Bowls of plenty

Bowls have been a big deal for a while now, part of the trend toward healthy, crunchy, avocado toast-eating that culminated in a recent New York Times Food story that declared, “The Hippies Have Won.”

But other than jazzing up a bowl of oatmeal with banana slices, slivered almonds and honey, I’ve never been tempted to go back to the era of “The Moosewood Cookbook” for inspiration.

That is until I took a look at “Bowls of Plenty” (Grand Central Life & Style, $28), the new cookbook by James Beard award-winning food writer Carolynn Carreno.

Though it’s subtitled “Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole-Grain Meals,” Carreno’s pitch to home cooks is you can have your healthy grains and eat luscious proteins and sauces, too.

As her friend, chef Nancy Silverton, writes in the forword, Carreno seems to have a knack for creating flavors and textures that are “fun, colorful, and imaginative.”

“I am a flavor person. I’m really not into hippie food,” an exuberant Carreno told me during a recent phone call. “I cook because I want it to taste really delicious. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating meat, as long it’s in small portions.

“For me, a bowl is a way to eat everything I want to eat, including sticky riblets and bone marrow and pork belly, and still feel good the next day. I want food that’s vibrant and pretty and healthful.”

For Carreno, the simple art of building a nutritious and appealing bowl is instinctual.

“I think about what flavors I would want to go together, the same way I would if I were building a salad or making a meal,” Carreno said. “If I were making carne asada, I would think, what do I want with that? And I’d want some kind of sauce, and maybe corn, if it’s summer.

“So I might make corn quinoa to go under it, and a condiment like chipotle cashew cream. But I want something that’s crunchy, always, whether that’s going to be a salted pumpkin seed or a radish. I always want something that’s hot and something that’s cold. And I always wand something acidic, like lime or pickled vegetables.”

One of Carreno’s favorite recipes in “Bowls of Plenty” is Mole Teff and Chicken with Avocado and Crema, which combines the rather challenging but healthy, gluten-free grain with the deep, rich flavors of her Mexican heritage.

“I converted a lot people who didn’t like teff and a lot of people who didn’t like mole with that dish,” Carreno said. “The chocolate in the mole really works with the chocolaty flavors in the teff.

“The mole chicken is so flavorful and unmistakably Mexican. And the texture is perfect because it’s braised and then shredded so it’s like barbecue chicken.”

Asked why she thinks bowls have become such a big thing, and why she decided to offer her own take on the subject, Carreno mused for a moment.

“I think bowls are kind of comforting, and they’re such a pretty way to present food,” she said. “I’m not a sociologist, but I think it might be about Instagram, too. I think that the visual appeal was a big factor in making bowls take off. You could present the same ingredients and the dish wouldn’t look as good if it wasn’t composed in a bowl.”


These healthy and delicious recipes feature whole-grain dishes from “Bowls of Plenty” by Carolynn Carreno and “Breakfast Bowls” by Caroline Griffiths.

Mole Teff and Chicken With Avocado and Crema

Teff is a tiny ancient grain and a staple of Ethiopian cuisine. It’s gluten-free and rich in nutrients, but it has an unusual flavor and gummy texture. Here it’s used as a polenta-like base for a bowl with flavorful chicken thighs braised in mole, then shredded, so the end product is like the mole version of shredded barbecue chicken. For a more mainstream bowl, serve the chicken and toppings on a bowl of plain brown rice or quinoa.

Red Beet and Quinoa Salad With Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese

Red beets stain anything they come into contact with. But in this salad, the red stain of the beet juice just makes the red quinoa and radicchio more red, so the salad is fully committed to its redness. You can use radicchio leaves as the “bowls” to serve the salad in.

Baked Oatmeal With Lemon Thyme and Ricotta

This is an easy, hands-off method of cooking and serving oats in the same bowl. If peaches are out of season, try apples or pears instead. The blueberries provide a great ‘pop’ of sweetness when you bite into them, but any berry will do. The whipped ricotta is lovely, but if you’re after an instant topping, a good dollop of yogurt is great, too.

More books on bowls

“Breakfast Bowls: 52 Nourishing Recipes to Kick-Start Your Day” by Caroline Griffiths (Smith Street Books, $19.95) — A collection of wholesome breakfast bowls — a new one for every week of the year — aimed to “inspire you to get back to a healthy way of living.”

“Grain Bowls: Bulgur Wheat, Quinoa, Barley, Rice, Spelt and More” by Anna Shillinglaw Hampton (Hardie Grant Books, $19.99) — Ancient grains for health-inspired home cooks with recipes for salads, vegetarian and vegan meals, and heartier bowls with meat and seafood.

“Nourish Bowls: Simple and Nutritious Balanced Meals in a Bowl” by Quadrille Publishing and Issy Crocker (Chronicle Books, $22.99) — Quick and easy international recipes for bowl-based dishes with rice, noodles and grains that include “all the nutritional elements in one meal.”

“Porridge: Oats + Seeds + Grains + Rice” by Anni Kravi (Quadrille Publishing, $19.99) — Over 50 recipes which take inspiration from porridges around the world, featuring sweet, savory, raw, soaked and cooked dishes and sugar-free, dairy-free and vegan options.