There’s something comforting about eating out of a bowl.
Maybe it’s the soothing nature of cupping a warm bowl in our hands. Or perhaps it takes us back to our youth, when a complete meal all mixed into one delicious melange was so much simpler — and quicker— to eat.
Whatever the reason, bowl food is hot these days. And one way — or 25 ways — to serve bowl food is to start with hot rice. Make it brown or white. Jasmine or basmati. Long grain or short. Even wild, which we know isn’t really rice but a water-grass seed.
From that base, start piling on the ingredients. It can have an Italian, Japanese or Mexican accent. It can be vegetarian or vegan, or loaded with meat. To add even more flavor, cook the rice in broth instead of water, adding minced garlic or shallots if you’d like.
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One cup of uncooked rice will provide enough starch for two to three dinner portions, which is about how many each recipe serves, depending on appetites and the additional ingredients. If you’ve got any left over, rice bowls make perfect desk-side dining.
There’s lot of room for experimentation using seasonal products and the powdered sauce mixes — such as fajita or sweet and sour — you’ll find in various aisles in the grocery.
These suggestions offer a place to start.
1. Sausage and Spinach: Sauté 1 pound hot Italian sausage until brown and crumbly. (Buy in tube or remove from casings.) Add 2 large, minced garlic cloves and cook for another couple minutes. Add a bag of baby spinach leaves and cook until wilted. Serve over brown rice with shredded Parmesan cheese.
2. Red Beans and Rice: Sauté ½ diced onion and a couple of cloves of garlic in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add 2 cans of drained and rinsed kidney beans plus a cup of broth, along with 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning and some crushed red pepper if you want more heat. Serve the soupy beans with white rice and sliced scallions for garnish.
3. Cuban-style: Bake a 1-pound mojo-marinated pork tenderloin according to package instructions, along with sliced onions. Set aside onions and cut pork into ½-inch (or smaller) chunks. Mix both with yellow rice and top with crushed plantain chips. Hot sauce optional.
4. Mediterranean: Mix pitted marinated olives that are coarsely chopped with orange juice and orange zest. Stir into brown rice and top with grated hard ricotta.
5. Mushrooms, Wild Rice and Feta: It’s not a grain, but the seed of a water grass; still wild rice is a nutty base for sauteed button mushrooms. Brighten with feta cheese crumbles and snipped fresh chives.
6. Sloppy Joe: Top rice with beefy sloppy Joe mixture and lots of shredded Cheddar cheese. Garnish with French-fried onions.
7. Shrimp and Wild Mushrooms: Sauté a mixture of wild mushrooms in olive oil, then blanch julienned carrots and red bell peppers, plus sugar snap peas. Mix all with rice, top with grilled or sauteed shrimp and drizzle with lime-spiked Ponzu sauce.
8. Steak, Asparagus and Fried Egg: Grill marinated skirt steak or slice leftover beef in strips. Stir together rice and 1-inch lengths of lightly cooked asparagus. Add the beef and then a fried egg on top.
9. Ham and Peas: Dice ham and mix with rice and peas, plus fresh thyme leaves and lots of lemon zest. Scoop over rice and finish with Parmesan cheese.
10. Fajita: Make chicken with a package of fajita flavoring, according to instructions. Serve over rice along with sauteed onions and bell peppers. Top with guacamole and a dollop of sour cream.
11. Teriyaki: Prepare pork or chicken with teriyaki sauce, layer over brown rice studded with pineapple chunks. Garnish with sesame seeds and chow mein noodles.
12. Fruit, Nuts and Cheese: Use fragrant jasmine rice as the base for dried cherries, toasted pecans and blue cheese crumbles.
13. Tofu with Kimchi: Saute tofu cubes in vegetable oil and serve over hot rice with room-temperature kimchi and sliced scallions.
14. Caprese: Mix room temperature long-grain rice with cubes of fresh mozzarella, halved grape tomatoes and ribbons of fresh basil. Drizzle lightly with balsamic dressing.
15. Red Curry: Cook a frozen Asian vegetable medley according to package directions or sauté broccoli florets, snow peas and bean sprouts in vegetable oil. Add shredded cooked chicken or whole medium cooked shrimp and red curry sauce (not curry paste; Kikkoman, for example, makes a jarred sauce) and pour over rice. Garnish with cashews or peanuts, chopped scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil.
16. Salmon and Citrus: Use a fork to break apart pieces of smoked salmon. Mix cooked rice with fresh dill and lemon zest and gently add salmon so it doesn’t break apart. Top with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.
17. Jerk-Style: Marinate chicken or salmon filets with prepared jerk sauce and bake. Cut or shred over rice and add chopped mango, red pepper, red onion and a wedge of lime.
18. Greens and Egg: Saute spinach leaves with garlic in olive oil. Stir into rice and top with chopped warm hard-boiled egg and sliced prosciutto that has been baked into crispy bits.
19. Waldorf: Mix chopped rotisserie chicken with diced celery, crumbled blue cheese and toasted pecans. Mix into hot rice and top with diced Granny Smith apples and a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette.
20. Vegan: Cook brown rice and minced garlic in vegetable stock then top with hot black beans, diced tomatoes and avocado chunks. Drizzle with tomatillo salsa.
21. Spicy Chicken Peanut: Mix cooked chicken with peanut sauce and stir into hot rice. Top with sliced scallions and crushed peanuts.
22. Grilled Veggies: Brush sliced eggplant, halved bell peppers, sliced summer squash and mushrooms with balsamic dressing and grill until soft. Use to top brown rice. Garnish with chopped fresh mint and/or parsley.
23. Vegetarian Coconut: Cook 1 cup of rice in ¾ cup coconut milk and 1¼ cups water. When the rice is done, add the juice of half a lime along with ½ cup cilantro. Stir to incorporate. Top with sautéed mushrooms, zucchini and red bell pepper. (For pescatarians, consider adding mussels to the rice when it is almost cooked.)
24. Shrimp Taco: Cook frozen crispy shrimp according to package instructions. Prepare rice with a tablespoon or so of taco seasoning mix and add corn kernels toward the end of cook time. Top hot rice with shrimp, avocado pieces, diced tomato and thinly shredded cabbage.
25. Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese: Peel and dice sweet potato, toss in olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until soft and a bit crispy on the outside. Toss baked pieces with hot rice and top with crumbled goat cheese and snipped fresh chives.