Food & Drink

Dinner bowls go meatless

A farro-based recipe gets support from roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli rabe and cheese. The Italian sausage is optional.
A farro-based recipe gets support from roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli rabe and cheese. The Italian sausage is optional. Chicago Tribune

I have two overflowing shelves devoted to whole grains, rices, lentils and dry beans. These relatively inexpensive building blocks generate dozens of highly nutritious opportunities full of lean protein and fiber. What’s more, they can serve as a meatless meal, especially during Lent.

I love that barley and steel-cut oats fill the house with comforting aromas. In less than 20 minutes, I can cook organic freekeh (cracked roasted green wheat) or imported roasted buckwheat groats into pots of nutty flavor ready for a sprinkle of herbs and a dash of oil. Quinoa and bulgur prove even faster.

New to my pantry: farro, an ancient grain of the wheat family that’s currently in vogue at many restaurants for its toothsome texture and versatile nutty flavor. I like Italian pearled farro (the outer husk has been removed) because it cooks to plump kernels in about 15 minutes.

Take a cue from all those quick-service restaurants and turn your grains and beans into main-course “bowls.” I love to eat this way – a luscious, warm mound of goodness with tidbits of flavor, texture and deliciousness added. These can be adapted for Lent or other vegetarian meals, since the meat is not essential to their success.


Interesting dinner bowls are easy to make if you have a few things prepped in advance. Here are some goodies to keep in small containers in the fridge, then combine to heat in a skillet or in the microwave:

▪  Cooked rices or grains

▪  Cooked beans (or high-quality canned)

▪  Roasted vegetables, such as squash, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower

▪  Green or red onions

▪  Fully cooked sausages

▪  Shelled nuts or seeds

▪  Crumbled cheese

▪  Fresh herbs

▪  Eggs: chopped hard-cooked, softly scrambled or fried

Warm black bean and rice bowl

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves 6

Black rice, like the Heirloom Forbidden Rice by Lotus Foods, makes this dish look super dramatic. Easiest rice ever? Cook 2 cups rice with 3 cups water in a rice cooker. Turn cooked rice out onto a baking sheet to cool so you can pack it in small containers.


2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Olive oil


2 medium poblano peppers

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes or 1 can (14.5 ounces) small diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 cups drained, cooked black beans or 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed, drained

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (such as black rice or long grain brown rice)

1 cup corn kernels, thawed

1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded, cut into small dice

4 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced

2 cups shredded cooked chicken, optional

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh cilantro

Crumbled queso fresco, mild goat cheese or farmer’s cheese


Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sliced zucchini on a baking sheet. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons oil; toss to coat it with the oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake, stirring once or twice, until tender and slightly golden, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Meanwhile, set poblanos directly over a gas flame or under the broiler. Cook, turning occasionally, until peppers are lightly charred on all sides, 2 to 5 minutes. Set on a plate and cover with a towel; let rest until cool enough to handle. Rub off the charred skin, remove the seeds and pith. Cut peppers into 1/2-inch pieces.

Mix poblanos and tomatoes in bottom of a large microwave-safe bowl. Stir in chili powder and 1 teaspoon salt; mix well. Stir in beans, rice, corn, bell pepper and green onions. Mix well. Microwave on high, stirring once or twice, until everything is warmed through, 2 to 4 minutes. Gently stir in zucchini and chicken. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

Spoon into warm serving bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro and cheese. Serve warm.

Per serving: 297 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 41 g carbohydrates, 24 g protein, 789 mg sodium, 10 g fiber

Farro bowl

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 6

Diced butternut can stand in for the sweet potatoes. Leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave. I like to serve them warm over lightly dressed salad greens. Sausage is optional.


2 medium (1 pound) sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

3tablespoons olive oil, divided


12 ounces mild or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed, optional

1 medium onion or 4 shallots, halved, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed

2 cups pearled farro (about 12 ounces)

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

11 ounces broccoli rabe (rapini), ends trimmed, roughly chopped, about 6 cups

2 to 4 cups baby arugula

Crushed red pepper

1 to 2 cups shredded cheese, such as smoked Gouda, provolone or sharp cheddar


Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sweet potatoes and 2 tablespoons oil on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast, stirring often, until tender and golden, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Crumble sausage, if using, into skillet. Add onion; cook over medium heat about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook for 1 minute.

Put farro and broth into a large saucepan. Heat to a simmer; reduce heat to very low. Simmer uncovered and stir often until nearly tender, about 15 minutes. Add broccoli rabe; simmer until it is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Strain farro mixture into a colander set over a bowl to catch the broth.

(Recipe can be made to this point up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate all the parts separately.)

Add drained farro mixture to skillet with sausage set over medium heat. Stir in about 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking broth and heat through; remove from heat. Stir in warm sweet potatoes, arugula and crushed pepper flakes. Taste and adjust salt as needed. Transfer to warm serving bowls. Serve, sprinkled with cheese.

Per serving: 511 calories, 20 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 62 g carbohydrates, 23 g protein, 647 mg sodium, 8 g fiber

Spiced lentil and quinoa stew

Serves 8-10

This one-pot dish can be served on its own or over brown rice. From Elaine Gordon, a master of public health professional.

Make ahead: The stew tastes even better after a day’s refrigeration.


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes (2 cups)

2 medium onion, cut into small dice (2 cups)

2 cups uncooked red lentils, rinsed

1 cup baby-cut carrots, cut into thick rounds (1/3 inch)

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed

1 large (2 ounces) shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

6 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth, or more as needed

1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

Flesh of 2 avocados, cut into small dice, for garnish


Heat the oil in a large, wide pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the sweet potato, onions, lentils, carrots, quinoa, shallot and garlic, stirring to coat.

Cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and all the pepper.

Stir in the broth; increase the heat to medium-high. Once the liquid comes to a boil, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Uncover and stir in the curry powder, cumin, turmeric, ginger and allspice until well incorporated.

Reduce the heat to low; cover and cook for 35 minutes. Taste, and add some or all the remaining salt, as needed. Serve warm, topped with the avocado, if desired.