Move Over Bibimbap, Mediterranean Grain Bowls Are Here

These full-meal-in-a-bowl recipes are inspired by Asian cuisine, but use local ingredients - or even last night's leftovers.

Vered Guttman

Grain bowls are everywhere, hip restaurants, food magazines and blogs. Being the fashionable blog that we are, why not follow the trend. And for good reason.
The base of these full-meal-in-a-bowl are whole grains that are proven to reduce the risk of strokes, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Top these wonderful grains with raw or cooked (or both) seasonal veggies and with lean protein, and they're even healthier. You can use leftover greens and last night’s chicken breast, store-bought pickles, cheese and toasted nuts and just add a sunny side up or poached egg on the top and you have a full meal that can be reinvented every time you make it, in a few minutes’ work.

Many of the grain bowls available are inspired by Asian cuisines, such as the wonderful Korean bibimbap of white rice topped with steamed vegetables, sliced meat, raw egg yolk and more goodness. But what happens if we draw our inspiration from the Mediterranean or the Middle East? 

(By the way, the nicest thing about grain bowls is that you can improvise and use leftovers. Possible substitutes are suggested below).

Red snapper, grilled halloumi, pickled radish and bulgar grain bowl with tahini sauce

This recipe may seem long, but every step is quick. Being able to substitute some of the components with store-bought or leftovers makes it even easier:

Bulgar can be replaced with couscous or cooked freekeh.

Red snapper can be replaced with tilapia, or with any roasted or steamed fish.

Red snapper, grilled halloumi, pickled radish and bulgar grain bowl with tahini sauce

Substitute any grilling cheese or Mexican queso blanco for the halloumi.

Use store-bought pickles, preferably Middle Eastern style (available in Kosher and Middle Eastern markets) instead of the pickled radish.

Serves 4

For the grain base:
1 cup fine bulgar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chopped mint leaves
1 cup chopped green onions

For the pickled radishes:
½ cup distilled white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Bunch radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)

For the fish:
¾ lb. red snapper, skinned or tilapia fillet
¼ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt

For tahini sauce:
½ cup tahini
½ cup cold water
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt

For assembling:
½ lb. halloumi cheese, sliced to ¼” thick slices
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon sumac (optional)

1. To make the grain base put bulgar in a fine sieve and wash in running water for 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl. Add lemon juice and salt, mix, cover with a towel and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff bulgar with a fork, add mint and green onion, set aside.
2. For the pickled radish put vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pot, bring to boil and cook until sugar dissolves into vinegar. Put radish, red onion and fennel seeds in a bowl, pour vinegar into the bowl and let cool at room temperature. Radish is ready after 30 minutes, but you can prepare it up to 5 days in advance and keep in the fridge.
3. For the fish, cut red snapper to ¾ inch cubes. Mix with lemon juice in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge for 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
4. For tahini sauce, mix all ingredients, adjust salt to taste. Keep in fridge up to a week.
5. To assemble (finally!) the grain bowl, fry halloumi in one tablespoon oil until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate to cool down.
6. Divide bulgar between 4 bowls. Strain fish from lemon juice, add kosher salt to taste, and top the bulgar in each bowl. Arrange pickled raddish, fried halloumi and sliced cherry tomatoes next to the fish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and about a tablespoon of tahini. Sprinkle with a little sumac. Serve with more tahini on the side.

Spicy eggplant, lentils, fried egg and freekeh grain bowl

Use any seasonal crunchy veggie instead of the baby zucchini, such as shredded fennel, red pepper, shaved carrots.

Freekeh can be substituted with couscous, wild rice, coarse bulgar, spelt.

Freekeh is available at Middle Eastern markets and health food markets, such as Whole Foods.

Serves 4

For the eggplant:
1 regular eggplant, firm, light and dark black in color
Kosher salt
corn oil for frying
1 teaspoon dried parsley
Pinch red pepper flakes

For the lentils:
1 cup French lentils
1 bay leaf
½ yellow onion
Kosher salt to taste

For the grains:
1 cup freekeh
1¼ cups boiling water, chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the dressing:
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste

For assembling:
½ lb. baby zucchini or young zucchini, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 eggs
pinch kosher salt
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 green onions, chopped

1. Peel the eggplant and cut to 1” cubes. Put in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with salt generously. Let stand for 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Wash in water then wipe with paper towel. Put ¼ inch corn oil in a non stick pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, put eggplant in and cook until golden-brown on all sides. One minute before removing from pan, sprinkle parsley and pepper flakes over eggplant. Stir, and cook for another minute then transfer to a colander. Rid of oil. Set aside.
2. Place lentils, 4 cups of water, bay leaf and onion in a large saucepan and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are almost tender. Discard the bay leaf and onion and drain the lentils. Add salt to taste. Set aside.
3. Place freekeh, 1¼ cups boiling water, oil and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Cover, lower the heat and cook for about 15 minutes, until water has absorbed. Set aside.
4. Mix dressing ingredients, add salt to taste. Set aside.
5. To assemble, divide freekeh between 4 bowls. Top with a spoonful of lentils, fried eggplant and sliced zucchini next to each other. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons dressing.
6. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan and fry eggs, sunny-side-up, until crispy on the edges and yolk is still runny. Sprinkle with salt. Arrange on top of each bowl. Sprinkle with pine nuts and green onion. Serve with more dressing on the side.