When I’m stuck on what to make for lunch or dinner, I choose a theme. If I want to go Greek, I’ll build a meal around lemon, oregano and feta. For Indian, I’ll bust out the curry powder or garam masala. When a Spanish craving presents itself, there’s going to be smoked paprika in the works. For a taste of California sunshine, I gravitate towards super-fresh ingredients like avocado and sturdy greens. This is how I go about building a bowl recipe, too. And it works like a charm every time.
This grain bowl (or “whole bowl”) is inspired by banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich that’s fresh, zippy, spicy, saucy, creamy, sticky, smoky, crunchy, light yet substantial – it’s a gem of a bite.
A couple of months ago, I was grabbing banh mi in Toronto before an afternoon at the Art Gallery of Ontario when inspiration struck. A bowl? I can banh mi that. And when assembled, bowls, too, are edible art, like a painter’s pallet, so it was all very fitting.
For me, banh mi is all about careful layering of both textures and flavours. It’s a fiery bite and it needs something sweet, crunchy, fresh, sharp, smoky and, my addition today, gently bitter and nutty thanks to sesame studded broccoli rabe. Smoked tofu gives this the requisite pork flavour and lends some staying power.
Broccoli rabe (rapini) is a green vegetable in heavy rotation in my kitchen, picking up any flavour you introduce to it. If you want to think outside of the bowl, I’d make this recipe without barley and bring it all together on baguette, the bread component banh mi fanatics may be more familiar with. But I really love how the broccoli rabe curls around the bowl, feeling oh so at home amongst its sweet, crunchy, fresh, sharp, smoky peers. And, the bushy, broccoli rabe bouquet contains fibre, iron, vitamin K (to deliver calcium straight to you bones), vitamin C, A, E, potassium and a wee bit of plant-based omega-3s. (Read more about it here.)
The nutty broccoli rabe can be made up to 3 days ahead, keeping its gorgeous, evergreen colour until you finish it all up. The quick pickles can hang out in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks for when that banh mi bowl craving strikes again. And I made a big batch of barley to carry me through a weekend of banh mi bowls, switching up the tofu with a fried egg or enjoying both at once.
If you don’t live near a quality banh mi shop for your sandwich fix, and even if you do, pick up some broccoli rabe (you may find it labeled “rapini” as I did in my supermarket) and grab your biggest bowl. This recipe comes together in less than an hour, so it’s potentially doable on a weeknight, giving you enviable, healthy leftovers for a few take-along lunches.
Vegetarian Banh Mi Grain Bowls Recipe
A grain bowl recipe with broccoli rabe (rapini), quick pickles, barley, and tofu. Inspired by banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwiches filled with all sorts of deliciousness. You can mix and match to make this dish your own.
Quick Pickled Radish & Carrots with Ginger
2 cups thinly sliced radishes (from 1 large bunch)
2 large or 4 small carrots, julienned or grated
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup water
3/4 distilled white vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
Seared Sesame Broccoli Rabe (Rapini)
1 tablespoon sesame oil or coconut oil
1 bunch Andy Boy broccoli rabe (rapini), bottoms trimmed, stalks halved crosswise
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
Smoked tofu, cut into matchsticks
Persian or English cucumber, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Jalapeno, thinly sliced
Tamari or soy sauce
- Quick Pickled Radish & Carrots with Ginger: Pack radishes, carrots, and ginger into a large heatproof, sealable glass jar. Add water, vinegar, agave, and salt to a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and pour over vegetables. Tightly seal, shake, and let sit for 30 minutes (2 hours plus is best). Refrigerate for up to 1 month (they just get better as they sit).
- Barley: Add barley and water to a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover (partially cover for 5 minutes to avoid boiling over), and cook for 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain any excess water remaining.
- Seared Sesame Broccoli Rabe: Heat a large high-sided skillet or wok over medium-high. Add sesame oil or coconut oil and broccoli rabe. Cook without stirring for 1 minute, cover, and steam for 3 to 5 minutes (add a splash of water if pan is too dry), tossing once or twice, until tender. Stir in sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, and tamari or soy sauce.
- To serve, dd sections of barley, broccoli rabe, pickles, tofu, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeno. Season with a spoonful or two of the pickle brine, tamari, and a squeeze of lime. Serve with sriracha.
Disclaimer: This post was created in partnership with Andy Boy Broccoli Rabe and I received compensation for my participation. All opinions are my own.