The Beauty of the Vegan Bowl

There comes a time in every food blogger’s life when inspiration simply evades them. The pressure to transform every humble post into a unique recipe, a tantalizing restaurant review, or a ground-breaking kitchen tutorial slowly nudges their creativity toward its breaking point until an intense bout of writer’s, or rather, cook’s block whacks them over the head like a culinary brick. Nagging doubts of what consitutes an interesting post eat away at their psyche: “Didn’t I post a smoothie recipe last week? Doesn’t every vegan blog include some variation on this recipe? Is this really my X number of What I Ate Wednesday posts in a row?” Well folks, I must sadly admit that cook’s block recently hit me in full force.

My overstuffed schedule always the culprit, I’ve found little to no time or energy to devote to brainstorming new recipes or experimenting in the kitchen, instead hurrying to heat up a pot of leftover soup or throw together a salad before rushing off to gymnastics practice, a piano lesson, or a yoga class. Thankfully, though, last Saturday marked the final gymnastics competition of my life. Yes, indeed, I will never again have to devote two hours every night to flipping, vaulting, leaping, swinging, and cartwheeling—a prospect which provokes my current state of constant inner rejoicing. I now intend to slowly heal the years of gymnastics’ intense pounding on my poor joints by practicing yoga four times per week, as well as to maintain my strength and endurance with daily elliptical run and weight-training sessions.

Hopefully with the welcome absence of gymnastics, my leisure time will expand into the kitchen, allowing me to offer blog posts more intriguing than “this Wednesday I ate a smoothie, a salad, and some sort of dinner. Awesome.”

However, the many hurdles over which high school seniority forces me to leap forever cultivates my deep appreciation of a quick, simple, satisfying meal, even after eliminating gymnastics. Often I depend simply upon oodles of raw vegetables, mixed greens, precooked whole grains, canned beans, and an omnipresent jar of Liquid Gold Dressing to whip up a family-sized salad for one; on other occasions I prefer to bake a quick pan of socca or stuff whole-grain flour crepes with sauteed vegetables; or when I find myself in a true pinch, I reheat a pot of leftover soup, usually augmented with a generous helping of steamed kale or broccoli.

The title of the true vegan quick-fix meal, though, undoubtedly goes to the bowl. Formed from piling a whole grain, a legume, a leafy green, and a vegetable or two (raw, steamed, sauteed, or marinated) into a large dinner bowl and drizzling the components in a sauce or dressing, the vegan bowl inspires infinite variation and ultimate customization. I often commence my bowl-erific creations with a specific world cuisine in mind to streamline the dish’s flavors: Japanese bowls include brown rice, edamame, broccoli, nori or arame seaweed, and a miso dressing; Mediterranean bowls include quinoa, chickpeas, lacinato kale, olives, tomatoes, and a lemon-tahini dressing; Mexican bowls include millet, black beans, avocado, cilantro, and a cumin-spiced dressing. The most convenient aspect of bowls is their effective use of leftovers. Roasted veggies from last night? Throw ‘em in there. An uneaten batch of brown rice? A welcome addition! A Tupperware of last week’s hummus on its last legs? Thin it out with lemon juice and drizzle it on the bowl. Use your imagination and have fun with your bowls!

Still hazy on the whole bowl concept? Check out these two recipes.

The bowl of this post’s focus began with a leftover batch of black japonica rice, a sweet potato, and a sudden urge to sample the Rosemary Marinated Mushrooms from Cucina Libera. With the quick and painless additions of steamed kale, a can of navy beans, and a whisk of tahini, voila! I bore a positively scrumptious bowl that proved both hearty and wholesome.

Sweet Potato-Kale Bowl with Marinated Mushrooms and Tahini Dressing (Oil Free, Nut Free, Soy Free)

Serves 1 hungry vegan.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large sweet potato (about 12 oz)
  • 1/2 cup cooked black japonica rice
  • 1/2 cup navy beans (canned or homecooked)
  • 1/2 recipe Rosemary Marinated Mushrooms, made without the olive oil and an extra tablespoon of coconut aminos (substitute any other marinade for the mushrooms to customize your bowl!)
  • 4 oz lacinato kale, cut into chiffonade
  • 1-2 tsp tahini

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise, then again into quarters. Wrap each piece in aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes.

Heat the rice and beans in a small saucepan over low heat until warmed through.

Steam the kale for about 5 minutes.

Layer your bowl in this order: rice and beans, kale, sweet potatoes, marinated mushrooms. Make sure to save the leftover marinade as this will create your dressing.

Whisk the tahini into the leftover mushroom marinade and drizzle over the entire bowl.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend.

Meal Checklist: Protein—navy beans, tahini. Whole Grain—black japonica rice. Vegetable—sweet potato, mushrooms, garlic. Leafy Green—lacinato kale.

Local Ingredients: Sweet potato from Driftless Organics, mushrooms from Herbs n’ Oysters Mushroom Farm, garlic from Brantmeier Family Farm.

Comment Provoking Questions: Have you experienced cook’s/writer’s block? What are your go-to quick-fix meals? Have you discovered the wonderful world of vegan bowls? If so, what is your favorite combination?

Until next time, Ali.