Bowled Over

Grain bowls. Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of stacking food delicately into a small, fetching bowl. At its heart, a healthy grain or rice forms the base, then a good dose of well-flavored vegetables are arranged atop, with a smaller amount of protein tucked in for a balance meal in a bowl.

The concept hits all the right notes, it’s quick and easy. A bowl holds less food than a plate, and it’s a great way to round up a flavorful meal with odds and ends—or leftovers, in some circles. Of course the creative license to mix and match at will is powerful. There are no rules. Better than that, break the rules!

The key to the grain bowl’s success is to have a supply of pre-cooked rice or a grain such as farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go. For example, spoon a healthy amount of your grain or rice into a small, tall bowl, top with a generous handful of a pre-mixed blend such as spinach, pak choi, and mustard greens, fill in with a poached or fried egg to break up, much in the manner of a sauce. Finish with some fresh herbs and a big punch of flavor, the likes of harissa or gochujang.

This past weekend I was on fire, filled with the anticipation of throwing together my own grain bowl. A little low on supplies, I had only millet, but it was a fine start when simmered with a dash of turmeric and a bay leaf. Mostly, I was excited to take advantage of my latest rhubarb chutney, waiting for its own 15-minutes of fame.

At the farmers market I picked up a couple of beautiful zucchini and a few gorgeous carrots, a nice combo for a quick veggie add-on. In the fridge I had a small pork tenderloin. This was coming together more like a banquet that a small meal in a bowl. But, it’s the weekend!

When dinnertime rolled around I was running late, getting very hungry, and certainly glad this was going to be a fast, easy meal. The pork was quickly rubbed with olive oil, Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. I gave it fast sear and popped it in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes. While that was happening I deglazed the pan and made a quick sauce flavored with harissa.

The zucchini and carrots were quickly sliced into ribbons, tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and garam masala. Opa! We’ve got big flavors everywhere! About 5 to 7 minutes before the pork was done, I added the veggies to the roasting pan and tossed them lightly with a little of the pan juices. Once out of the oven, the tenderloin was tented for a few minutes to rest before slicing.

Pork grain bowl

I had just enough time to pull it all together. It was then, that I was faced with the truth. A charming, small bowl would not do justice to the fine collection now waiting to be plated—or bowled, if that is a word.

This was worthy of a pasta bowl, of the first order. Facing reality, I spread the thinnest possible layer of millet into the bottom of the bowl. One of the grain bowl rules is to use more vegetables than protein. I smartly swirled a portion of the zucchini and carrots across the millet, allowing for three lovely medallions to arc around the corner, and finished the pork with a drizzle of the harissa sauce. Rounding out the bowl, a small handful of spicy Asian greens became a mere place holder for the honored rhubarb chutney—and of course, a sprig of cilantro.

Good news! No heartburn, or negative reaction to the epic grain bowl. Delicious, all of it!

Epic Grain Bowl with Pork Medallions and Harissa Sauce

For the Pork
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pork medallion
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice
salt and pepper
For the Harissa Sauce
1 cup beef stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste
For the Vegetables
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala
For the Millet
1 cup millet
3 cups water
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
To Finish
1 cup Spicy Asian Greens (spinach, pak choi, mustard greens)
½ cup rhubarb chutney
few sprigs cilantro


  1. For the millet, combine the millet, the turmeric, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 35 minutes, until water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.
  2. For the pork, rub the pork with olive oil, then with Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with coconut oil over high heat and sear pork on all side, about 5 minutes. Remove to baking pan and roast at 400° for approximately 25 minutes.
  3. For the harissa sauce: deglaze saute pan with ½ cup of the beef stock, let it cook down briefly while scraping the bottom of pan. Add the remaining ½ cup stock combined with 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Add the harissa sauce and let reduce. Taste for seasoning add salt and pepper as need. Keep warm.
  4. For the vegetables: using peeler or spiralizer thinly slice zucchini and carrot into long strands. Toss with sesame oil and garam masala. About 5-7 minutes before pork is done, add veggies to the roasting pan. Toss with the pan juices and heat.
  5. Remove the pork and veggies, tent with foil and allow to rest briefly while preparing grain bowl.
  6. To finish: re-heat the millet and spoon into the bottom of bowl. Spread vegetables over half of the top. Slice the pork into ½” or thicker medallions. Nestle in the pork and drizzle with a little of the harissa sauce. Add a small handful of greens and top with a dollop of Rhubarb Chutney. Add a sprig of cilantro and enjoy. Yield: 2 or more servings.

Beyond Soup: meal in a bowl

As substantial soups go, this one happens in a hurry:  literally in the pot and on the table in well short of an hour. It’s similar to Spanish caldo gallego, a northern specialty made with white beans, collards or other greens. Traditionally, there’s a smattering of mixed pork including chorizo, ham, and unto—an uncured bacon similar to pancetta or salt pork. white bean, chorizo, greens soup

In this case, I’m content with a couple of meat items. I like to start things off with a little smoky bacon and follow up with slices of Spanish chorizo, a cured sausage flavored with Spanish pimiento, garlic, and herbs. Because we  have pockets of Basque communities in Oregon, we are fortunate to have access to excellent chorizo and other specialty products. It is far different from Mexican chorizo which is uncooked, very fatty, and derives its flavor from cumin, chile powder, and vinegar.  Because the Spanish version is also rich and highly seasoned, it doesn’t require as much as one might expect; I can often get by with one sausage.  Rendering it ahead also controls some of the greasiness it exudes.  If I have a little ham, I’ll throw that in, too.

During the cooking process the potatoes and turnips begin to breakdown and it thickens into a chowder-like substance.  Any dense greens will do; I especially like collards here for their distinct, well-rounded heartiness.  The white beans are part of the equation that make this soup work; they add a dimension that would be missed without them.  In spite of some very big flavors, for me, it is the addition of the sweet, earthy turnip that brings it all together. Pull out your favorite country bread and dive in!

White Bean Soup with Chorizo and Collard Greens 

3 slices bacon, sliced
1 Spanish chorizo, sliced
½ cup smoky ham, chopped (optional)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups water, vegetable, or chicken stock
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 turnip, peeled and cubed
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked white beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini, if you’ve got them)
4 cups collard greens, kale, or cabbage, trimmed of dense stalks and cores
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon to render the fat; drain all but 1 tablespoon fat. Add the chorizo and do the same. Add the onion to the pot and cook to soften; stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic.
  2. Pour in enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan and scrape lightly to loosen any bits adhering to bottom of pot. Stir in the potatoes, turnip, bay leaf, and toss to distribute evenly.  Pour in remainder of the liquid, bring to a boil, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Stir in the beans and the greens, season lightly with salt and pepper, and return to a boil; simmer 10-20 minutes longer. The soup should thicken as the potatoes and turnips break down.  Adjust seasoning. Serves 4.