Kitchen Confidence column: Fill up a bowl for your next meal | VailDaily.com

Kitchen Confidence column: Fill up a bowl for your next meal

There is something uniquely appealing about an entire meal in a single bowl — protein, vegetables and carbs all together in one package. Nearly every culture has its own version. In Asia, pho is a very popular example. The Mexican burrito in a bowl is another. Take a trip to the Bayou, and they'll serve you up some gumbo. Each of these can be an exotic treat.

For the home cook, an easier way to gain confidence with preparing a bowlful is to tap into some of the key features and flavors of these cuisines. By preparing simpler versions, you can make some tasty meals, and healthy ones at that, with less fuss. A simple noodle bowl, black bean burrito bowl or red beans and rice are three of my favorites.

Noodle bowl

Let's focus on the noodle bowl. Of course there are the noodles. I like buckwheat noodles for their nutty flavor and lower carb index. They are very easy to use, too, which boosts my confidence. Rice noodles make a great foundation that is gluten free. When all else fails, a package of Ramen noodles works just fine. In fact, they're perfect to make while camping.

Add protein and flavor

For protein, I like to use shrimp, fish or cooked chicken. Thinly sliced beef is another option. On the vegetable front, red bell pepper, green onions and shitake mushrooms are fantastic additions. To be honest, whatever you have in the house will likely be okay. Carrots, celery and cucumber can add some crunch.

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Now for those key flavors. Fresh ginger is my all-time personal favorite for many reasons. For now, let's focus on the characteristic savory flavor it adds. Soy sauce or fish sauce is another key element that will give the dish some saltiness.

Start by cooking the noodles in boiling water, if needed. For buckwheat noodles, 6 to 7 minutes usually does the trick. Rice noodles need less time, 1 to 2 minutes. You can even buy them fresh and add them directly into the cooking pot for your noodle bowl. Likewise with the Ramen noodles: Just dump them into the broth right toward the end of cooking for 1 to 2 minutes.

While the noodles are cooking, slice up the vegetables and cook them in some peanut or vegetable oil. Be sure to include lots of that fresh ginger. Once they are beginning to soften, add some broth — chicken, beef, vegetable or even pho. Once the broth boils, add the protein and cook until heated through. By now, the noodles should be ready. Personally, I like to put the noodles into my serving bowl first and then pour the veggies, protein and broth over the top. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a dash of dark sesame oil, and enjoy.

Endless variations

This is a basic example to help you build confidence. There are endless variations. You could substitute steamed rice for the noodles. You might skip the broth for a dish that is more easily portable. You could use tempeh as the protein for a vegan version or add sesame seeds or cashews. Maybe you want to stir in some seaweed, such as wakame, which is very friendly, or even some kimchi for extra spiciness.

Looking for even simpler bowl varieties? Beans and rice are basic, satisfying and nearly as easy as it gets. For red beans and rice, cook up a can of kidney beans with some chopped yellow onion. Key flavor elements are a splash of Worcestershire sauce, pinch of cinnamon and a bay leaf or two. For extra heat, add some ground red pepper, such as cayenne or paprika. Serve this mixture over freshly steamed white rice.

Mexican cuisine features the ever-popular black beans and rice. Season the beans with some jalapeno, cumin seed and a squirt of lime juice. At serving time, top with diced avocado, sour cream and fresh salsa.

There you have it. Dinner in a bowl. Easy, affordable and interesting. What could be more appealing?

Tom Castrigno, from Frisco, cooks and writes about food. He has several of his books on Amazon and writes a blog called "The Confidence Diet" at http://www.theconfidencediet.com. Send comments to tom@amobilechefco.com.