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Clean Out the Fridge Grain Bowls

Healthy Grain Bowls

Leftover Grain Bowls!

Chances are, you've accidentally made a grain bowl out of of leftovers before, but these bowls, constructed of grains, vegetables, protein, and dressing, have the potential to become your go-to weeknight staple. The best part? As long as you follow the golden rule that good ingredients make good meals, they're hard to mess up -- no matter how crazy the ingredients.

Here’s how to make a grain bowl, without a recipe:

1. Pick your grain. Go the obvious route with a layer of brown rice, or take this opportunity to work ancient protein-rich grains into your diet. Think quinoa, farro, and couscous. When in doubt, Iron Chef it and check out your leftovers. Polenta, grits, wheat berries, and that box of sticky rice from your Thai takeout are all excellent options. Consider cooking your grain in chicken or vegetable broth to give it some extra flavor.

2. Add veggies. You have some options here: Add some leafy greens or cooked seasonal vegetables, or go all out and use both. If you opt for uncooked greens, grab a fistful of your favorite salad base (spinach, arugula, kale, and radicchio are all great options) and place it on one side of your bowl -- be careful not to add too many leaves here, lest you end up with a salad.

Steamed chard, roasted beets, or sautéed mushrooms are all great options. During colder months, I usually go with roasted vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli rabe, and brussels sprouts. Add just enough vegetables to your bowl to cover roughly 1/2 to 3/4 of the grains so that there's room for protein.

3. Pick your protein (or two!). While you can pick your grains and vegetables independent of each other, try to consider which protein will taste best with the vegetables you've chosen. Salmon, for example, pairs well with lemony sautéed spinach, and kale and bacon are a match made in heaven. Looking for a vegetarian option? Add a creamy cheese like ricotta and rejoice as it spills over your greens, or fry up some tofu or tempeh. When in doubt, a poached egg is always a good idea -- just make sure that the yolk is soft enough that it covers the rest of the ingredients with eggy goodness when it breaks.

4. Add a dressing or sauce. Here's the part where you can decide the "personality" of your grain bowl. Is it going to be Asian and tangy, classic with a touch of vinaigrette, or spicy and dredged in a thick sauce? I suggest you seek inspiration from the forgotten condiments in your refrigerator door. Pesto, harissa, Sriracha, and peanut sauce can be used with a heavy hand. Or, add a soup base like chicken broth or coconut milk to your dressing to provide a deeper flavor without overpowering the natural taste of the vegetables. I often opt for something in-between, like a vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar and honey.

5. Add some garnishes. Garnishes are the most overlooked area of grain bowls, but they can be just the thing you need to turn your weeknight meal into a pièce de résistance. Consider adding mandolined cucumber, pickled radishes, toasted seasweed, or avocado slices. Or, get some crunch with toasted panko crumbs, toasted nuts like cashews and peanuts, and seeds. Turn to herbs like cilantro and dill for a picture-perfect finish.

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