How to build a grain bowl

Recipes include: Asian Rice Bowls with Grilled Salmon and Spinach and Quinoa Bowls with Grilled Moroccan Chicken, Carrots and Chickpeas

If you haven’t tried a grain bowl, now is a great time. They are packed with vegetables and grains and are deliciously healthy. Because the combinations are endless, your family will never get bored. They are also easy to make and a great way to use leftovers.  

The basics of a grain bowl

Pick a grain. Fragrant basmati rice will be delicious with an Asian-inspired dinner. Quinoa is perfect for strong flavors from the Middle East. Try polenta for a Mediterranean feast.

Choose toppings. Use leftovers or what’s on sale at the supermarket. Grain bowls are a tasty alternative for meatless Mondays but are just as good with meat, fish and poultry.

Whisk together a simple sauce.

Finish with a flavorful garnish or two.

Here are a few suggestions.

Asian Rice Bowls with Grilled Salmon and Spinach

Serves 4

Hoisin Ginger Sauce (recipe follows)
1-1 1/3 c. basmati or jasmine (white or brown) rice
Olive or vegetable oil
1 lb. salmon fillet, skin-on
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb. baby spinach
Garnish: Finely chopped and toasted cashews

Make Hoisin Ginger Sauce.

Cook rice according to package directions.

While rice cooks, preheat grill to high. Drizzle a little oil atop the salmon and season with salt and pepper.

Place salmon skin side up on the grill. Depending on the thickness of the fish, grill for 5-6 minutes. Carefully turn salmon with a wide spatula and grill for 3-5 minutes more or until cooked through, but not dry.

 Transfer fish to a cutting board, skin side down. Use a
knife with a thin blade to remove the fish from the skin.

Heat a little oil in a large skillet. Add the spinach in handfuls, season with salt and pepper. Toss to wilt and add more spinach as it cooks down.

Spoon rice in bowls. Place spinach, then salmon, on top of the rice. Hoisin Ginger Sauce and chopped cashews completes the dish.

Hoisin Ginger Sauce

Makes about 1 cup
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c. hoisin sauce
1/4 c. rice vinegar
3 T. soy sauce
2 T. fish sauce
1-2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. (or to taste) Sriracha
1 tsp. (or to taste) salt

Put garlic and ginger in small food processor; pulse to chop fine. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Let sauce sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to combine flavors.

Quinoa Bowls with Grilled Moroccan Chicken, Carrots and Chickpeas

Serves 4

Tahini Sauce (recipe follows)
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
Olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast
About 1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1 c. quinoa
1/2 c. chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Garnish: Peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber, thinly sliced scallion and cilantro leaves

Make Tahini Sauce.

Make the marinade: Put spices in small bowl, add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice and garlic. Whisk to combine.

Put chicken in bowl, add 2/3 of the marinade and toss to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator.

Put carrots in a bowl, add remaining marinade and toss to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

Arrange chicken on grill. Cook chicken about 3-5 minutes per side or until it registers 165 degrees on a thermometer. Remove from grill; let chicken rest for 5-10 minutes and slice.

Reduce heat to medium, arrange carrots on grill. Cook carrots for 3-5 minutes per side or until caramelized and tender-crisp.

To serve: Spoon quinoa into bowls, top with chicken, carrots and chickpeas and drizzle with a little tahini sauce. Finish with cucumber, scallion and cilantro.

Tahini Sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 c. tahini
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2-4 T. water
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Pinch cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste

Put tahini in bowl, add olive oil and lime juice, and whisk to combine. A tablespoon at a time, add water and whisk until smooth. The sauce should have a creamy consistency. Add garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne and salt, and whisk until combined. Let sauce sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Susan Nye writes for magazines throughout New England. She shares many of her favorite recipes and stories about food, family and friendship on her award winning blog, Around the Table, at

Categories: Recipes