March 6th, 2012

Roasty Soba Bowl With Miso Tahini

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Serves 4
Time: 30 mins (or 45 minutes if you don’t have lentils prepared)

Miso Bowl

If you’ve been vegetarian for any amount of time, or ever even just casually glanced at the menu of your friendly neighborhood co-op cafe, you’ll surely be familiar with “The Bowl.” That upside down hardhat brimming with healthy and yummy ingredients. But what sets a bowl apart from other types of entrees? Let’s go over some of the unique characteristics that give a bowl its bowlness.

At its most basic, a bowl is made up of a grain, a green, a ‘tein and a sauce. In general, all of the components are prepared very simply, except for the sauce, which is the main flavor component. Of course rules are made to be bent if not broken, but just because you put a bunch of stuff in a bowl, doesn’t make it a bowl proper. Let’s examine each component.

The grain is usually brown rice or quinoa, but it doesn’t even have to be a grain per se, just something wholesome and starchy, that will soak up lots of sauce. I use buckwheat soba noodles in this example. Barley, millet, amaranth, and bulgur are all great choices and I’ve even had whole wheat cous cous find its way into my bowls.

The greens are usually abundant and they don’t have to be green, any veggie will do. They’re often steamed, but roasted with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper is a great choice, too. A simple saute with garlic is about as elaborate as it gets when bowling, though. Common veggie candidates are cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, dark leafies like kale, zucchini… and often, especially at restaurants, you’ll get a nice mix of all of the above. Sometimes they’ll try and skimp by making the veggie mix half carrots, so if I’m ordering out I’ll often say “No carrots!” Nice try, cheapskate bowl makers of the world! I’ve roasted some cauliflower for this bowl because it brings a deep toastiness to the bowl, which is beautifully offset by the tangy sauce and mellow soba noodles and lentils.

The protein, again, is often very simple. If it’s a bean, it’s simmered just until tender and that’s about it. For tofu, a fairly dry run in the skillet is all it needs, a little salt and pepper. At most, it’s marinaded and baked and at the very least it’s steamed. Tempeh is treated fairly similarly. There are times when the protein and the sauce are combined. Maybe it’s a BBQ tempeh or a curried lentil. I think that’s getting into iffy territory, sneaking away from the definition of a bowl. But again, still permissible depending on what the other ingredients are. I’ve used my favorite…plain old brown lentils in this bowl. They’re unfussy, full of nutrition and tasty as all get out. I keep a container of cooked lentils in my fridge at all times, and there are even a few canned or frozen varieties out there. If you need to cook them on the spot, no biggie, they take only 45 minutes or so.

Now the sauce is what it’s all about. Here you can go for the gusto. In a way, the rest of the bowl is really just a vehicle for the sauce, which should be bursting with flavor, overflowing and smothering everything in its path. Still, though, the ingredients should be relatively simple. Instead of using 10 different things to get the flavor you crave, use a little finesse. Go for minimal ingredients that have strong flavors. Here I employed a classic duo: miso and tahini. Miso with its aged, tangy saltiness and the ethereal nuttiness of tahini make a creamy dreamy sauce that’s barely any work and requires no cooking. Bowl heaven!

So that’s what we talk about when we talk about bowls. The possibilities are endless. And so are the puns. Bowl me over.

 Miso Bowl

8 oz buckwheat soba noodles
2 cups cooked brown or green lentils
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into large florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Severeal dashes Fresh black pepper

For the dressing:
1/4 cup mellow white miso
1/4 cup tahini
1 cloves garlic
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water

Optional: fresh herbs for garnish (dill, cilantro and parsley are all good choices.)

Cook the lentils if you don’t already have prepared ones (1 cup dry is about 2 cups cooked.) While the water for the soba is boiling, preheat the oven to 425 F and chop the cauliflower into large florets. It’s easy to do this by chopping it in half lengthwise, pulling of the leafy base and then pulling off the florets with your hands.

When the water boils, prepare soba according to package directions. Once cooked, drain and set aside, rinsing with cold water to prevent sticking.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with non stick cooking spray. Toss the cauliflower on the with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, flipping once, until aromatic nicely toasted.

In the meantime, place all dressing ingredients in a small blender. A Magic Bullet works great here. Start with 1/2 cup water, and then add another 1/4 to thin, if you like.

Assemble the bowl:
Divide soba noodles into big bowls. Top with lentils, cauliflower and plenty of sauce. Garnish with herbs and serve!

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