The Anatomy of a Grain Bowl

To say I’ve eaten enough grain bowls for a lifetime might be an understatement.  After four years of working at two of the cities most popular vegan eateries, let’s just say it’s the rare day I’m interested in a bowl of brown rice with veggies, tofu and sauce.  And don’t even get me started about mesclun salad greens.

That said, there are some days when all I want is to dive into a heap of quinoa, some sweet potato, a couple of sauces and a pile of raw veggies.  There is no simpler healthy meal than a grain bowl, and despite my knee-jerk aversion, sometimes it’s the perfect lazy comfort food to feed my perfect lazy vegan soul.

So, what’s the deal with a “grain bowl” and why do so many people seem to go apesh*t for them?


Basically, you start with a tasty whole grain like quinoa, brown rice, millet, a combo of all of the above or whatever suits your fancy.  Amaranth, buckwheat, teff, barley, spelt or kamut kernels – get crazy!  All whole grains are packed with complex carbs, tons of fibre, B vitamins, chromium and other minerals.  They’ve got about 80% more nutrients than milled and processed flours, so beat that.  “Grains” like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and teff are actually not even grains, but actually seeds, and most of them contain way more protein than your average grain grain.  Plus, they’re gluten free.  Even buckwheat.  It’s not wheat, it’s related to rhubarb!  Hot damn!

Starchy Veg

I’m a fan of some steamed/roasted or grilled sweet potato or squash in my grain bowls.  I usually replace some of my grain serving with steamed sweet pots or squash – kabocha or butternut are faves when they’re in season.  These guys contain a bunch of fibre, beta-carotene (because every vegan ninja wants super sweet night vision, amirite?), complex carbs and are relatively low-glycemic which is important for balancing blood sugar.

Steamed Greens

This is a grain bowl regular, from kale, swiss chard, and spinach to broccoli and bok choy, the diversity of flavour, texture and nutrition you can pack into a bowl really is limitless.  While I adore and advocate raw diets like there’s no tomorrow, I also think it’s pretty great to mix it up and steam, roast, bake and grill some of your veggies, because it can unlock otherwise unavailable or hard to absorb minerals and phytonutrients in certain foods, like calcium (bones!) in spinach and lycopene (cancer fighter!) in tomatoes, to name a couple.  So, steam away, friends!

Raw Veg

I love raw food.  Like, seriously, love it.  See above.  Of all the raw foods I love, I love raw veggies the most.  Heaps of raw, marinated kale and cabbage with all their nutrients and enzymes intact, fresh cilantro and parsley, crunchy carrots, peppers, cucumbers, celery.  So many veggies!  So many options!  Basically, I top my grain bowls with a big ol’ salad to kick up the anti-oxidant, alkalinizing, vitamin, mineral and FLAVOUR level to crazy delicious!


There are about a million plant-protein options here.  Marinated, baked, grilled or steamed tempeh or tofu are obvious ones, or a handful of the legume of your choosing, or one of my personal favourites, a scoop of hummus or raw nut pate!  Mmmmmm, flavour sauce.  For bonus points, the combination of a whole grain and a legume, nut or seed-based protein combines to create a complete vegetarian source of protein, meaning you get all of the essential amino acids your body requires in one go!  Super sweet!


Oh, did I already mention crazy delicious?  Because this is where it really gets good.  I wouldn’t consider a grain bowl complete without at least two sauces.  I usually go for one creamier, more substantial sauce, and one salty or tangy sauce (think tamari or citrus based – or both!), in moderation.

Grain Bowl Case Study

Ok, I’m a damn liar.  It’s a grain PLATE.

You guessed it, this was my din-dins tonight!  After a day in front of the computer working on projects, I wanted something nourishing, comforting and familiar.  Oh, and delicious.  Enter, Quinoa Sweet Potato Marinated Kale Caesar Lemon Cilantro Pesto Bowl of Awesome Deliciousness.  Trademark.


1 cup dry quinoa
2.5 cups water
pinch salt
1 medium sweet potato, cubed

Rinse quinoa, place in saucepan with cold water and salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook 20-25 minutes, until all water absorbed.  After about 10-15 minutes, toss cubed sweet potato on top of partially cooked quinoa, it will steam while quinoa continues to cook!  Genius!

1 cup chopped kale
1/4 cup finely sliced red cabbage
1 sliced green onion
few slices red onion
handfull chopped cilantro
lemon juice

“Massage” juice of half a lemon and a few dashes of salt into kale and cabbage until wilted.  Top with other veggies.

I wish I had full recipes to share, but the sauces were a raw vegan caesar I’m working on, and the previously mentioned garlicky cilantro pesto, which I am clearly not ready to share the recipe for yet!  You’ll just have to use your imaginations and/or favourite recipes.

That was my super-basic “grain plate” dinner.  I let the high protein quinoa and nut-based sauces stand in as my “protein” in this case, but I could have easily added some beans, tofu or tempeh to the dish with equally delish results.  The whole point is, it’s open to personal taste, experimentation and adventure!  Whoa, adventure dinner.  

Hmm, sounds like I love this silly little meal more than I thought I did, huh?  I may or may not be planning a quinoa-leftovers Breakfast Bowl for the morning, too.  Om nom nom!

5 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Grain Bowl

  1. Excellent idea of steaming your sweet potato while the quinoa finishes cooking!
    Simple and tasty. I love hearty food for breakfast!

  2. yum, sound delish and healthy too. So much nutritional value in this bowl, makes you feel good about eating it.

  3. I love grain bowls! Tahini is a must for me….and kale and cauliflower! Oh, and nooch topping.

  4. Nice post, but it’s super frustrating to share part of a recipe and then say that you’re “not ready to share” the rest of it.

    1. I wasn’t ready to share it because it was in development/not good, I wouldn’t want to give you guys a crappy recipe, that would be pretty frustrating and pointless for all of us. This was more of a “roadmap” than a specific recipe.

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