This past spring, my 12-year-old daughter came home from school with a tupperware container of quinoa mixed with some chopped cucumbers, sliced almonds, and slivered kale leaves. She had been taking a salad-making class as an after-school activity for several weeks, and they had moved beyond greens and into grains. A budding vegetarian, she was thrilled with the salad, and I was thrilled she was eating quinoa (and kale!). Heartened by her reaction, I decided to make a kid-friendly, vegetarian grain bowl for dinner using quinoa and featuring foods that always go over well in our house: broccoli, carrots, and tofu.
To punch it up a notch, and make it more flavorful for adults, I added a sesame-ginger salad dressing (easily left off for your pickier eaters) adapted from one of my favorite salad dressing recipes from Food and Wine magazine. In this version, I use red onions instead of shallots, and add sesame oil and freshly ground pepper. It’s a perfect match for this grain bowl, as the flavor of this creamy dressing is still so light.
The instructions for this grain bowl are going to seem like they will take you a long time—and there are several steps to this recipe. However, you can easily save time on a weeknight by using pre-cooked quinoa (either store-bought, or made in a big batch over the weekend) and/or making the dressing in advance. The dressing will keep in a jar in the refrigerator for at least a week. And you’ll love it on all kinds of other salads as well, so you may even want to double the recipe and have it handy all week.
How to cook quinoa
There are lots of different instructions out there as to how to cook quinoa, but this is my favorite method. First rinse quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer. (This will help take the bitterness out of the quinoa’s outer coating.) Then, pour quinoa into a small saucepan with 1 3/4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. When the water comes to a boil, turn down the heat to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Let it sit for 5 few minutes and then uncover it and fluff with a fork.
How to make this grain bowl
As for the rest of the ingredients, start by cutting broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces and place in a large microwave-safe bowl. (I like to use a giant glass batter bowl like this one.) Peel and thinly slice carrots into coins, and add to the bowl with the broccoli. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in it. Then microwave on high for 90 seconds. Uncover bowl carefully, stir, then microwave for another 90 seconds. Repeat until broccoli and carrots are done to your liking—it could take up to 5 minutes total.
Next, pat tofu dry with a paper towel, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Heat 1 T. grapeseed oil and 1/2 t. sesame oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch nonstick pan. Add tofu and 1/4 t. kosher salt. Cook tofu for about 5 minutes undisturbed, until tofu cubes brown on the bottom, then stir and continue to toss every minute or so until cubes are lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total.
While tofu is cooking, make the dressing. Add ginger, red onion, rice vinegar, mayonnaise, sesame oil, soy sauce, and freshly ground pepper to a blender and blend until smooth. Turn off, scrape down the sides, then turn blender on and drizzle in grapeseed oil.
To assemble your grain bowl, toss the quinoa with 1/4 cup of the sesame-ginger dressing. Then add broccoli, carrots, and tofu, and stir. Drizzle over additional dressing as desired, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
What is a grain bowl?
The term grain bowl is just the name for a bowl with a bed of some kind of grain (rice, barley, quinoa, farro, etc.) topped with a protein, vegetables, some kind of dressing or sauce, and sometimes a garnish. You can use any proteins and veggies that your family loves to eat, and tie it all together with a yummy dressing. And, grain bowls are perfect for leftovers, since you need just a little bit of each component. Should you find yourself without any chicken, beef, pork, or tofu to use as your protein, try a soft-boiled or runny egg. I also love that these are easy meals for picky eaters: keep the sauce on the side, and let them build their own with the components they like.
Are grain bowls healthy?
Yes! Grain bowls are a great way to eat healthy, especially if you choose whole grains as your base. Brown rice, farro, barley, and quinoa all have much higher nutritional value than white rice or pasta, and will keep you feeling full for longer. And, if you go heavy on the vegetables, grain bowls are a great way to reduce your meat consumption. Stick with tofu or an egg for your protein, and you’ll make any vegetarian happy.
Health benefits of quinoa
Quinoa is one of the healthiest grains around, and a complete protein. To explain what that means, here's a quick science lesson. There are 20 different amino acids that form the building blocks of protein. Nine of these amino acids humans can obtain only through their diet. These are called the essential amino acids, and a complete protein contains all nine of them.
Eating complete proteins is important for vegetarians and vegans in particular, because while meats, eggs, fish, and yogurt are complete proteins, nuts and beans are not. So quinoa is a great addition to the vegetarian diet, and in fact, for anyone who is looking to reduce their meat consumption. It’s important to note that you don’t need to eat a complete protein at every meal—you can combine foods that contain different amino acids over the course of the day and still get everything you need for your diet. But it’s nice to have it all in one place!
Quinoa is also gluten-free and high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, potassium, and iron, as well as antioxidants. It’s as easy to cook as rice, so should really make it to more dinner tables than it does right now. Interesting side note: NASA is currently looking at growing quinoa in space because of its high nutritional value and relative ease of cultivating and cooking!
Health benefits of grapeseed oil
This salad dressing recipe uses grapeseed oil. Why? Grapeseed oil is high in Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant, and in Omega-6 fatty acids, which may reduce cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. It also has a high smoke point, which means it is a good oil to use for cooking or stir-frying over high heat. It also has a neutral taste which won’t compete with any of the other flavors in your dish. Finally, grapeseed oil emulsifies easily, making it a good choice for dressings like this sesame-ginger one. Look for grapeseed oil that is cold-pressed or expeller-pressed, because many grapeseed oils are processed with chemical solvents which may be dangerous to humans.
If you're looking for other great grain bowl recipes, check out my Grain Bowl with Steak, Brown Rice, and Peanut Sauce or Parmesan Pearl Barley Grain Bowl. Or, one of my other family-friendly dinners like Easy Chicken Parmesan Meatballs, Israeli Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables, or Shrimp Pasta with Tomatoes, Feta, and Olives.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 10 oz. broccoli florets
- 2 medium carrots
- 14 oz firm or extra-firm tofu
- 1 T. grapeseed oil
- 1/2 t. sesame oil
- 1/4 t. kosher salt
- 1/2 t. toasted sesame seeds
- 1 T. minced fresh ginger
- 1 T. minced red onion
- 2 T. rice vinegar
- 2 T. mayonnaise
- 1/2 T. sesame oil
- 1 T. low-sodium soy sauce (use a gluten-free soy sauce if you want an entirely gluten-free recipe)
- 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
- 1/3 c. grapeseed oil
- To cook quinoa, first rinse in a fine-mesh strainer. (This will help take the bitterness out of the quinoa’s outer coating.)
- Pour quinoa into a small saucepan with 1 3/4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and turn the burner to high.
- When the water comes to a boil, turn down the heat to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Let it sit for 5 few minutes and then fluff with a fork.
- While quinoa is cooking, cut broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces and place in a large microwave-safe bowl.
- Peel and thinly slice carrots into coins, and add to the bowl with the broccoli.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in it. Then microwave on high for 90 seconds. Uncover bowl carefully, stir, then microwave for another 90 seconds. Repeat until broccoli and carrots are done to your liking—it could take up to 5 minutes total.
- Next, pat tofu dry with a paper towel, and then cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
- Heat 1 T. grapeseed oil and 1/2 t. sesame oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch nonstick pan.
- Add tofu and 1/4 t. salt. Cook tofu for about 5 minutes undisturbed, until tofu cubes brown on the bottom, then stir and continue to toss every minute or so until cubes are lightly browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total.
- While tofu is cooking, make the dressing. Add all dressing ingredients except for the grapeseed oil to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Turn off, scrape down the sides, then turn blender on and drizzle in grapeseed oil.
- To assemble your grain bowl, toss the quinoa with 1/4 cup of the sesame-ginger dressing.
- Add broccoli, carrots, and tofu and stir.
- Drizzle over additional dressing as desired, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Don’t let quinoa sit covered more than 5 minutes, or it can get mushy on you.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 435Total Fat: 35gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 29gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 367mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 6gSugar: 3gProtein: 14g
Nutrition information is provided as a general reference for users courtesy of the online nutrition calculator Nutritionix.