Robin Asbell’s healthy cookbooks are witty, stylish and immensely useful. She has a knack for making unfamiliar, trendy ingredients and techniques attainable to every cook. Her “Big Vegan Cookbook” reversed my cynicism toward strict plant-based eating. Dog-eared and spattered, that tome is a go-to on my kitchen shelf.

She turns to bowls in her new book, “Great Bowls of Food: Grain Bowls, Buddha Bowls, Broth Bowls, and More” (The Countryman Press, 178 pages, $21.95).

Asbell describes these recipes as multilayered meals of grain or vegetable base, topped with a variety of components and finished with a sauce. These are different from stews or soups where everything is cooked together. Her definition of a bowl meal and her instructions for basic bowl-building are poetic and inspiring. Suffice it to say that once I embraced the concept, I have been “bowling” with friends and alone.

The book provides all you need to know for creating healthful bowl meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most helpful are the first two chapters that cover grains, grain alternatives and condiments. I find the graphs, ratios and cooking times essential in any cooking scenario. Along with the recipes for individual bowl meals, Asbell’s Big Party Platter chapter is full of dinner-party-worthy ideas, and she provides recipes for dessert bowls, too.

While I’m not one for breakfast, the make-ahead Orange-Oat Tabbouleh with Parsley, Pistachios and Carrots got me going one slow rainy morning. I assembled it in a Mason jar the night before, as instructed. Enjoyed over the course of a hectic morning, it helped keep the post-coffee craving at bay.

The Big Buddha Bowl lives up to its name. A riot of color and texture, it layers kale, avocado, red cabbage, yellow beets and edamame on brown rice, and laces it all together with a golden dressing of turmeric, ginger and dates. It’s vibrant, power-packed with nutrients and simply fun to eat.

“Great Bowls” isn’t just for vegetarians and vegans. There are winning recipes for meat, fish and fowl, such as the Fish Taco Bowl With Soft Grits or the Barbecued Chicken Bowl with blue corn chips, both of which are hits with my 25-year-old son. Lighter, “brothy” bowls make a simple fix on a busy weeknight.

Cure a Cold Brothy Bowl offers what Mom might make if Mom were hip. The dessert bowls seem just right for brunch. With such combinations as Oats With Strawberries and Lemony Cheesecake Sauce, or Buttermilk Quinoa With Praline Pecans, who needs an egg bake?

Looking for ideas for a party for my son’s theater group, I found the Black Rice and Bahn Mi Bowl With Quick Pickled Veggies and Chicken to be just the thing. The photos by David Schmidt, styled by Bret Bannon, bring Asbell’s hyper-fresh, thoughtful and balanced flavors to life.

I confess, I’m bowled over.

Soft Polenta With Roasted Smoky Chickpeas, Grape Tomatoes, Chard and Creamy Basil Sauce

Serves 4.

Note: From “Great Bowls of Food,” by Robin Asbell.

• 1 1/2 c. medium-grind cornmeal

• 1 tsp. salt, divided

• 3 c. water

• 1 c. milk

• 1 tbsp. butter

• 1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese

• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

• 1 1/2 c. cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained

• 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

• 1 c. fresh basil

• 1 garlic clove

• 2 oz. chèvre (goat cheese)

• 1/2 c. plain yogurt (not Greek)

• 1 large bunch chard, washed, stemmed and dried

• 1 c. grape tomatoes, halved


In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the cornmeal and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then gradually whisk in the water and milk. Over medium heat, whisk while it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to keep it just bubbling, and scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir every 5 minutes for about 20 to 30 minutes. When it reaches the desired thickness, stir in butter and Parmesan. Keep warm.

In large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add drained chickpeas and shake in the pan, rolling them around until they start to pop and crackle. Cook for about 5 minutes until slightly browned. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt, then transfer to a bowl.

In a food processor, mince the basil and garlic. Add the chèvre and yogurt and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and process until smooth.

In large sauté pan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and sauté chard until wilted and dark green. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Prepare 4 bowls, with layer of polenta on bottom, topped with chard and chickpeas, and then grape tomatoes. Drizzle 3 tablespoons basil sauce per bowl.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 540 Fat 24 g Sodium 1,070 mg Saturated fat 9 g

Carbohydrates 62 g Total sugars 11 g

Protein 22 g Cholesterol 30 mg Dietary fiber 10 g

Exchanges per serving: 3 starch, 1 carb, 2 medium-fat protein, 3 fat.


Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at