low heat, gently toast the walnuts for 2-3 minutes before adding the desiccated coconut. Toast for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute. Do not look away from the pan because the coconut toasts very fast and will burn if left on the heat for more than a minute or two.

Serve the oatmeal in a warmed bowl and top with greek yogurt, pineapple, and toasted walnuts and coconut (or any other fruity, nutty combination). Enjoy!