There’s something comforting about eating out of a bowl.
Maybe it’s the soothing nature of cupping a warm bowl in our hands. Or perhaps it takes us back to our youth, when a complete meal all mixed into one delicious melange was so much simpler — and quicker — to eat.
Whatever the reason, bowl food is hot these days. And one way — or several ways — to serve bowl food is to start with hot rice. Brown or white. Jasmine or basmati. Long grain or short. Even wild, which is really a water-grass seed.
From that base, start piling on the ingredients. It can have an Italian, Japanese or Mexican accent. It can be vegan or loaded with meat. To add even more flavor, cook the rice in broth instead of water, adding minced garlic or shallots if you’d like.
One cup of uncooked rice will provide enough starch for two to three dinner portions, which is about how many each recipe serves. If you have any leftovers, rice bowls make perfect desk-side dining.
There’s a lot of room for experimentation, but here are some suggestions that offer a place to start.
Sausage and spinach: Sauté 1 pound of hot Italian sausage until brown and crumbly. Add 2 large, minced garlic cloves and cook for another couple of minutes. Add a bag of baby spinach leaves and cook until wilted. Serve over brown rice with shredded Parmesan cheese.
Red beans and rice: Sauté ½ cup diced onion and a couple of cloves of garlic in olive oil until soft. Add 2 cans of drained and rinsed kidney beans plus a cup of broth, along with 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning and some crushed red pepper for more heat. Serve the soupy beans with white rice and sliced green onions for garnish.
Cuban-style: Bake a 1-pound mojo-marinated pork tenderloin according to package instructions, along with sliced onions. Set aside onions and cut pork into ½-inch (or smaller) chunks. Mix both with yellow rice and top with crushed plantain chips. Hot sauce optional.
Mediterranean: Mix coarsely chopped pitted marinated olives with orange juice and orange zest. Stir into brown rice and top with grated hard ricotta.
Mushrooms, wild rice and feta: Wild rice is a nutty base for sautéed button mushrooms. Brighten with feta cheese crumbles and snipped fresh chives.
Sloppy Joe: Top rice with beefy sloppy Joe mixture and lots of shredded Cheddar cheese. Garnish with French-fried onions.
Shrimp and wild mushrooms: Sauté a mixture of wild mushrooms in olive oil, then blanch julienned carrots and red bell peppers, plus sugar snap peas. Mix all with rice, top with grilled or sautéed shrimp and drizzle with lime-spiked Ponzu sauce.
Steak, asparagus and fried egg: Grill marinated skirt steak or slice leftover beef in strips. Stir together rice and 1-inch lengths of lightly cooked asparagus. Add the beef and then a fried egg on top.
Ham and peas: Dice ham and mix with rice and peas, plus fresh thyme leaves and lots of lemon zest. Scoop over rice and finish with Parmesan.
Fajita: Make chicken with a package of fajita flavoring, according to instructions. Serve over rice along with sautéed onions and bell peppers. Top with guacamole and a dollop of sour cream.
Teriyaki: Prepare pork or chicken with teriyaki sauce, layer over brown rice studded with pineapple chunks. Garnish with sesame seeds and chow mein noodles.
Fruit, nuts and cheese: Use jasmine rice as the base for dried cherries, toasted pecans and blue cheese crumbles.
Caprese: Mix room-temperature long-grain rice with cubes of fresh mozzarella, halved grape tomatoes and ribbons of fresh basil. Drizzle lightly with balsamic dressing.
Red curry: Cook a frozen Asian vegetable medley according to package directions or sauté broccoli florets, snow peas and bean sprouts in vegetable oil. Add shredded cooked chicken or whole medium cooked shrimp and red curry sauce (not curry paste; Kikkoman, for example, makes a jarred sauce) and pour over rice. Garnish with cashews or peanuts, chopped green onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.
Jerk-style: Marinate chicken or salmon fillets with prepared jerk sauce and bake. Cut or shred over rice and add chopped mango, red pepper, red onion and a wedge of lime.
Green and egg: Sauté spinach leaves with garlic in olive oil. Stir into rice and top with chopped warm hard-boiled egg and sliced prosciutto that has been baked into crispy bits.
Waldorf: Mix chopped rotisserie chicken with diced celery, crumbled blue cheese and toasted pecans. Mix into hot rice and top with diced Granny Smith apples and a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette.
Vegan: Cook brown rice and minced garlic in vegetable stock, then top with hot black beans, diced tomatoes and avocado chunks. Drizzle with tomatillo salsa.
Vegetarian coconut: Cook 1 cup of rice in ¾ cup coconut milk and 1 ¼ cups water. When the rice is done, add the juice of half a lime along with ½ cup cilantro. Stir to incorporate. Top with sautéed mushrooms, zucchini and red bell pepper.
Shrimp taco: Cook frozen crispy shrimp according to package instructions. Prepare rice with a tablespoon or so of taco seasoning mix and add corn kernels toward the end of cook time. Top rice with shrimp, avocado, diced tomato and thinly shredded cabbage.
Sweet potato and goat cheese: Peel and dice sweet potato, toss in olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until soft and a bit crispy on the outside. Toss baked pieces with hot rice and top with crumbled goat cheese and snipped fresh chives.