Kitchen 101: Making a Great One Bowl Meal

January 13, 2016

The thing that’s funny about having experience working in Michelin-starred kitchens is that you appreciate simple food all the more. I certainly can’t speak for other chefs but I don’t plate at home, I don’t use tweezers or froofy preparations. In fact, 99.9% of what I cook and make at home for myself, for friends, or in the Skratch Labs food trailer, is all in one bowl, and can probably be eaten with a spoon. In my jammies. On the couch. Or with a nice bottle of wine. Whatever feels right, ya know? 

I lovingly refer to these meals as “bowls;” of this, or that or something. A nice little rice bowl/noodle bowl/yogurt bowl/soup bowl/salad bowl always sounds good to me, but not all one-bowl-meals are created equal. Your regular old bowl of cereal is made all the better when you add a little maple syrup to the milk, throw on a banana or some berries, or add a few nuts for crunch, right?! The things that you put in that bowl make it a meal, and make it a meal you’ll remember and make again and again. So don’t let your soup sit naked, your noodles be sad. Here are a few tips for making one-bowl meals worthy of some celebration. Or at least your nicest jammies.

  • Don’t forget the crunch: Crunch is a really big deal for me — if a meal doesn’t have any crunch it makes me sad. Grains are typically soft and fluffy, and they’re dying for a little crunch. Greens and soups too. This can be anything from toasted nuts or seeds to croutons, crunchy apples or pears, crumbled crackers….you get me? Think of that cereal bowl again: your crunchy cereal loves milk and soft berries or bananas, right? Crunch needs softness, and vice versa!
  • Play w/textures: this is also super important to a great one-bowl meal. Just like a contrast of flavors, a contrast of textures is what makes one bowl meals shine. Smooth foods, like soup, want something with texture or crunch. Leafy light foods like greens want something to ground them. This is really a game of opposites. Aim to get as many opposites in one bowl as possible! 
  •  Make is salty + sweet: you want a balance here. Is your base salty? Add sweetness. Is your base sweet? Add salt. This contrast is one of the most important to create in your bowl because it brings out all the flavors in your food. I add sea salt or Maldon salt to everything. Typically a little drizzle of honey or maple or even a sprinkling of raw sugar, depending on what’s in my bowl. Taste as you go to make sure you’ve nailed the contrast just right.
  • Add some spice: and I don’t just mean sriracha or red pepper flakes to finish! Don’t be afraid to impart a spicy, unexpected flavor into your bowl base. Mix miso into oats, hummus or harissa into quinoa. Stir cinnamon and cardamom into yogurt. Experiment! 
  • Build from the base: the base of your bowl could be anything! Oats, quinoa, noodles, yogurt, soul, a big leafy green salad! Whatever it is, season it well to create a foundation for whatever you put on top. However you season your base from the start sets your “scene” for the rest of the bowl. For grains, cook them in broth, with miso, and a little bit of fat. For greens, dress them lightly with lemon juice or vinegar, a little oil and sea salt. Soups? Make sure to get those spices and herbs in. Then, get crazy! 
  • Bring on the color: Japanese culinary tradition suggests that eating the “five colors” at every meal not only makes meals more beautiful and pleasing to eat, but also boosts the nutrition of the meal. And, if you think about it, it’s really true. Eating all white or all brown foods likely means your plate is devoid of leafy greens and vibrant vegetables. Aim to make your bowl beautiful, and bursting with color.
  • Make your bowl phat w/fat: don’t forget the power of a little fat to take the flavors of your bowls further. Stirring olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil or even nut butter into grain bowls will make everything taste better. Trust me. It just will. 
  • Temperature is key: just as contrasting colors and flavors is important to your bowl, so too is contrasting temperatures. If your soup is warm, try adding crunchy, cool pomegranate seeds. Keep those oats warm and add a little splash of cool milk. 

Looking for some great One-Bowl-Meal Ideas? Here are a handful of favorites:

My Favorite Kale + Delicata Salad

Avocado Spiralini w/Edamame + Feta

Maple-Saffron Barley Porridge w/Date Compote

Chinese-Spice Rice Pudding w/Vanilla + Lemon

Roasted Mushroom + Gorgonzola Farro Bowl

Savory Oats w/Kale + Winter Squash

A Great Winter Porridge 

Spicy Sesame Soba Noodles + Summer Vegetables

Cambodian Lemongrass Soup

Roasted Butternut Squash Fusilli w/Spicy Pistachio Pesto



Now get out there and mix up some one bowl meals that will make your tastebuds do somersaults! 🙂 – xo L


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