Build a Grain Bowl & Grain Bowls with Quinoa, Black Beans & Sweet Potato

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. If possible the chasm between the tribes of our divided nation seems wider and deeper than ever. So many of us are fraught with anger, disappointment, sadness or some combination of any and all. Long-buried, fright-filled memories have resurfaced for some. While others see threats, real and imagined, and meet them with vicious counter attacks.

Sure, from time to time, faint signs give us cause for optimism. We feel a glimmer of relief for a minute or a day, sometimes even two. Until those hopes are dashed and, once again, cooperation seems impossible. With a seemingly endless supply of acrimony, I can’t help but wonder – is it even possible to find peaceful compromise?

How about instead of arguing, we reach out and share something? Nothing political mind you, instead share something personal – a favorite song, a recipe or a hug. Or do something together. Go see a movie, have dinner afterwards and talk about it. Take a hike and enjoy the foliage. Sit and knit for an hour. Brew up a pot of tea while you’re at it.

If you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to cook together. Think of it as kitchen detente. Cooler weather builds up an appetite for comfort food. What could be more soothing to a strained relationship than the delicious smells of roasting vegetables or simmering soup.

I’d like to suggest you declare peace over a grain bowl. Packed with your favorite vegetables and grains, these bowls are deliciously healthy. There is no right or wrong (or left) and the combinations are endless. In addition, they are a very good for using up leftovers.

So, how do you build a grain bowl. That’s easy – start with a layer of grain, add vegetables, a little protein and a garnish or two. A little too vague. Okay, here’s more:

1. Pick a theme. Perhaps it’s a good night for Asian bowls, Tex-Mex or Mediterranean.

2. Pick a grain. The possibilities are endless. Fragrant basmati rice will be delicious with an Asian-inspired dinner. Quinoa is perfect for strong flavors from the Caribbean or Middle East. Try polenta for a Mediterranean feast.

3. Pick your toppings. This can be as easy as what leftovers are in the refrigerator or what’s on special at the supermarket. Grain bowls are a tasty alternative for meatless Mondays and are just as good with meat, fish and poultry. Either way, be sure to go heavy on the vegetables.

4. Finish with a flavorful garnish or two. This is your chance to add fresh herbs and a little crunch.

Gather friends in the kitchen, split the tasks and build the bowls. Before you know it, dinner will be ready. We’re not talking miracles here. A grain bowl won’t deliver world peace but it might patch up a frayed friendship.

Here’s to peace and kindness. Bon appétit!

Grain Bowls with Quinoa, Black Beans & Sweet Potato
With ingredients from South and Central America, these bowls are packed with flavor. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 1/2-2 pounds sweet potato, peeled and cut in bite-sized pieces
Olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Pureed chipotle in adobo*
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups quinoa
1 bay leaf
3-4 sprigs thyme
4-5 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 onion, finely chopped
1 yellow or red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2-4 cups cooked black beans*, rinsed and drained
Crumbled queso or feta
Toasted pumpkin seeds
Fresh chopped cilantro
Lime wedges

Prepare the sweet potato: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put 1-2 tablespoons each olive oil and vinegar in a bowl, add 1 teaspoon or to taste chipotle puree and whisk to combine. Add the sweet potato, toss to coat, season with salt and pepper and toss again. Spread the sweet potato on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast at 375 degrees until tender, about 30 minutes.

Prepare the quinoa: Put the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well with cold water. Put the quinoa, bay leaf and thyme in a saucepan, add 3 cups broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and, adding more broth if necessary, cook for about 20 minutes or until the quinoa is tender.

Prepare the black beans: Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, cumin and 1 teaspoon (or taste) chipotle puree, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Stir in the black beans and 1 cup broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the quinoa and sweet potato are ready.

Put it all together and serve: Spoon the quinoa into individual bowls, add a layer of beans, top with sweet potato, sprinkle with crumbled queso, pumpkin seeds and cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

* About 12 ounces dried blacks cooked according to package directions or 2-3 (14-15 ounce) cans of black beans.

* Take a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and toss them, sauce and all, in a small food processor. Process until smooth and transfer to a clean glass jar. Store the chipotle purée in the refrigerator and use as needed.

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One Year Ago – Mediterranean Meatballs with Couscous
Two Years Ago – Pumpkin Chili with Turkey & Black Beans
Three Years Ago – Ravioli with Roasted Butternut Squash
Four Years Ago – Hearty White Bean & Tomato Soup
Five Years Ago – Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti
Six Years Ago – Tagliatelle alla Carbonara
Seven Years Ago – Carbonnade á la Flamande – Beer Braised Beef & Onions
Eight Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon
Nine Years Ago – Pumpkin Cupcakes
Ten Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

With whom would you like to cook? My nieces – yes, that’s them in the photo with me and my dad – are my favorite sous chefs. Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

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