June 17, 2013

Rice Bowls

Quite some time ago now, I read a beautiful, inspiring book called An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, by a young woman named Tamar Adler. I had to buy it with a title like that, plus I was wooed by seeing that the foreword was written by Alice Waters. 

She gives lots of seemingly separate, little ideas for being wiser in the kitchen, but that actually stand as big ideas because you put them into practice and they become habits that you don't know how you lived without before-- like saving the rinds of Parmesan cheese to throw into a pot of soup, or the idea that an egg can turn anything into a meal. 

The book has pretty ambiguous chapter titles that, until you read them, don't really tell you what the section is about, like "How to Live Well" (know how to cook dried beans and create many satisfying, humble meals from them), "How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat" (an essential skill for cooking is to sharpen one's strategies for turning inevitable failures into successes), and "How to Catch your Tail" (save the tail ends of dishes, the peels and scrapings and leftover sauces, see them in new ways, and use them to elevate your cooking).
She embeds recipes, strategies, and tiny tips within the larger philosophy of eating gracefully and economically. She paints a picture of being comfortable, smart, and unpretentious in her cooking. She doesn't waste but instead uses everything to the fullest, with one lovely, satisfying meal leading naturally and forever into the next and the next and the next. I found it all so simple and so down-to-earth and also empowering.

Adler says that a good amount of rice turns any amount of anything else into a meal-- and that a lot of people in the world live on rice at the center of their diets. "Rice bowls" is one of her good ideas that is not a recipe but a simple strategy I am so glad to have in my back pocket. She suggests topping a hearty portion of rice with the dribs and drabs of other ingredients you have around to make a meal. We find this completely satisfying and filling, requiring only the time it takes to cook a fresh pot of rice and causing no added stress on the busiest/least inspired of weekday evenings, which is exactly when we eat it. 

Rice Bowls
from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
  • A pot of cooked rice
  • Little bowls of various ingredients that you have. She suggests: 
    • Something warm: like a fried egg on top of each bowl (we think this is a must) and/or stir-fried or roasted vegetables or other vegetable leftovers, chopped, rewarmed with a bit of broth, water, or drizzle of oil 
    • Something cool and raw: sliced radishes, chopped cucumber, avocado, tomato, fresh herbs, celery
    • Something vibrant and intense-flavored: pickled chiles, chutney, salsa
    • Also if you have it: leftover beef, chicken, or pork, chopped and rewarmed in a pan 
    • She does not suggest but we routinely add: crumbled or grated cheese over the top of everything (cheddar, Parmesan, or blue cheese...) 
  • Salt and/or pepper to taste
Fill wide pasta bowls with a hearty helping of hot rice. Put various ingredients you enjoy atop your own bowl, and enjoy the great combinations and layers of flavor, while feeling satiated in your belly and virtuous because you've used up that half a can of chopped jalapenos or little bit of fresh cilantro that would have made it to the compost bin if not for this dinner.

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