As the farmers’ markets open and Spring begins to reveal all the luscious yum that can grow from the ground, my appetites invariably change in search of lighter fare. Sure, soup is still good (especially if it’s cold), but all those lovely green things that are in season just need to get on my plate and get in mah belly. I discovered on our recent road trip (much to my delight) that my children continue to prefer raw to cooked vegetables (“you know, Mommy, like we eat them at home, crunchy”) and so this weather-driven shift in the kitchen is a happy time for all of us. Following this instinct has revealed a certain pattern in my cooking, a sort of formula, that seems to work for the whole family and that is endlessly malleable. Because the ingredients can change, I’m going to call it…
As is our practice here on the pantry, I’m now going to throw a series of general recommendations at you that when I follow them, result in dinner. For a nutritious and delicious varia-bowl, prepare a grain or noodle, a marinated or cooked green, and chop several other veggies according to your preference. I always add nuts for crunch and protein and usually either parsley or cilantro for some yum. Add seasonings to complement the cooked veggie. Easy, right?
In the picture you can see last night’s varia-bowl. After a successful dinner at Big Sis’ house, my son was interested in experimenting more with rice noodles, and so this was the base for dinner. You can see both the buckwheat and the black rice noodles peeking out from under all the green. I then added spinach namul, chopped raw peppers, chopped snap peas, chopped cilantro, raw cashews, and soy sauce. It was fabulous crunchy eating. And everyone enjoyed it, not because everyone here loves each of those items, but because I served them like this. They call this “deconstructed” in high cuisine circles; I call it sanity when dining with twin 5 year olds. Keeping all of the elements separate makes it much easier to accomodate the various preferences of my crew. They know they will still be having plenty of veggies, but they can skip one of the them and the ones that they choose can sit on the plate without touching, as this seems to make them undesirable.
The varia-bowl is a lovely little formula, and with a little experimentation with flavor profiles, you can create an endless array of dishes that are the same only in their basic structure. I began fooling with improvisational ethnic cooking using a chart in the back of Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. If you have a copy or can pick one up at the library, this is a nice place to start to play with different spice and flavoring combinations. Cooking Light does a summary that has more ethnic variety, but unlike Katzen’s, this list only focuses on spices, does not include vinegars and other flavorings that can be useful. The flavor combinations I suggested when describing namuls can easily apply here as well. Not sure what vegetables to try? Open that fridge. Start with what you’ve got and what you like. Slap it on some quinoa, or some brown rice, some farro, or even some oatmeal (yes, many people eat oatmeal with savory foods). It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s endlessly varia-bowl. Delish.