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.
That family-style method also works well for home entertaining, as most of the ingredients in these bowls can be served at room temperature.
“You can cook the ingredients ahead of time and they can serve themselves, so it’s very relaxed,” she said. “I tend to keep these bowls vegetarian and balanced and healthy.”
If you want to add a protein to the bowl, however, you could slice some flank steak or chicken and place it on top. Or, if you’re using up leftovers, you could chop up the protein and just mix it into the grain so it’s easy to eat.
For a tasty breakfast or dessert, Gnall suggested cooking up some black “forbidden rice” with coconut milk, then adding seasonal fruit, such as Fuyu persimmons, along with toasted walnuts and shredded coconut.
“I had that dish in Indonesia, and it was delicious,” she said. “You could also do brown or red rice, kamut or amaranth.”
Johnny and Julia, who now have a 10-month-old named Jackson, met at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, a branch of the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school, and work together on weekend caterings.
Now the winery chef for Korbel Champagne Cellars, Johnny does most of the cooking for the catering jobs while Julia works on the menu planning and irons out details. In her spare time, Julia also makes some soups and dips for Tierra Vegetables in Santa Rosa, a year-round farm that grows a large array of flavorful vegetables.
The following recipes are from Julia Gnall of J Squared Catering. This seasonal bowl combines a salad of farro, roasted delicata squash, shaved Brussels sprouts, Cara Cara oranges and feta cheese.
California Winter Bowl
Makes 4 servings
1 cup cooked farro
2 cups roasted delicata squash
2 cups shaved Brussels sprouts
1 Cara Cara orange
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ small red onion sliced very thin
— Mint (optional garnish)
— Olive oil, salt and pepper
Meyer lemon vinaigrette
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice
— Zest of one lemon
1 clove of garlic, grated on microplane
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup good olive oil
— Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium pot, place 1 cup farro and cover with about 2 cups water, salted generously. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool, then toss a bit of olive oil to coat and gloss up the grains.
For the squash, preheat oven to 450 degrees and ready a baking sheet. Wash the squash and slice it lengthwise to scrape out seeds. Once clean, flesh side down, slice ½-inch half moons and place in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil and season with salt and pepper, coat well and line each half moon on the sheet pan. Roast for about 15 minutes or until soft and a bit caramelized. Cool.
Remove the peel of the orange with your knife and cut the orange in half. Slice ½-inch pieces and make sure to discard any seeds. On a mandoline or the large setting on a box grater, shave the Brussels sprouts into paper thin slices. Do the same for the red onion.
For the vinaigrette: Mix the first 4 ingredients together and slowly drizzle olive oil to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Assembly: Mix together all ingredients (make sure to save a few pieces of squash, oranges and feta for garnish) in large bowl and toss with the dressing. Using your clean hands, toss very well and taste for seasoning. Place on platter and then garnish the salad, using your reserved pieces of squash, orange, mint and feta.
This bowl is a hearty combination of lentils, quinoa, roasted broccoli, radicchio, arugula and shaved Parmesan, with a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette.
Seasonal Caesar Bowl
Makes 4 servings
1 cup cooked green lentils
1 cup cooked red quinoa
4 cups roasted broccoli
2 cups shredded radicchio
2 cups arugula
1 cup shaved parmesan
Lemon Anchovy Vinaigrette
½ cup lemon juice
1 whole lemon with skin and pith removed and juicy flesh chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon
2 anchovy chopped into a paste
2 cloves of garlic grated on the microplane
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1¼ cup of good olive oil
— Salt and pepper
— Olive oil
For the bowl: Cook lentils and quinoa according to the package, then cool. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Break up broccoli into small florets and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes or until soft but still a bit crispy on the edges. Wash and slice radicchio very thin. Shave the Parmesan with your vegetable peeler into nice, large ribbons.
For the vinaigrette: In a large bowl, put everything but the olive oil into the bowl and whisk to combine, then drizzle in olive oil and whisk to emulsify. Add salt to taste.
Assembly: Once the first three ingredients are cooled, toss together with some of the vinaigrette. In a separate bowl toss together the radicchio, shaved parmesan and arugula and dress lightly with the vinaigrette. Place the lentil mixture on the bottom of the platter or bowl and top with a nest of the raw greens with the Parmesan.
You can find black forbidden rice at Asian markets and most markets with bulk bins. This bowl can be eaten hot like oatmeal for breakfast or at room temperature for dessert.
Coconut Forbidden Rice with Pomegranate, Nuts and Seeds
Makes 4 servings
1 cup cooked black forbidden rice
½ cup of coconut milk
1 cup water
¼ cup pomegranate seed
½ cup toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 teaspoon flax seeds
1 tablespoon honey
In a medium pot, place ½ cup of rice, ½ cup of coconut milk, 1 cup of water together and bring to a boil with a pinch of salt. Stir and cook covered on low for 40 minutes, like regular rice. When done fluff with a fork. It should be tender but still have a chewy texture. Mix in chia seeds and flax seeds and let cool.
Meanwhile, toast walnuts and sesame seeds in a pan until fragrant.
Assembly: In a serving dish, place rice at the bottom then sprinkle toasted walnuts and sesame seeds on top, then sprinkle pomegranate seeds and finally drizzle with honey.
You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.