In Asian cuisine, the bowl is ubiquitous as a receptacle for food.
In Japanese tradition, donburi refers to both the dish and the oversized bowl that contains the rice topped with various ingredients.
Korean bibimbap comprises a bowl of rice topped with an assortment of kimchi, seasoned vegetables and/or grilled meats, and often a fried egg.
Many Southeast Asian countries have noodle dishes served in bowls: Thailand’s khao soi (red curry noodles), Indonesia’s bakmi ayam (noodles with chicken) as well as Singapore’s mee siam (spicy, sweet and sour noodles), to name a few.
You may have also heard of Buddha bowls. This term very likely stems from the practice of Buddhist monks in Asia who head to the closest village every morning to receive alms. As they walk in neat saffron lines, they hold out their bowls for villagers to scoop out rice and other dishes. The resulting medley is a mix of rice and vegetables composed, layered and piled on top of each other, and will sustain the monks throughout the day.
In her new cook book, Great Bowls of Food: Grain Bowls, Buddha Bowls, Broth Bowls, and More (The Countryman Press, May 2016), Robin Asbell writes, “The bowl is more than just a place to put cereal. It can be a gateway to the practice of mindful eating. It can be a blank canvas for your spontaneous creativity. Or it can be a comforting cradle in which to pile your favorite flavors. It’s up to you.”
Asbell states that “your daily bowl can be as simple as a bowl of leftover grains, topped with whatever vegetables are in your fridge, some leftover beans or seeds (or protein), and a drizzle of tamari.”
While Asbell offers up many different recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, she also gives tips for improvising. This is great because even the pickiest family member can customize their own bowl to meet their needs.
To build your own bowls, here are 4 guiding steps . Don’t be too set on getting a perfect combination. Take your cue from the Japanese–a meal is not complete until these five colors are represented: black white, green, red and yellow. In the U.S., we often encourage kids to “Eat the Rainbow.” You can’t go wrong with either recommendation!
1. Pick a Base
Start with a base that can range from grains (rice, quinoa, oats), vegetables (cauliflower “rice,” zucchini “noodles.”) or noodles (wheat, egg, rice, buckwheat.)
2. Pick Toppings
Vegetables: stir-fried, steamed, pickled, fermented
Protein: tofu, fish and meats, whether leftover, cured, canned or grilled.
Dairy: egg, yogurt or cheese.
3. Pick a Sauce
Condiments can range from a teriyaki-like mix of water, soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, Korean gojuchang, or simply a squirt of sriracha. Then there are numerous broths to choose from.
4. Pick a Garnish
Choose from any of the following groups:
Colorful: shredded carrots or red peppers, herbs like basil and cilantro
Crunchy: nuts, seeds, fried shallots, fried garlic
Umami-packed: sea vegetables like nori or wakame
From "Great Bowls of Food" (The Countryman Press, May 2016) by Robin Asbell
Bibimbap is the Korean rice bowl that is closest to sushi in its components, except much spicier and more casual. Traditionally, it’s a bowl of rice supported by lots of smaller bowls of banchan that consist of tasty pickles, vegetables, and toppings that diners add to their rice as they eat. This is a much more abbreviated version, so you can revel in the amazing flavors without making all the banchan. You can use prebaked tofu for this, or make your own.
4 cups cooked short-grain brown rice
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pinch salt
2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
8 ounces fresh shiitakes, caps slivered
2 tablespoons mirin
3 teaspoons tamari soy sauce, divided
2 teaspoons rice vinegar, divided
8 ounces salad spinach
6 cloves black garlic, sliced
2 large carrots, julienned
1 pound baked tofu or 4 eggs
1/2 cup kimchi
1 sheet seasoned nori, sliced in strips
Gochujang (Korean hot sauce), to serve
1. Warm the rice. If desired, start with cold rice, then fry each portion in an oiled pan for a crisp bottom, like the traditional stone bowl-crisped rice.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the cucumber, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt; stir to mix. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil and add the shiitakes. Sauté, stirring, until the mushrooms soften, about 4 minutes.
3. Add the mirin, 2 teaspoons of the tamari, and 1 teaspoon of the rice vinegar and cook until dry. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
In the same pan, pour the remaining teaspoon of oil and add the spinach – this should deglaze the pan and remove any sauce that was sticking to the pan. Add the black garlic and stir until the spinach starts to wilt, then add the remaining teaspoons tamari and rice vinegar. Stir until softened.
4. If using tofu, you can either warm it or use at room temperature. If using eggs, fry them to desired doneness in a large sauté pan.
5. Serve a cup of rice in each bowl, topped with the mushrooms, spinach, carrots, tofu or an egg, and a couple tablespoons of kimchi, and sprinkle with nori shreds. Serve with gochujang on the side.
Related post on Pickles and Tea: Taiwanese Red-Braised Pork Belly