Quinoa Bowls with Lots of Choices

For all the years I’ve been cooking, I still get excited when I make a good dish, and I get even more excited when I can make something delicious by shopping in my refrigerator — extra points when the dish includes leftovers.

This simple bowl hit all the marks: The quinoa was left over from dinner, and Greek yogurt, the base for the dressing, was in the refrigerator along with the scallions, lettuce, avocado and mild breakfast radishes. As if that wasn’t reason enough for me to be happy, I got to give myself an additional pat on the back for going root-to-leaf, because I made the pesto. Win, win, win.

The current craze for bowls suits the way I eat and the way I like to cook. Just as with salads, and you can think of bowls as salads, there are few rules and lots of room for spur-of-the-moment inspiration. Starting with a base of grains is perfect; it gives the bowl substance. After that, it’s all a matter of what you’ve got and what you like, although it’s always nice to be able to add color, texture and something with spunk.

This bowl begins with cooked quinoa, plain or colored, but could just as deliciously be made with rice, lentils or beans. Any of those could be cooked in water, but all of them benefit from the boost you get when you cook them in broth; vegetable or chicken broth would be good here. Just before serving, stir in sliced scallions.

Each part of the bowl is seasoned separately — mostly with only lime zest and juice (the spunk suppliers) and salt and pepper — so that everything is tasty on its own. The real joy of the dish is what you get when you mix it up, a little of each ingredient in each mouthful.

The elements are simple. There’s avocado, in part because it seems impossible to have a bowl without one and mostly because I love that fruit. Think of avocados as kitchen chameleons — they go with just about everything — and here they add a rich, creamy texture to a dish that’s not rich at all. The lettuce is onboard for color and crunch. My preference is baby romaine (a.k.a. Little Gem or sucrine, as it’s called in Europe) cut into spears you can pick up with your fingers and nibble between spoonfuls of the softer stuff. If you’ve got leaf lettuce, baby spinach or arugula in the house, use it. The sliced radishes are around for color, snap and earthiness. You can nix them, if you want, and go with sliced carrots or cucumbers in their stead.

Things get interesting when you come to the “sauces.” The first is a mix of Greek yogurt, fresh mint and cilantro and lime, the ingredient that runs through the bowl. The second is the surprise: the radish-leaf pesto, a simple mash of leaves, olive oil, salt and lime, of course. If your radish leaves don’t look sparkling fresh, skip that part of the recipe and use store-bought basil pesto, or simply add lots more herbs to the yogurt.

In case you need more ideas for how to make this bowl your own, how about adding cubes of leftover roasted squash? Cooked broccoli? Chopped toasted walnuts? Tomatoes? Chilies? Rotisserie chicken? A little grilled fish?

Have fun and, if you come up with a combination you love, let me know.

Photograph by Deb Lindsey.  The story and recipe originally appeared in my Everyday Dorie column for Washington Post Food.

For an entire book of terrific recipes for vegetarian bowls, take a look at Lukas Volger’s book, appropriately titled BOWL.


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Quinoa Bowls

Makes 2 servings

For the pesto

1 cup packed radish leaves, rinsed, dried and chopped

11/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime, plus optional lime wedges for serving

For the sauce

1/2 cup plain low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Pinch fine sea salt, or more as needed

Pinch freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

Lime zest and 1 teaspoon juice (reserved from pesto)

For the bowls

1 head baby romaine or Little Gem lettuce (may substitute arugula or spinach)

11/3 cups cooked, cooled quinoa (see headnote)

2 scallions, white and light-green parts, thinly sliced

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 ripe avocado

Lime juice (reserved from pesto)

4 radishes, preferably mild breakfast radishes, trimmed, washed, dried and thinly sliced (may substitute another crunchy vegetable, such as carrot or seedless cucumber)

For the pesto: Combine the radish leaves, oil and salt in a mini food processor or a mortar. Add half of the lime zest and half of the juice; you’ll use more of what’s left for the other parts of the recipe. Process or pound, scraping the bowl as needed, until the leaves are finely chopped. You’ll have a scant 1/3 cup; if you’re making the bowls right away, the pesto can remain at room temperature (or cover and refrigerate up to overnight).

For the sauce: Stir together the yogurt, mint, cilantro, sea salt, pepper, the remaining lime zest and 1 teaspoon of the remaining lime juice in a medium bowl. Taste, and add salt and/or pepper as needed; if you’re making the bowls right away, the sauce can remain at room temperature (or cover and refrigerate up to overnight).

For the bowls: Cut the lettuce into wedges just big enough for dipping. Arrange some on one side of each bowl.

Toss together the cooked quinoa and scallions in a mixing bowl. Taste for salt and pepper, adding them as needed, then divide the mixture between serving bowls. For each portion, spoon half of the yogurt sauce on top of the quinoa and top it with half of the radish pesto. Peel and pit the avocado, then cut it into chunks or slices.

Sprinkle a little of the remaining lime juice over the avocado, season lightly with salt and pepper, and divide between the bowls. Sprinkle whatever lime juice remains over the lettuce that’s not covered; season lightly with salt and pepper. Last, scatter the radish slices over each bowl. Add a wedge of lime for squeezing, if desired.

Serve right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.