Choose Your Own Bowl

We were about halfway through the Mojave dessert last week, praying the rental car wouldn’t break down, when I turned around to ask the girls — who were sitting on the same sides of the backseat they’ve sat on since they were toddlers in boosters — a very pressing question.

It was Day Six of our California road trip (read more about it here), and though I am most certainly not complaining, we had been eating like vacationers for every one of those six days, which is to say, not the most mindfully. For instance, the night before, on New Year’s Eve, we had purchased a bottle of $11 rosé at Target, picked up some In-n-Out burgers, fries, and shakes, and set a fancy table in our hotel room. (Fancy meaning the centerpiece was crafted from grapefruits we picked off a tree on the hotel grounds.) We were in bed by 9:30, which, as Phoebe pointed out, was technically after midnight in New York, so we were good, and it was perfect.

But the next day was a new year, a new decade, and I’m just as susceptible to the January 1 self-improvement blitz as the next girl, so it wasn’t long before my mind was filled with visions of green things, specifically green things in bowls with other green things and topped with more green things and maybe a drizzle of something green.

Since the whole plant-based dinner undertaking, I’ve been essentially assaulting my family with bowl dinners — experimenting with bases like black rice and lentils, topping them with halloumi and tofu, and every kind of pickled thing — and I got the distinct feeling that my kids were tolerating these dinners as opposed to enjoying them. So, naturally, in the middle of the largest desert in America, I asked them: If you could design your own bowl, what would be in it?

They removed their headphones and indulged me. I took notes on my phone while they dictated some combos they craved:

They kept revising and tweaking and adding as the afternoon unfolded. And it made me wonder why I hadn’t ever asked them this kind of thing before. It felt like the equivalent of letting your 5-year-old cook with you — you know…that whole theory about how they’re more likely to enjoy dinner when they’re involved in work to make it happen? On our first night home — mail confronted, laundry folded, fridge full — I glanced at my cheat sheet and put together meal number 4 (Phoebe’s concoction) which seemed the most promising given its simplicity and also what I imagined would be a nice contrast between the crispy-roasty broccoli and the creamy-fresh avocado. I topped mine with chopped peanuts for a protein hit and forgot the scallions and used farro instead of brown rice, but otherwise, it was exactly the same.

Farro Bowls with Broccoli and Avocado
Here’s how I executed Phoebe’s vision, but the main point of this post is to recommend asking your kid what they would want to see in a veggie bowl if they had to create one. (Bonus: one less thing for you to think about.) Also: FWIW I find myself relying on Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro bags more and more these days — each bag yields 4 cups cooked. But if you’re going to make it the old-fashioned way, you’ll want to start with about 1 1/2 cooked farro and follow cooking instructions on package.

1 1/2 cups uncooked farro (enough to make 4 cups cooked; or Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro bag)
2-3 bunches broccoli, trimmed and cut into florets
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/3 cup grapeseed oil or light olive oil
squeeze sriracha or dash of hot sauce
2 avocados, sliced or chunked
suggested toppings: chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, cilantro, furikake

Cook farro according to package directions and divide evenly into four bowls when finished.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss broccoli, olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl until every floret is glistening. Don’t clean bowl. Dump onto foil-lined baking sheet and roast until crispy, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, oil and hot sauce.

When broccoli has finished roasting, remove from oven and place back in the bowl. Drizzle dressing over broccoli, tossing as you go until it’s dressed button drenched. Add broccoli to each farro bowl along with avocado and desired toppings.

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Filed under: Dinner, Vegetarian

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Lynn in Tucson

My kid is vegetarian so we are primarily plant-based when cooking at home. Bowls of some sort are in steady rotation but I am thrilled to have some new ideas!


Hi Jenny!
I’ve never written but just the weekend mentioned to my three kiddos that I’ve been missing your posts. So glad to see you’re “back” and I have a new reason to go to Trader Joe’s again tomorrow. 🙂 I enjoy your writing and recipes so very much! Best wishes for 2020!


I love this post and we have been trying some of your combos. Keep it coming! I could use the inspiration.


Yay, you’re back! These all sound delicious, I’ll be trying them starting this week. Thsnks!

Liza in Ann Arbor

Agree with Julie! And now that I’m in a new relationship with a vegetarian, I can’t wait for your new book to come out. This post is indeed timely.


These all looked so good, I took a screenshot of their ideas when you posted on stories! Will definitely be making this one. I kind of want to make it as you wrote it with fried tofu and another time with the avocado with quick pickled red onion and a lime or citrus vinaigrette. Endless opportunities for riffing. Thank you!


I loved the centerpiece made of grapefruit picked from the hotel grounds. I picked lemons from the hotel grounds when we were in Arizona – the perfect souvenir in my mind!
Thanks for the dinner ideas.


Yay!! So glad you’re back. Cup of Jo just isn’t the same as DALS. I love these posts with a story and a delicious recipe. Like you, we’re mostly vegetarian and I appreciate getting new ideas to mix up the routine. Thank you! Looking forward to your trip report!


We do rice bowls and quinoa ALOT – I would like try other grains that can be thrown into the steamer! So easy and there is always one teen that eats just rice and maybe one or two veggies separate! I’m definitely trying this one. Thanks!


Amazing timing! We are trying to have more veg meals, as well as wasting less. Not to mention, I don’t want to be cooking every night…
I see pickled onions are in every bowl, how do you make yours?


Brussels sprouts are great in a bowl, chopped red cabbage, a mix of grains, beets, chopped hardboiled egg. Mix-ins are limitless. We did this last year for a movie luncheon at home with friends. Each person brought something to contribute and we had a buffet to assemble our own bowls. It was so easy to each make one ingredient and we were all happy with our healthy lunch!