Kitchen Confidence: Fill up a bowl
June 11, 2016
There is something uniquely appealing about an entire meal in a single bowl. Protein, vegetables and carbs all together in one package. Nearly every culture has their own version. In Asia, pho is a very popular example. The Mexican burrito in a bowl is another. Take a trip to the Bayou and they'll serve you up some gumbo. Each of these can be an exotic treat.
For the home cook, an easier way to gain confidence with preparing a "bowlful" is to tap into some of the key features and flavors of these cuisines. By preparing simpler versions, you can make some tasty meals, and healthy ones at that, with less fuss. A simple noodle bowl, black bean burrito bowl, or red beans and rice are three of my favorites.
Let's focus on the noodle bowl. Of course there are the noodles. I like buckwheat noodles for their nutty flavor and lower carb index. They are very easy to use too, which boosts my confidence. Rice noodles make a great foundation that is gluten free. When all else fails, a package of Ramen noodles works just fine (in fact they are perfect when out camping).
For protein, I like to use shrimp, fish or cooked chicken. Thinly sliced beef is another option. On the vegetable front, red bell pepper, green onions, shitake mushrooms are fantastic additions. To be honest, whatever you have in the house will likely be OK. Carrots, celery, even cucumber can add some crunch. Now for those key flavors. Fresh ginger is my all-time personal favorite for many reasons. For now let's just focus on the characteristic savory flavor it adds. Soy sauce or fish sauce is another key element that will give the dish some saltiness.
So how do you put all this together? Start by cooking the noddles in boiling water if needed. For buckwheat noodles 6-7 minutes usually does the trick. Rice noodles need less time, 1-2 minutes. You can even buy them fresh and add them directly into the cooking pot for your noodle bowl. Likewise with the Ramen noodles. Just dump them into the broth right toward the end of cooking for 1-2 minutes.
While the noodles are cooking, slice up the vegetables and cook them in some peanut or vegetable oil. Be sure to include lots of that fresh ginger. Once they are beginning to soften, add some broth. Chicken, beef, vegetable or even pho broth from Pacific Foods. Once the broth boils, add the protein and cook until heated through. By now the noodles should be ready. Personally, I like to put the noddles into my serving bowl first and then pour the veggies, protein and broth over the top. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a dash of dark sesame oil and enjoy.
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This is a basic example to help you build confidence. There are endless variations. You could substitute steamed rice for the noodles. Skip the broth for a dish that is more easily portable. Use tempeh as the protein for a vegan version. Add sesame seeds or cashews. Stir in some seaweed (wakame is very friendly). Even some Kim Chee for extra spiciness! See more on Asian noodle bowls on the blog here: theconfidencediet.com/seasonings-made-simple-asian-fascination/
Looking for even simpler bowl varieties? Beans and rice are basic, satisfying, and about as easy as it gets. For red beans and rice, cook up a can of kidney beans with some chopped yellow onion. Key flavor elements are a splash of Worcestershire sauce, pinch of cinnamon, and a bay leaf or two. For extra heat, add some ground red pepper such as cayenne or paprika. Serve over freshly steamed white rice.
Mexican cuisine features the ever popular black beans and rice. Season the beans with some jalapeno, cumin seed, and a squirt of lime juice. At serving time, top with diced avocado, sour cream and fresh salsa.
There you have it. Dinner in a bowl. Easy, affordable and interesting. What could be more appealing?
Tom Castrigno from Frisco, Colorado, cooks and writes about food. Tom has several of his books on Amazon and writes a blog called "The Confidence Diet," at theconfidencediet.com. Send comments to Tom@AmobilechefCO.com
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