One of my lasting memories of San Francisco – apart from the glorious weather, friendly people & stunning locale – is the amazing food. Whatever you look for, I guarantee you will find and it won’t surprise anyone who’s been there to hear you praise to the high heavens the generous breakfasts, fresh produce or the Michelin hotspots; as cities for foodies go, San Francisco is up there with the best.
Rice bowls have been around on the culinary scene and growing in popularity for some time now but it wasn’t until our Pacific Catch experience that we got to experience them for the first time. Steeped for the most part in and around Asian cuisine, they’re the perfect dinner for so many reasons – they’re simple to prepare & require no hard-to-say-and-even-harder-to-find ingredients that cost the earth; they can be made just as easily for one person as for 4, 6 or 10; there are no hard and fast rules about what goes in them so even the pickiest of eaters among your clan can be appeased including vegetarians, vegans or meat lovers…see? Nothing not to like, love and adore and if you’re fed up of dull, uninspiring salads that leave you hungry again before the last forkful is forced down and you’re after a healthy option that will leave you full and happy, let’s get on with introducing the rice bowl to your cooking repertoire…
Like so many of us, I can’t lie and say that J and I didn’t find returning from holiday a little depressing and a little sad and it was at this time that we found ourselves trying to re-create some of that vacation magic when we were back in our own kitchen with our own spin on the rice bowls we’d fallen for only days earlier.
Cooking wild rice was the basis of this dish – I find around 75g per person a good amount although depending on what you’re putting with it you may like to add a little more or less. I like wild rice as opposed to brown basmati for the base of this dish as the varied texture & colour of the grain adds lovely visual appeal and has a fairly neutral flavour that welcomes the others in the dish on board…don’t get me started on white rice because unless it’s in a fresh piece of sushi surrounded by seaweed and avocado, I have to say I’m not a fan of it’s boring taste & claggy texture.
Next up, some sort of greens to add the first splash of colour to the bowl. Any sort of leafy green vegetable is going to work well here – lightly stir-fried or steamed kale or collards would be delicious though for beginners, the arguably least scary option is the one we chose and the road we went down was that of spinach. Small, sweet, baby leaves make the perfect addition and whichever green leafy lovelies you choose, you’ll know that you’ve added a decent serving of iron to your plate.
Don’t stop at green though – let’s rainbow this dish up to the hilt here and make it as fresh and tasty as possible.
Yellow pepper? Done. Lightly sauteed in olive oil but not for too long – you don’t want to destroy their nutrients – add a sprinkling of paprika for extra flavour and then congratulate yourself on a hugely vitamin rich corner of your bowl. Did you know that you need 75 – 90 milligrams of vitamin C every day and that one large yellow pepper will give over 340 milligrams? The vitamin C in it will also help repair bodily tissue, keep bones & teeth healthy and, because it’s an antioxidant, it will help to protect cells from damage caused by our environment & the ageing process.
Pineapple? Yes please. Don’t go fretting that you need to find, tackle and slice a whole fruit yourself; although you can’t deny that fresh is always best, it’s not always an option so the regular canned or jarred kind will be an absolutely fine alternative. Lay the slices on top of a hot griddle for a good few minutes either side to attain the lovely charred lines that take the fruit from a sunny yellow colour to a darker, caramel sunset tone and enjoy the natural sweet & sticky juiciness that this will add.
How about throwing in some different textures at this point? I’d go with very finely sliced onion strips sauteed in olive oil until crispy and brown but not burnt and black – it’s a fine line at times! – and personally, I always use red onions as they have a sweet flavour that’s not as overwhelming as their white cousins though spring would also be gorgeous here but remember they’ll cook much quicker so keep an eye on them.
I’d also toss in a couple of generous handfuls of edamame beans but I’d do this at the end when everything else is in place as I love them raw although a gentle steaming renders them delicious as well. Their smooth, rounded feel and fresh, slightly nutty taste will add another dimension to the dish and if you’ve not used edamame much before, trust me, they are ridiculously good. High in protein, low in fat and a good source of dietary fibre to keep things running smoothly as well as copper and manganese to boost your immune system and control your blood sugar, they’ll bulk up your dinner without leaving you feeling uncomfortably full or with the side effects of other equally yummy but sometimes less socially friendly beans!
Diced avocado will add luxurious creaminess to each mouthful while the sodium and cholesterol free good-for-you fats will boost the shine and texture of your hair and nails and nearly 20 other vitamins and nutrients will also work their magic on your insides.
Last but by no means least, let’s get protein into our carb based, veggie heavy meal. Chicken would be a gentle way to introduce rice bowls to suspicious diners while fat pink prawns would be an inviting alternative but we went for salmon here; fat, blush and luscious with a soy and sweet chill dressing, it sat atop everything else like the king of the bowl that it rightfully is. Often considered a super-food, salmon boasts multiple health benefits but is most well known for being high in Omega 3 fats which contribute to healthy brain function as well as helping keep joints and skin supple.
The point of differentiation with rice bowls is that their ingredients aren’t all mixed together like in a pilaf or paella; instead, they sit, lay or tumble on top of the rice in different areas which allows the eater to customize each mouthful. There really are no rules as to how you assemble them but we laid rice and greens side by side as the base on top of which we portioned the peppers, pineapple, onions, avocado and edamame, leaving the succulent fish for last. That’s 6 portions of vegetables, 1 super food oily fish and a complex carbohydrate in one insanely wonderful tasting meal. I promise it will be delicious. I promise it’s easy to prepare. I promise it will rapidly become part of your healthy eating plan and the beauty is you won’t even realise or care how good it is for you because it tastes so good…if you never thought virtuous food could be god-I-need-more-of-this-food, get ready to think just that and let me know when you’re ready to agree!