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Recipes

How to Build Customizable Grain Bowls

Pick a grain, any grain, and start building. That’s the fun of these infinitely customizable, always-delicious bowls. Mix and match the toppings, swap something out with what you’ve got on hand, give everything a little toss, and you're in business. 

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You’ve seen these veggie-packed, effortless-looking bowls on your social feed, and perhaps you’ve thought, “How do I make my basic chicken-and-rice dinner into a gorgeous bowl?” With a little know-how – and our handy cheat sheet – it’s actually pretty straightforward. But before we get into the how-tos, let’s look at what exactly turns a regular recipe into a bowl.

The anatomy of a bowl

Every recipe is different and there is no one style, but there are a few general guidelines. Most bowls have a grain base – think brown rice, quinoa, noodles or even a grain-free option such as cauliflower rice. Add a protein, mixed veg, some flavorful crunchy toppers and finish with a sauce, and you’ve got a meal with a variety of flavors and textures.

When creating your own bowl, choose a flavor theme – Mexican, Japanese or Mediterranean, for instance – as a place to start. Try balancing both crunchy and creamy ingredients to add textural interest. Remember to drizzle the sauce on sparingly; you can always add more as you go.

Mix & Match Grain Bowls
(Photo: Ronald Tsang)
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Build your own bowl

Create your own bowl by simply picking an ingredient, or multiple ingredients, from each category.

Base Protein Mixed vegetables Flavor toppers Sauce
Freekeh Salmon Yellow and red bell peppers Pickled Cabbage Curry Yogurt Dressing
Farro Chicken Carrots Red Lentil Crisps Gochujang Dressing
Buckwheat Black beans Baby spinach Super Seedy Clusters Lime Pepita Dressing
Bulgur Extra-firm tofu Sprouts Zucchini Chips Apricot Vinaigrette
Black olives
Broccoli
Radishes
Mushrooms
Corn
Avocado
Cherry tomatoes
Red onion
Beets
Edamame
Zucchini
Cilantro
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All about grains

Freekeh, farro, buckwheat and bulgur aren’t just for grain bowls – discover their versatility in these specialty products.

Fire it up

Freekeh’s slight smokiness lends itself to other flavors, which is why we love Fire Grain’s Mexican and Mediterranean versions. Each bag contains 10.6 ounces of heirloom durum wheat that’s grown and harvested in the Galilee Mountains of northern Israel. $23, amazon.com

King of the crackers

Hayden Flour Mills is synonymous with quality, always crafting its products from ancient, drought-resistant grains. These emmer farro crackers are no exception. Wheat Thin-sized, these snackers are a cheese plate’s BFF. $6, haydenflourmills.com

Sip on this

Steep a pot of McCabe’s organic roasted hulled buckwheat tea and sip on a host of health benefits. Made from roasted buckwheat, the tea is high in antioxidants and prized for its delicate flavor and digestive properties. Enjoy hot or cold. $18 per 16 oz, walmart.com

Good and quick

Public Goods’ 7 Grain & Lentil combo of bulgur, long-grain rice, quinoa, wheat berries and brown lentils is like a roundhouse energy kick. Bonus: Pouches can be zapped in the microwave for a side that’s seconds away. $3.50, publicgoods.com

Recipes

Bulgur Bowl

Bulgur Bowl
(Photo: Ronald Tsang)

Most people probably had their first taste of bulgur via a forkful of tabbouleh. Although delicious tossed with mint, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil, this humble whole grain is incredibly versatile and can even be baked into muffins and cookies. It’s also a snap to whip up, mostly because the cracked wheat berries are par-cooked before being dried and packaged. Soak the grain in an equal amount of boiling water, wait 10 or so minutes and then fluff and enjoy its low-cal, high-fiber benefits. Get the recipe here.

Freekeh Bowl

Freekeh Bowl
(Photo: Ronald Tsang)

Not only is freekeh a superfood (say hello to fiber, iron, calcium and zinc), but the grain also has a storied past. Freekeh means “to rub” in Arabic, and the name refers to a time long ago when villagers in northern Israel harvested their wheat early in anticipation of an attack. They hid the green crop in a barn that ultimately burned. When the coast was clear, they discovered that, when the char was rubbed away, the fire-roasted kernels imparted a delicious, smoky flavor. That accident has since turned into a practice. Get the recipe here.

Farro Bowl

Farro Bowl
(Photo: Ronald Tsang)

Chances are you already know and love this chewy and tasty grain, but did you know that farro is also jammed with nutrients? Each nutty kernel delivers a wallop of fiber,
protein, iron and magnesium. Originally farmed in Mesopotamia, the word farro is simply Italian for “ancient wheat grain.” The generalized term refers to three varieties of hearty wheat—einkorn (small grain), emmer (medium grain) and spelt (large grain). The most common variety in North America is emmer. Get the recipe here.

Buckwheat Bowl

Buckwheat Bowl
(Photo: Ronald Tsang)

Its claim to fame might be that it’s gluten-free, but buckwheat is also chock-full of protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates. The plant, which is classified as a pseudocereal, is often grown as a winter cover crop to help restore the soil. Thought to originate in China, the triangular seeds are processed into tea, flour and noodles. For those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, it’s important to check the labels of buckwheat products because they are occasionally combined with wheat. Get the recipe.