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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Set the Scene for a Positive 2018 & Sweet Potato Polenta

Happy New Year everyone. It’s been a tumultuous few years. Does anybody think that will change in the foreseeable future? No? I didn’t think so. I don’t either. Alright then, is there anything we can do beyond a seat belt for the proverbial bumpy ride? Since I’m thinking figuratively, that seat belt could come in a couple of different styles. Setting the scene for a wonderful 2018 could be as simple as …

Be kind. You don’t need to get all caught up in some elaborate scheme to change someone’s life. Although it would certainly be kind and then some, no one expects you to build a new house for a neighbor in need or buy a bus for the local orphanage. Being kind can be as simple as holding the door for someone at the post office, smiling at a stranger in the supermarket or buying coffee for the next in line … particularly if the next in line is wearing scrubs.

As powerful as they are simple, small acts of kindness can stave off an inclination towards absentminded selfishness. They might even blunt the horror of craven greed. Okay, that might be reaching. Perhaps I saw too many Hallmark movies this holiday season. In any case, small gestures of kindness can go a long way during this cold and dark time of year.

Don’t forget, it’s not enough to be kind to others, be kind to you too. If you’re having trouble getting out of bed on a Saturday morning, stay there. Your body needs the rest. Your brain needs the rest. The world will not flounder and fold if you turn off your phone for one day. Find some soup in the freezer, curl up with a blanket and take a day. You deserve it.

Tell the truth. False impressions, half-truths, whole lies, and fake news, it could be my imagination but honesty and integrity seems to have taken a backseat. Maybe they have lost their seats altogether. From truthful hyperbole to pants on fire, we seem to find reality distorted at almost every turn. Just sorting through it all is exhausting.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all (I know I am), just know – not a one of us needs to join the fray. Remember when your mom told you she didn’t care if everyone was doing IT. It didn’t matter what IT was. As far as she was concerned you should not dye your hair purple, skip school or smoke pot. If you’d told her everyone lied, she still would have insisted you tell the truth.

So, even if it feels like lying liars and flaming pants surround you, you can do it. You can be honest. It’s just that easy and just that hard. No, the dog didn’t eat that report – I ran out of time and will finish it by the end of the week.

Embrace gratitude. Stuck in a bubble of subzero temperatures, grateful might not be the first word to come to mind these days. It’s okay to go off on a little rant and stamp your feet. Both might help you stay warm. However, envy towards those friends in Florida could swallow you up. Don’t let it. Instead, be grateful for your four walls, warm coat and cap. Oh, and mittens, don’t forget your mittens.

Let gratitude lift you up. Enjoy the warm sun through the window and snow for the skiers. Marvel at the clear sky and stars at night. Be happy for your sense of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, they bring you everything the world has to offer. Most of all, give thanks for family, friends and the love they share with you.

Have a wonder-filled 2018 and bon appétit!

Sweet Potato Polenta
We could all use a cozy dish to warm up to this January. Sweet Potato Polenta is delicious with everything from braised short ribs to Creole shrimp. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 large sweet potato
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and cut in small pieces
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon or to taste chipotle in adobo purée* (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth or water
1 cup instant polenta
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2-3 tablespoons butter

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Prick the sweet potato several times with a knife, place it on the baking sheet and in the oven. Bake at 375 degrees until soft, 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and set aside for a few minutes.

When cool enough to handle but still warm, halve the sweet potato and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add the cream cheese and sour cream and season with chipotle, salt and pepper. Use a masher to smash the potato and combine the ingredients.

The sweet potato can be prepped in advance, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before adding to the polenta.

Meanwhile, bring the milk, broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a simmer in a heavy saucepan. Stirring constantly, slowly add the polenta. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, until the polenta starts to thicken, 2-3 minutes.

Add the sweet potato, cheese and butter and continue to stir until the cheese and butter have melted, 2-3 minutes more. If the polenta seems too thick, add some more broth or milk. Serve immediately.

* To make chipotle puree – take a can of chipotle in adobo and toss the peppers and the adobo sauce in a small food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a clean glass jar and store in the refrigerator. Use as needed.

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One Year Ago – Spicy Shrimp Chowder
Two Years Ago – Dhal (Lentils) with Roasted Cauliflower
Three Years Ago – Spiced Chai
Four Years Ago – Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad
Five Years Ago – Old Fashioned Pot Roast
Six Years Ago – Pasta from the Pantry
Seven Years Ago – Tartiflette – An Alpine Casserole with Cheese & Potatoes
Eight Years Ago – Four Cheese Lasagna Bolognese with Spinach
Nine Years Ago – Curried Chicken and Lentil Soup

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

What are your thoughts on the new year? Feel free to share!

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