It’s the end of the week. In my fridge’s crisper drawer lies a quarter of a cauliflower, a beetroot and its wilting leaves, a bunch of past-its-best coriander and a bendy celery heart. The top shelf is nicely stocked, though, with a jar of plum tomatoes, preserved lemons, sushi ginger and some medlar cheese. In my larder, I’ve got a few things that need using up, too: some pistachios left over from Christmas, and some dried chillies, capers and barberries.
This is when the concept of “bowl food” comes into its own, since it’s all about building a meal using layers of different foods, rather than sticking to a recipe. It’s a system that’s perfect for using up leftovers and things you already have in your cupboard or fridge.
At least one of my meals each week could be described as “bowl food”. By its simplest interpretation, the term simply means food served in a bowl, but it has become so much more, even a movement to some, with whole books, blogs and even restaurants dedicated to the subject.
Bowl food is normally a beautifully presented, balanced meal of whole grains, legumes or another filling base topped with a variety of different cooked and raw vegetables, herbs, seeds, nuts and preserves, maybe with a dressing. It can be really hard to come up with creative meal ideas using limited ingredients, but the bowl food concept makes it easier. Rather than a recipe, this week is more of a guide.
Whole grains and legumes
Fill the bottom of a bowl with a nourishing protein. We all need to eat a sufficient amount each day, but not all proteins are equal: only some are “complete proteins” that include all nine amino acids that the body can’t produce itself. With a diverse, plant-based diet, it’s pretty easy to consume all nine throughout the day, but some ingredients will provide them in one meal.
Buckwheat (wholegrain or noodles), quinoa, pumpkin seeds and soybeans, for example, are all complete proteins. Otherwise, combine any grain and legume to create a complete amino acid (eg short-grain brown rice and lentils, spelt berries and peas, barley and chickpeas etc).
Seasonal vegetables and fruit
A beautiful plate of food is a feast for the eyes. Think about the colour and presentation, and aim to fill half the plate with a wide assortment of prepared fruit and vegetables. Think about cutting it into a variety of textures, from fine, small cubes to big, rustic pieces. Serve a mixture of raw and cooked produce, and keep the ingredients mostly separate on the plate, so the colours pop.
Here’s an example of what I might put together each season:
Spring Steamed asparagus, sliced blood oranges, radish leaves, wilted spinach and wild garlic
Summer Torn apricots, grilled aubergines, raw broad beans, shredded kohlrabi and sorrel
Autumn Grated beetroot and carrot, roasted chestnuts, caramelised fennel and pickled squash
Winter Shredded brussels sprouts, cauliflower “rice”, chicory leaves, caramelised shallots and turnips with their leaves
Nuts and seeds
Scatter a few toasted or soaked nuts and seeds (almonds, brazil nuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds etc) on top to add texture and crunch. I like to fry them gently with a little honey and spice or tamari first, to make the most incredibly flavourful topping.
Herbs and spices
Garnish with some finely chopped herb stalks and whole leaves, and/or a dusting of spices for extra depth of flavour and colour.
Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin oil and a squeeze of lemon or a little cider vinegar for acidity. Or up the ante with a more complex dressing like tahini or salsa verde.
And it doesn’t end there
Keep going! If you have any leftovers or larder condiments you think will work well, by all means add them, too. Pickles and ferments such as sauerkraut and kimchi are perfect. Add seaweed for an extra nutritional kick. Dried fruits for sweetness. Or hummus, vegetable purees and plant yoghurt for some creamy unctuousness. Nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12 is also a welcome umami topping.
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