Suddenly, it’s fall in North Carolina. We went from humid August days to cool September evenings in the blink of an eye.
It catches me off-gaurd every year. I’m never quite ready to say goodbye to summer, to the cut-off shorts and late sunsets and smells of grilling that waft over the backyard fence.
Of course, fall is also about saying hello to warm blankets, leggings, and cozy, comforting foods. But, before I dive deep into chicken pot pies and crockpots full of beef stew, I’d like to hang onto the fresh, healthy vibes of summer food for just a bit longer.
Enter the grain bowl. If you’ve never heard of it, a grain bowl starts with a layer of quinoa or other hearty grain and then is topped with pretty much everything and anything flavorful and good, like chicken, roasted veggies, greens, nuts, and cheese.
This food trend has become so popular that there are even fast-casual restaurants that serve grain bowls popping up here in Greensboro. And it makes sense – grain bowls are a perfect “canvas food,” meaning that they’re easy to adapt to different tastes.
They’re also a great go-to meal for weeknights when you have a lot of random things in your fridge but no idea what to make, especially if you have a lot of produce lying around. I find myself making grown bowls about once a week– the night before we’re about to get our next farm-fresh CSA box and I need to make some room in our produce drawers!
Somehow, layering disparate ingredients on top of a pile of quinoa and throwing some cheese on top works, no matter what strange, cobbled-together list of foods you end up using.
If you’re looking for a way to ease into fall, give my fall grain bowl with butternut squash a try, or put your own spin on it.
Grain Bowl Tips and Tricks
There’s a lot of room for experimentation when it comes to grain bowls. You can try any and all of your favorite flavor combinations, or base your bowls around what’s seasonally available.
I love to make Mediterranean grain bowls, overflowing with olives, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce. Or, you could try a BBQ chicken grain bowl with cheddar cheese. Pretty much any flavor profile can be adapted to a grain bowl, so get cooking!
- The Grain Base. I typically make grain bowls with tri-color quinoa, but you can use any kind of tasty grain, like bulgur wheat or even brown rice. Couscous, while not technically a grain, can also make a tasty grain bowl base.
- Chicken is My Go-To. This is a great recipe for those “what do I do with these chicken breasts in my freezer?” moments. You can, of course, use pork or beef (or bacon!) in a grain bowl, but chicken is a versatile and delicious addition to just about any grain bowl.
- Go Vegetarian. Grain bowls are a great place to go gung-ho with the veggies, but you’ll still need some protein to stay full. Add some beans or lentils if you plan to go meat-free, or used a plant-based meat alternative.
- The Toppings. You can really go wild here. Layer roasted veggies like broccoli, carrots, and squash with raw or pickled veggies for depth of flavor and a little tang.
- The Extras. Don’t forget to add something for a little crunch! French-fried onions, nuts, and seeds all add some extra texture. You can also never go wrong with adding some kind of cheese.
Fall Grain Bowl with Roasted Squash and Pine Nuts
This grain bowl is the perfect combination of comforting and healthy, and the butternut squash tastes like the essence of fall.
Makes 4 grain bowls.
1 c. Quinoa
2 c. Chicken stock
2 c. Butternut or acorn squash, cut into ½-in cubes
3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
2 Sprigs Rosemary, leaves removed
Freshly-cracked pepper, to taste
¼ tsp. Salt
⅛ tsp. Nutmeg
4 chicken breasts
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. Honey
2 Tbs. Lemon juice
Four handfuls of Fresh Arugula, for serving
Green onion, sliced thinly, for serving
Goat cheese, for serving
Dried cranberries, for serving
Toasted pine nuts, for serving
- Preheat your
- Make the quinoa, using the chicken stock instead of water. I like to use this recipe for perfect, fluffy quinoa.
- Mix the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and honey together, and cover the chicken breasts in the mixture. Let sit while you prepare the squash.
- Toss the butternut squash in 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, rosemary, pepper, salt, and nutmeg. Spread onto a cookie sheet and roast in the
ovenfor 30-35 minutes, until soft in the middle with crisp edges.
- While the squash roasts in the
oven, heat the remaining olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook the chicken breasts in the pan for about ten minutes on each side, and then add a splash of chicken stock, lower the heat, and cover. Cook on low for an additional 5-10 minutes, until breasts are cooked through. Remove from heat and chop into cubes or thin strips.
- Assemble the bowls. Start with a base layer of the quinoa. Next, add the roasted squash, the cubed chicken, and a handful of arugula. Top with the goat cheese, green onions, cranberries, and toasted pine nuts, and enjoy!