A meal that fits into a single bowl is appealing for multiple reasons. “For me, it really lends itself to healthy eating with whole-foods-oriented components,” says cookbook author Lukas Volger, a former vegetarian who still gives produce top billing in his day-to-day diet. Then there’s the inherent sense of ease: “When you’re cooking for one person, the bowl is portable in that way—you can take it to the sofa.” Third, of course, is Instagram, the square-oriented medium that, in the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, loves a circle. “The way you arrange the toppings, it’s a visual experience,” Volger explains of the evolved art of garnishing captured on so many feeds. “You want that overhead shot.”
This being food, you also want it to taste good, and Volger’s new book, Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals, aims to deliver on that front. He traces the impetus behind the project to a revelatory dining experience he had in Brooklyn about five years ago. “I got obsessed with this vegetarian ramen at Chuko, in Prospect Heights,” he recalls, noting that most meatless versions found elsewhere typically read as an afterthought. But that deeply satisfying meal, anchored by a seaweed-rich kombu broth, inspired him to tinker with other classic dishes from around the world.
During the five years the book has been in development, the bowl phenomenon—coupled with the rise of vegetable-forward eating—has gained serious traction, from elevated workday spots like Sweetgreen to the downtown hangoutCafé Henrie, where chef Camille Becerra is updating the macrobiotic-inspired Dragon Bowl in a residency that runs through April. As Becerra sees it, people are beginning to approach dining from more of a “sensory level—if your food is beautiful and colorful and tastes good and is healthful, then you feel better,” she says of her customizable bowls (turmeric-poached egg or chicken? Carrot-harissa sauce or chili bone broth?).
Deciding what goes inside the bowl is of chief importance, which is why we enlisted Volger and Becerra, along with three of our favorite cookbook authors—Amy Chaplin, Heidi Swanson, and Diana Yen—to share delicious (and gorgeous) recipes.
But the vessel, too, is key, as Volger learned during the photo shoot for his book, which introduced him to the world of local ceramics by the likes of Clam Lab, Jono Pandolfi, and Recreation Center. “I’ve since started collecting all these beautiful handmade bowls,” Volger says, “and it totally improves the eating experience.”
In addition to Bowl, out this week, and two earlier vegetarian cookbooks, Volger also produces a line of small-batch, ready-to-shape veggie burgers, called Made by Lukas. This take on pho, one of multiple versions in the book, is suited for the coming change in season—not to mention the inevitable spring cold, in which case you should “make it extra spicy,” he advises.
6 cups Vegetarian Pho Broth (recipe below) or Shortcut Pho Broth (page 217 in the book)
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 bunch spring onions (about 8 ozs.)
1 bunch scallions (about 5 ozs.)
5 plump garlic cloves
2 T neutral-tasting oil
1 T rice vinegar
4 bunches baby bok choy (8 to 10 ozs. total), quartered lengthwise through the root
1 cup peas, either young ones with edible pods or shelled mature ones
8 ozs. medium-width rice noodles
1 small green chili (serrano, Thai chili, or jalapeño), sliced into very thin rings
2 cups loosely packed mixed fresh herbs, such as chervil, parsley, mint, cilantro, basil, and/or chives, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
1. Place the pho broth in a pot and heat to a simmer. Stir in the sugar and salt and taste, adjusting the seasonings as necessary. Keep covered, off the heat, then bring back to a bare simmer just before serving.
2. Trim the root ends off the spring onions and scallions. Thinly slice both the white and green parts. Slice the garlic into thin slabs.
3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the spring onions, scallions, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions begin to burn, or raise it if they seem to be cooking too slowly. Pour in the vinegar and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Remove from the heat.
4.Bring a saucepan of salted water to boil. Add the bok choy and cook until the thickest parts of the stem are tender and can be easily pierced with a paring knife, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a spider skimmer, reserving the cooking water. Add the peas to the water and blanch for 30 seconds, just until the raw bite is gone. Transfer to a plate with a spider skimmer, again reserving the cooking water.
5. Add the noodles to the boiling water, in a strainer basket or the strainer insert that comes with your stockpot if you have one, and cook until tender, usually 4 to 7 minutes or according to the package instructions. Lift out the noodles, reserving the cooking water, and thoroughly rinse the noodles under cold running water in order to remove excess starch. Quickly dunk them back into the hot water to reheat. Divide among four bowls.
6. Top the noodles in each bowl with the bok choy, peas, caramelized onion mixture, and chilies. Ladle the hot broth over each serving. Serve immediately, passing the herbs and lime wedges at the table.
Vegetarian Pho Broth
Makes about 3 quarts, enough for two 4-serving batches
1 large or 2 small onions, peeled and quartered lengthwise
2 ozs. fresh ginger (a 3- to 4-inch piece, depending on thickness)
2 T peanut oil
2 medium leeks, white and green parts, coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 large carrots, coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 medium daikon radish (12 ozs.), peeled and coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, smashed and coarsely chopped
3 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
Small handful of fresh cilantro stems
1. Preheat the broiler. Arrange the onions and ginger on a foil-lined baking sheet. Once the broiler is hot, broil the vegetables close to the heat source until charred all over, flipping them with tongs as needed. Remove the onions if they cook more quickly than the ginger, or vice versa.
2. Alternatively, char the onions and ginger over the open flame of a gas burner, turning them periodically, until blackened all over. This will need to be done in a few batches.
3. Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the leeks, carrots, daikon, garlic, lemongrass, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel seeds. Stir to coat in the oil, then cover and cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant and the colors of the vegetables are vibrant. Coarsely chop the charred ginger, then add it, the onions, and the mushrooms to the pot and cover with cold water; you’ll need about 4 quarts. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour, at which point the broth should be strongly flavored. Add the cilantro stems and cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, in batches as necessary, gathering up the ends of the cheesecloth so as to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Once completely cooled, pack in containers and store in the refrigerator for up to one day or in the freezer for up to two months.
Text excerpted from Bowl, © 2016 by Lukas Volger. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Since leaving Navy, the jewel box of a seafood restaurant in Soho, chef Camille Becerra has begun laying the groundwork for a cookbook and other projects, and is in residence at Café Henrie in the meantime. Because her Dragon Bowls change with every order—the one pictured here includes chickpeas, roasted vegetables, mizuna, herbs, lentil and fenugreek sprouts, roasted seeds (pumpkin and sunflower), pickled goji berries, and beet tahini sauce—she shares the recipe for the simple yet transformative coconut grains that form the base of the dish. “They are so delicious, even by themselves,” she says.
2 cups medium-grain brown rice
1/4 cup red quinoa
1/4 cup dried coconut
1 14 oz. can of unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup of water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Add all the ingredients in a rice cooker and press play. Alternately, add all the ingredients in a pot, bring to a simmer, put a lid on it, and cook on low for 20 to 30 minutes.
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