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1 Bowl, 101 Meals
A template for countless, easy, healthy, inexpensive meals
One-bowl meals are the most versatile meals of all, and probably 70% of what I eat at home. My breakfasts are most often big bowls of oatmeal, sweetened with fruit. My lunches are most often leftovers from dinner. And my favorite dinners are grain or starch bowls.
Don’t let the word “starch” scare you. Let all that “carbs bad” nonsense you’ve been told fall into the trash heap of dumbass ideas you’ve heard and ignored. Earth’s not flat. Science is real. Vaccines work. Starch is good for you.
A whole food plant-based eating plan is really a “starch-based diet.” Don’t be afraid of the healthful, complex carbohydrates found in whole grains and vegetables. Be very afraid of inflammatory, high fat, cancer causing animal proteins.
So here is a six-element template for dozens of one-bowl meals.
1. The Starch
Begin with a starch, a nice healthy, filling, stick to the ribs complex carbohydrate. It can be a potato, yam, brown rice, soba noodles, whole grain pasta, quinoa, etc.
Sidebar: Brown rice fulfills the “whole” requirement part of whole food, plant-based. White rice isn’t whole. It’s only the endosperm, with the bran and germ of the rice removed. Brown rice has all three parts intact. It’s a whole food.
You can dice the potato or sweet potato. You can sauté it in a hot, quality skillet without any oil or spray. You could mash it, bake it, steam it, or stir fry it with the other veggies.
With rice, I prefer to cook it separately in water or broth, rather than in with the veggies, because I’m fussy. I like my rice a little al dente, not mushy-soft. By cooking it separately I can get the precise texture I prefer before adding it to the bowl.
2. The Green Leafies
The second most important part of your one-bowl meal is going to be your green leafies or “cruciferous” veggies. Every meal of the day should include cruciferous vegetables. Jon Stewart is so adamant he adds kale to his morning oatmeal.
Cruciferous vegetables restore the endothelial cells that have been destroyed by animal proteins. No matter your health-status, if you’ve eaten meat or dairy for most of your life and are 17 or older, those cells have already been ravaged. These are the cells that produce nitric oxide. (Not to be confused with nitrous oxide or laughing gas, but every bit as much fun.) That interaction is what keeps your blood flowing smoothly through your arteries. It expands the blood vessels wider, so they allow better flow, and keeps plaque from forming to clog them up. And if you eat enough of these amazing vegetables, you can REVERSE the damage you’ve already done. But it takes a lot of them, and to fully activate their benefits, you need to sprinkle a few drops of vinegar over them.
These magical vegetables are:
Cabbage (all kinds)
Note the lack of lettuces on this list. Eat all you want but don’t count them as a green leafy or cruciferous vegetable.
Your green leafies can be raw or cooked. You can steam the greens for 5 minutes to get a perfect texture. You can sauté them with the other veggies, too. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, some of others, could be roasted with herbs before adding them to your bowl.
3. More Veggies & Legumes
Obviously our bowl is looking pretty skimpy with just our brown rice or potato and greens. It’s time to add a selection of other veggies! Anything you want. Pick at least three. More if you love them. Try to include at least one variety of legume.
Don’t worry too much about what goes with what. Use your intuition and engage your sense of play and adventure. Here’s a list of vegetables you can add.
Sugar Snap Peas (legume)
String beans (legume)
Wax beans (legume)
Beans (black, kidney, pinto, northern) (legume)
The above veggies and any others you can think of can be layered in raw, steamed, cooked, baked, roasted or sautéed without oil.
Fruits are an excellent way to make the flavor of the meal really pop. Some of my go-to fruits for one-bowl meals are:
Mandarin oranges, fresh or canned in their own juice or water
Pineapple pieces or crushed, fresh or canned in its own juice or water
Fresh diced mango
The fruit should go in raw, or straight from its can. Be sure you’re using fruit its own juices or in water with no added sugar. You can also use the natural fruit juice to deglaze. Details below.
5. Toppers & Garnishes
I love to put on toppers that really fill the spot that used to be for meat, like mushrooms or tofu. And I never fail to garnish, because I almost always photograph my food and it looks nicer. Plus it’s a good way to get more seeds in.
Marinated Portabella Mushrooms (see below.)
Tofu Bites (see below.)
Chia Seeds (Omega 3s!)
6. Flavor Boosters & Seasonings
Shake some low sodium tamari into the veggie sauté.
Deglaze the sauté pan with some of the juice from the canned fruit.
Mix equal parts low sodium tamari, vegan Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and a dash of liquid smoke (this is what I use to marinate slices of portobello mushrooms —soak for an hour, remove and fry.)
For a variation on the above marinade, add a 1 teaspoon real maple syrup.
For a totally different angle, add a can of diced tomatoes to the veggies to deglaze after the initial browning. Cook down until the juice is reduced to your preferred consistency.
7. Herbs & Spices
If I want a savory one bowl meal, I’ll leave out the fruit, include plenty of celery, peas, kale, onions, mushrooms, potato or sweet potato, and carrots. This variation wants some poultry seasoning, a little celery seed, maybe an extra dash of sage, and black pepper. Tastes like Thanksgiving!
If I want hot & spicy I use peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, corn, spinach, broccoli and tomatoes as my main veggies, and add mandarin or pineapple to contrast the heat with a little sweet. I’ll season with garlic, onion powder, and red pepper flakes.
I also have a Cajun seasoning blend that’s good for a spicier dinner, and I use the veggies above and fruit in that one, too.
Sometimes I want an Asian flavor to my meal. This veggie mix would have snap peas, broccoli, cauli, carrots, peppers, & onions. I grate in a little bit of fresh ginger, garlic, a touch of curry or masala seasoning.
For a sweet kick, I used Jamaican Jerk Spice in a stir fry, with sweet potato, mushroom, plenty of greens like Swiss chard and kale, bell peppers, onions, and zucchini.
Although the meal bowl has many layers, you don’t have to cook everything separately. All the veggies, cruciferous included, can go into a no-oil sauté to be cooked all together, or roasted on a baking sheet all together, or steamed in a steamer all together, and then poured over the starch.
Here are some mini recipes for some of the elements of your meal-bowls
Mini-recipe: Roasted Veggies
Wash the veggies thoroughly. Don’t rinse them, wash them. Use your hands or a vegetable brush to physically remove dirt and contaminants.
Chop into bit sized chunks.
Dip each piece into a small bowl of low sodium vegetable broth or water, then roll them around in your herbs and spices, or shake the herbs on top. This way the seasonings stick better. (Most cooks drizzle the veggies with lethal, endothelial-killing oil, but if you’re doing that, you might as well eat meat as far as your body is concerned.)
Bake at about 400º until they reach your desired tenderness.
Mini-recipe: The No-Oil Sauté
I put this in almost every post, but it’s the key to living without oil. Get a very good pan. I use the Ozeri Pro. I’m told a quality stainless steel pan will work beautifully too, just haven’t tried it yet. Love my Ozeri! I have two and am craving a third.
Heat the excellent pan until you can drip water from your fingertips onto the surface, and it will form a single dancing bead.
Add the onions and peppers first, adjusting the heat to medium or slightly above, but not too much higher. Stir. Heat and motion are the keys. Use a plastic utensil and keep stirring.
When the onions begin to get translucent, add the other vegetables. Keep stirring. When the sugars begin to get sticky and brown on the pan, add 2 or so tablespoons of liquid to “deglaze” and scrape and stir all that beautiful brownness off the pan and into the veggies.
Deglazing liquids can include: the unsweetened juice from canned fruit, excess marinade (boil first to be safe if you’ve soaked veggies in it,) low sodium veggie broth, a splash of tamari, or even a little bit of water, cooking wine, or vinegar if you like it.
Keep stirring and adding liquid a little at a time, just enough to keep from sticking, as your veggies cook.
Add garlic and greens toward the end of the cooking, when the other veggies are nearly done, as they take less time to cook.
Sometimes I drop a lid onto the pan to speed things up.
Mini Recipe: Marinated Mushrooms
1/3 cup low sodium tamari (vegan soy sauce.)
1/3 cup vegan Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
Whisk together and pour over thinly sliced portobello mushrooms. Soak for 1 hour.
Lay each slice onto a hot, non-stick skillet that’s hot enough to make a bead of water dance. Don’t touch them for a while, let them cook. Patience is critical here. Let them get nice and brown on the bottom with the pan on medium heat, and then flip them over.
If it gets very sticky, add a splash of the excess marinade liquid. Cook until tender.
Mini Recipe: Tofu Bites
1 block extra firm tofu
McCormick’s Garden Vegetable Seasoning* blend or Mrs. Dash.
(*The McCormick’s blends can be very salty, so read the labels and if you’re limiting sodium, go with Mrs. Dash or even make your own seasoning blends. Experiment. It gets easier. You can get hints from reading the ingredients on existing seasoning blends.)
Take a block of extra firm tofu. Slice it into 1/2 - 3/4” slices, then slice the slices into 1/2 - 3/4 inch strips, and then dice the strips into 1/2 - 3/4 inch cubes.
Dump all the cubes into a clean white cotton dish-towel, wrap them up and squeeze a bit. Shake them around and then repeat the squeeze three times.
Pour the cubes into a pre-heated skillet that’s hot enough to make water dance and completely cover them with seasonings.
RESIST THE URGE TO STIR. This is one time when it’s heat without motion that does the trick. Let them cook for as long as it takes for the down-sides to begin to brown, and then turn them. Sometimes (cough-hardly ever-cough) I painstakingly turn each cube until all four sides are browned. Most of the time, I wait until they are nice and brown and use a cooking-school method to shake the pan and flip them around. If they aren’t browning to my liking, I will shake a little tamari or some of my leftover marinade juice into the pan, which really colors them nicely.
The longer you cook tofu, the firmer it will get. Take a piece out and eat it every now and then until you like the consistency.
Putting it together
If the greens are raw, I put them in the bottom of the bowl. If they’re cooked, I put the starch or grain on the bottom.
Then the vegetables, legumes, and greens if they aren’t on the bottom.
Then the sautéed mushrooms or tofu bites, if I have made them.
Then a garnish of slivered almonds, sesame seeds, or raisins. (Or a little bit of each.)
Time Saving Hack
Look in the freezer section at your grocery store. You can find pre-chopped veggies of all sorts. Be sure Big Food hasn’t already added oil or seasonings to these! Just get plain frozen veggies. There are bags of stir fry veggies, broccoli and cauliflower mixes, spinach, chopped peppers and onions, pre-diced potatoes and yams, even packages of pre-cooked rice. (And in the aisle that has Asian foods, look for pre-cooked soba noodles and udon noodles too.) This will save tons of time.
I always buy both fresh and frozen produce, use the fresh first because it goes bad faster, and then fall back on the frozen until it’s shopping day again. I rarely use all the frozen stuff, but it’s wonderful to have when a day gets unexpectedly busy, and your leftovers are running low.
You could make a grain dish in no time flat using these items. Open bags, cook veggies, add seasonings, pour into bowl, add some fun toppers, and enjoy!
PS: Here’s a 20 minute video from Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., a world renowned heart surgeon, about the endothelial system, nitric oxide, and how to reverse heart disease.