Once relegated to fast-food Asian restaurants, the power bowl is taking over breakfast, lunch and dinner menus at both restaurants and home kitchens as many of us seek hearty but healthy meals to fuel our busy bodies.
Heartier than a salad yet filling, the power bowl — or grain bowl or Buddha bowl — has taken over where the smoothie left off, providing a friendly, accessible way to boost whole grains and veggies while maintaining brain-healthy proteins derived from legumes and seeds, an egg or a few slices of meat.
“They are super friendly and popular and healthful and filling,” said Julia Gnall of Windsor, who runs J Squared Catering with her husband, Johnny. “We get people like women at a wedding or bachlorette party who want something a little bit more healthful and hearty.”
A typical bowl might include 25 percent whole grains like farro, brown rice or barley; 25 percent vegetables and leafy greens; 25 percent extras like nuts and seeds and legumes; and 15 percent proteins such as cheese or sliced chicken.
Over it all, there is always some kind of tasty, seasonal dressing or sauce to pull together all the different flavors in the bowl — that accounts for the final 10 percent.
“These meals and snacks will give you all the nutrition you need, whether you’ve got a busy day at work or you’re training for a marathon,” Christal Sczebel wrote in “Power Bowls: 100 Perfectly Balanced Meals in a Bowl.” (Sterling Epicure, 2017)
Like a good salad, a grain bowl should be simple and delicious, with not too many ingredients. Think Hawaiian poke or Korean bibimbop, the mother of all bowl meals.
You don’t need a lot of ingredients, but each one should be perfect. At their catered parties, the Gnalls like to serve savory bowls that take advantage of the seasonal bounty of Sonoma County.
One crowd-pleaser starts with a base of farro, then layers on the flavor with shaved Brussels sprouts, delicata squash, feta or goat cheese, some sliced red onion and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. As a garnish, she likes to add slices of the sweet, juicy Cara Cara oranges.
“It’s super hearty and healthful and seasonal right now,” Julia said of her California Winter Bowl.
For another healthy bowl, she likes to blend together lentils and quinoa and perhaps a bit of barley or farro or couscous, as the base. Then she tops it off with roasted broccoli, cauliflower or Romanesco, throwing in a bit of radicchio or arugula for crunch.
“I feel like lentils are really satisfying, and they almost have a meat quality to them,” she said. “My favorite lentils are the black or the green, because they don’t get mushy and they hold their shape. And the quinoa adds the complete protein, with the legumes.”
What makes the bowl really come together are a few ribbons of Parmesan and a tangy dressing of lemon, anchovies and garlic.
“It’s really unctuous and delicious,” she said of the Seasonal Caesar Bowl.
Gnall, who helped develop the pantry case at the Healdsburg Shed, said she likes to assemble the ingredients for the bowls on a big platter or in a large bowl, then let her clients put together their own plates according to their taste.