Rice bowls have gone from zero to 60 in the restaurant world in recent years. They seem to make an appearance on even the most unlikely of menus. Hungry for a burrito? Maybe your carnitas and beans would be better served over rice. Does Italian sound good? Skip the pasta and dig into a steaming bowl of rice topped with ahi tuna, arugula and pesto.
The nutty flavor of rice is somehow able to form a perfect partnership with a seemingly endless combination of ingredients. The combos that work best, though, are ones that contrast the neutral nature of this beloved global grain with bold, bright flavors, as in this week’s recipe, Lemongrass Beef and Coconut Rice Bowls.
Lean ground beef is sautéed with a flavorful trio of ginger, garlic and hot red chile. When the beef is browned, fragrant lemongrass and cilantro are added, along with a splash of fresh lime juice and fish sauce.
Fish sauce is a pungent ingredient (trust me, it tastes much better than it smells), ubiquitous in Southeast Asian cuisine. Look for it in the ethnic food aisle of your grocery store.
The combination of spicy, salty and acidic, along with the rich browned beef, only needs to be rounded out with a little something sweet, which comes in the form of quick-pickled vegetables.
Thai-style pickled cucumbers and carrots sit in a bath of rice vinegar and sugar while the rice and beef are cooking. It’s just enough time to give them their signature sweet-tartness, while maintaining a critical crunch that gives this rice bowl a necessary textural element.
Speaking of rice, for this bowl I like to use the jasmine variety. It’s a long-grain rice originally cultivated for Thai royalty that can now be found in most grocery stores. It has an intoxicating aroma that smells and tastes like a bag of popcorn got spilled into a bouquet of flowers.
To further the Southeast Asian theme, the rice is cooked with a combination of water and coconut milk, which lends a rich mouthfeel to the bowl.
While all this deliciousness seems like it should take hours to execute, the whole dish, or bowl in this case, comes together in about 30 minutes, making it perfect for any night of the week.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.