Hearty and Healthy Grain Bowls

I have a love-hate relationship with January. You know this. It’s always a little sad to take down the holiday decorations and embrace what feels like a bare and empty house. The inevitable January foggy inversion moves through the Valley enveloping us in a thick blanket of gray slop.

But there is a flip side and it’s a lovely one: a brand-new year. Twelve months full of possibility ahead. A new planner (oh yes, I still use a paper planner…as well as my phone…but I just can’t give up the paper calendar), and an opportunity to tweak and adjust my life. I don’t know why I need January to come around to reevaluate, but there’s just something about the new year that energizes and invigorates me.

And I’m sure you know where this is going: with a new year comes a renewed commitment to healthy, local, real food whenever possible. Lunch tends to be my trickiest meal because as a work-from-home/stay-at-home mom, it’s all too easy to eat the crusts off my preschooler’s peanut butter sandwiches and snack the afternoon away. By the time I get to late afternoon, I’m tired, cranky and trying to decide whether I want a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

Enter the grain bowl. It’s the perfect nutrient dense meal and easy to swap ingredients in and out to use what you have. Even better, you can make most of the elements ahead of time and store them in your refrigerator for easy and quick lunches (or dinners) all week. I’ve got two versions for you, using many of the same ingredients, but as you’ll see, a few minor changes and you have a completely new meal.

The formula is pretty basic: grains, greens, vegetables and a protein. I made an easy dressing in my blender full of bright and tasty herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Then I dug through my refrigerator and started pulling out vegetables and ‘toppings’ that looked yummy. I don’t have specific quantities for this recipe, but I’ll share my methods for preparing the bowls.

Grain Bowl with a Herb and Lemon Dressing (makes 2 large or 4 small servings)

• 3 cups brown rice, cooked

• 4 cups kale, washed and shredded

• 1 large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

• ½ head cauliflower, cut into florets

• 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets

• 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

• 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese

• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• Juice of ½ lemon (or lime)

• Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Start by cooking your brown rice. My recommendation is always to swap water for vegetable or chicken stock for more flavor, but there’s no wrong way to do it. Chop up the sweet potato, cauliflower and broccoli and spread the vegetables evenly on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, turning the vegetables at least once so they cook evenly.

Pull the vegetables from the oven when the broccoli and cauliflower are brown and crispy on the edges and the sweet potatoes are soft. In a medium bowl, toss the shredded kale with one tablespoon olive oil and the juice of half a lemon (or lime). To build your grain bowl, spoon rice into a bowl, layer with kale, roasted vegetables and top with the herb and lemon dressing (see recipe below). Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and goat cheese and a liberal shake of kosher salt and black pepper. Feel free to add or swap in chopped nuts, dried cranberries or a different kind of cheese to your bowl. Whatever sounds good and you have on hand is sure to be tasty!

Grain Bowl with Spicy Chicken, Black Beans and Herb Lemon Dressing

• 3 cups brown rice, cooked

• 4 cups kale, washed and shredded

• 2 chicken breasts

• 1 cup salsa

• 1 14 ounce can organic black beans, drained and rinsed

• 4 cups kale, washed and shredded

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• Juice of half a lemon (or lime)

• 2 radishes, thinly sliced

• 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

• Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Cook your rice (or microwave a bag of frozen rice) and set aside once it’s cooked. In a crockpot or instant pot cook chicken in salsa. You could also buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, shred it and toss it in salsa.

When the chicken is finished cooking, use two forks to shred the meat. Stir the black beans into the shredded chicken. In a medium bowl toss kale with tablespoon of oil and lemon juice. To build your bowl, start with the cooked rice. Add the chicken and black bean mixture and shredded kale. Garnish with sliced radish and cherry tomatoes. Top the bowl with a drizzle of herb lemon dressing (about two tablespoons, but use as much or as little as you like).

Herb and Lemon Dressing

• 1 bunch cilantro, stems cut off

• 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems cut off

• 1 clove garlic

• 1 cup olive oil

• Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 limes)

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

• Salt and pepper

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend for 1 minute. Add a splash of water or olive oil if dressing is too thick. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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