Bowl meals have become a hot trend in food as of late. Vietnamese noodle bowls and Poke bowls have won over the hearts and bellies of diners in increasing numbers, and now home cooks have started to catch on to this bowl meal phenomenon, starting with copycat recipes on popular takeout bowls, and then moving on to creative twists on classic dishes.
Bowl meals tend to be more casual, humble, yet flavorful entrees. In general, they tend to be easy to make and components will generally lend themselves well to being prepared ahead of time. Depending on how much actual cooking you want to do, bowl meals are a great place to take help from the store. You can utilize bottled sauces, cooked rotisserie chickens, or even buy toppings already chopped from the salad bar to streamline your dinner preparation. Bowl meals are my absolute favorite things to serve to guests. I like them because one meal can easily cater to a variety of eaters (gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-fee, paleo, keto, picky kids …) since everyone can assemble their own bowl, choosing the ingredients to suit their own tastes. (Note: my kids are still finicky about eating their foods separate, so when my husband and I eat bowl meals, while our kids eat their ingredients divided up on little sectional plates.)
Another great thing about bowl meals is they are an easy way to use up a variety of things you have on hand. Leftover meat from tacos one night easily becomes a burrito bowl for lunch or dinner the next day. Vegetables on the brink of spoiling can be roasted, drizzled with balsamic, and served over quinoa as a buddha bowl. The possibilities are endless.
The main factor that makes a bowl meal great is contrast. The more contrasts in flavor, texture, color and whether ingredients are raw or cooked, the better. There aren’t really any rules in bowl meals, that’s part of the fun of them, but here are a few guidelines to help get you started on making your own creations;
Ways to add contrast in flavor;
-Creamy: this can be cheese, a mayo-based sauce, avocado or even mashed beans
-Tangy: this can be anything briny like olives, pickled red onions, pickled ginger, quick pickled cucumbers, fresh lime juice or vinegar based sauce
-Fresh: fresh herbs or raw vegetables
-Sweet: diced fruit, a sauce
-Spicy: fresh or pickled jalapeño, hot sauce, Sriracha, wasabi
Main components of a bowl meal;
-Base: rice, quinoa, mashed potatoes, mashed white beans, whole beans, polenta, cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower, pasta, Asian style noodles, salad greens, roasted vegetables
-Protein: eggs, beans, cooked shredded meat, cooked and crumbled ground meat, small fish fillet
-Sauce: sour cream, guacamole, salsa, hot sauce, Sriracha sauce, pesto sauce, marinara sauce, balsamic vinaigrette, beet hummus, hummus, tzatziki sauce, Sriracha mayo, chipotle lime crema, soy sauce, ponzu sauce
-Toppings: fresh herbs, pickled ginger, pickled onions, olives, sliced scallions, chopped nuts, sesame seeds, crumbled or shredded cheese chopped fruit, chopped raw or roasted vegetables, kimchi
Because there are so many possible combinations, the best place to start is to have a loose plan for the bowl.
Start by thinking of an ingredient you want to use (shredded rotisserie chicken in the fridge) or thinking of a meal for your inspiration (fish taco bowl or chicken fajita bowl). Once you have your first decision made, you can start filling in around that by thinking of what flavors and ingredients go together. If this isn’t common knowledge for you, just think of what things are commonly served together or you can even google “food pairing for xxx.” For each bowl I’d aim for 1-2 base options, 1 protein option, 1-2 sauce options and 3-5 topping options.
I have a friend who has 5 kids involved in various sports, with a busy schedule, she says her family rarely has time to sit around the table and eat. She told me she needs dinners that can be eaten in a cup, while riding in her van on the way to sports practice. I told her the bowl meals are her solution. They can easily be eaten out of a plastic bowl (or even cup) while on the run, and the beauty of a bowl meal is that you only need one utensil to eat them — the ingredients have all already been chopped into bite-sized pieces, so these really are the perfect meals to eat on the run. Whether you serve them in a bowl or in a cup, I’m sure you will enjoy these recipes for my favorite bowl meals:
Fish Taco Bowl
Chicken Fajita Bowl
California Roll Bowl
Slow Cooker Beef Ragu
Vietnamese Noodle Bowl
Chicken Larb Bowl
Jerk Chicken Bowl
Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowl
Egg Roll Bowl
Quinoa Breakfast Bowl
Chicken Shawarma Bowl