Every New Year, lots of us resolve to lose weight. And every year, lots of us fail. The problem? We go from eating too much food, much of it unhealthy, to eating very little of anything. But after starving ourselves for a while, many of us return to our old habits and regain the weight.
This recipe for a Korean Grain Bowl is built on healthy, filling ingredients – whole grains and vegetable protein – and some good fat. It's a middle ground between empty calories and self-starvation. In Korea, this traditional rice dish is called bibimbap. Usually it consists of white rice topped with meat, vegetables, a raw or cooked egg, a soy-based sauce and some chili paste – all of it tossed together right before eating. My version swaps in a few healthier ingredients and increases the amount of veggies.
Instead of white rice, use your favorite whole grain, such as brown rice, wheat berries or quinoa. Instead of meat, use tofu, a protein-rich bean curd that can be prepared to feature a satisfyingly “meaty” texture. Start with firm tofu, cut it into planks 1/3-inch thick, and weigh it down between paper towels for 20 minutes to remove excess moisture.
Miso sesame sauce, an all-purpose sauce for many items like sauteed fish and raw vegetables, makes this dish even more substantial. I encourage you to prepare your own, but if you don't have time, just drizzle your bowl with low-sodium soy sauce.
The vegetables specified here – carrots, shiitakes and spinach – could be replaced with vegetables of your choice. Just be sure to pick from different-colored vegetable groups, which will deliver both nutritional and visual benefits.
But whatever else you might swap out or lose, don't abandon the lightly fried egg. Breaking the yolk and tossing it with the other ingredients adds a creamy coating to the grains. It's the perfect finishing touch.
Korean Grain Bowl
For the miso sesame sauce:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons white or red miso
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
11/2 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
1 teaspoon sugar
For the grain bowl:
1 cup brown rice, wheat berries or whole grain of your choice (you'll need 3 cups cooked)
8 ounces firm tofu
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into 1-inch pieces
5 ounces baby spinach
4 large eggs
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Korean chili sauce (Gochujang), Sriracha or the hot sauce of your choice
Kimchi for garnish (optional)
Make the sauce: In a blender combine all of the ingredients with 1 tablespoon water and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Prepare the grain bowl: Cook the rice, wheat berries or whole grain of your choice such as quinoa following the package directions (you should have about 3 cups); keep warm. Slice the tofu into planks 1/3-inch thick. Place the planks between paper towels on a plate, top the plate with another plate and a weight, such as several cans of tomatoes, and set aside for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large nonstick skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, season them with salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring, until they are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet.
Add another 11/2 tablespoons oil to the skillet. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, just until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach and another pinch of salt to the mushrooms and cook, stirring, just until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the baking sheet with the carrots.
Cut the tofu planks in half and pat the pieces dry. Heat another 1/2 tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat; add the tofu. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes a side. Transfer the tofu to the baking sheet and put the baking sheet of ingredients in the oven to keep warm while you fry the eggs.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium heat, add the eggs and fry until cooked to the desired degree of doneness.
To serve, mound 3/4 cup of hot grain into the center of each of 4 shallow bowls. Arrange one-fourth of the tofu on top along with one egg and one-fourth of the carrots and the spinach mixture. Sprinkle the scallions and sesame seeds over the top and drizzle with the miso sesame sauce and hot sauce. Serve with the kimchi on the side. Makes 4 servings.