Hearty Grain Bowls are the Perfect Dish to Eat All Day

Chandra Ram

You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing a grain bowl on the menu, and that’s especially true for all-day cafés, where these menu standbys feed diners hovered over their laptops from morning to night. 

Grain bowls follow a general formula: a base of quinoa, farro, buckwheat, wheat berries, oats or rice is dressed with a pesto or vinaigrette and topped with raw and/or roasted vegetables. A handful of dried fruit nudges things toward an aigre-doux direction. Nuts, seeds and chunks of feta or another pungent cheese are usually in the mix, as are crunchy pickled vegetables. A schmear of muhammara, hummus or green goddess adds even more color and flavor. Avocado, plus raw or cooked kale, is inevitable; grilled meat or seafood is optional. A few slices of watermelon radish on top ensures an appearance on Instagram.

An over-easy egg on top makes this dish especially suitable for breakfast… or lunch, or dinner. Which is a big part of the appeal of grain bowls: you can put them on the menu any time of day, play around with every component and come up with innumerable options that fit the menu, food cost constraints, dietary restrictions and whims of the cook with a little extra mise en place on his hands. 

Take the wheat berry tabbouleh Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer serve at Botanica in Los Angeles. For the dish, wheat berries are tossed with parsley, dill, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, scallions and roasted lemon slices, then dressed with a cilantro-honey vinaigrette ($13, recipe). The result is a riot of bright color, flavor and texture.

“It’s not the typical grain bowl that has all these piles of additions on top,” notes Sperling of the dish. “This is a bowl of beautiful grains with lots of flavors and textures that come together in a really satisfying way. What I love about wheat berries is that they retain a little more chew and substance. They can handle a pretty robust dressing without losing their texture. And on a more practical note, they can hang out for a few days without losing their integrity.”

Sperling points out that the excitement lies in what they add to the grains.

“Instead of lemon juice, we have roasted lemons, which are so delicious and distinct; they get caramelized and darkly rich but retain a citrusy flavor,” she notes. “Pomegranates are in season right now, so we use them all the time, but it’s also great with sliced fresh kumquats, or diced apple or Asian pear; you want something with a pop of bright freshness and acidity. The dressing adds another layer of herbaceousness and acidity; you get a little je ne sais quoi from the cumin. It’s just enough to add savoriness without being perceptible.

“It’s really satisfying even though it reads as being kind of simple,” she adds. “And we love that."

Bowls are a huge part of our business right now with both our home delivery and wholesale customers. We have four varieties and rotate others seasonally. Our Thai noodle bowl jumps off the shelves. The nam prik pao gives it a serious shot of flavor.

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