Meal Formula #1: The Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl

I used to make a big batch of one recipe and try to eat it throughout the week. But inevitably by night 2 or 3, I'd be bored with that pot of chili, or crockpot chicken with salsa and wanting to pick up something new.

I've also tried following new recipes each night in order to keep things interesting. But that's not sustainable either because following a recipe requires one, time to plan to make sure I have all the ingredients and two, the ability to focus while following a recipe (hello, toddler on my leg). Two things I can't guarantee on a weekly or daily basis.

What works best for me most of the time, is following meal formulas instead of recipes. In other words, basic templates that work with a variety of different ingredients. Once I understand the formula, cooking becomes second nature and I don't have to focus or scroll through a recipe on my phone. And since these formulas work with everything on my capsule kitchen list, I always have the right ingredients on hand. 

One of my favorite meal formulas is the Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl. It's easy but it tastes complex. It's customizable so you'll never get bored and you can modify it easily for picky eaters and dietary preferences.

Here are a few examples of this simple and outrageously delicious formula on my dinner table. All the meals below follow the Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl formula yet are so different from one another.

Shrimp and Bok Choy with Brown Rice

Shrimp and Bok Choy with Brown Rice

Beef and Broccoli with Rice Noodles

Beef and Broccoli with Rice Noodles

Grilled Flank Steak with Red Potatoes, Mushrooms, and Bok Choy

Grilled Flank Steak with Red Potatoes, Mushrooms, and Bok Choy

Salmon with Asparagus, Carrots, and Brown Rice

Salmon with Asparagus, Carrots, and Brown Rice

Amazing, right?

You memorize one formula and suddenly you can make an infinite number of meals without following a recipe. And since your kitchen's already stocked, you just use whatever you have and improv from there.

Here's a step-by-step guide to making your first Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl. You know yourself and your family best so don't be afraid to get creative.

The Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl  = 

Oil + Flavor Trio + Veggies + Protein + Grains + Soy Sauce + Lemon or Lime


(Serves 4)

  • 2 cups cooked grains, potatoes, zucchini noodles, or cauliflower rice (optional)
  • 1 lb protein, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cups vegetables, chopped or sliced into roughly bite-sized pieces
  • 1 TBSP each of chopped ginger, garlic and scallions
  • 2 TBSP cooking oil (sesame, grapeseed, or peanut oil work well)
  • Soy sauce (about 2 TBSP to taste - use gluten-free Tamari Soy Sauce if needed)
  • Lemon or lime (about 1/2 of one)
  • Extra toppings (optional) - sesame seeds, sriracha, red pepper flakes, cilantro, scallions, peanuts, cashews
  • Salt

Step 1: Start cooking your grain.

Choose your grain and cook four servings (or enough for your group) according to the package directions, season with salt and then set aside. For your friend who doesn't eat grains, try spiralized zucchini, cauliflower rice, or just skip this step.

Some of my favorites include:

  • White or brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Rice noodles
  • Lo mein, fettucine, or spaghetti noodles
  • Sprialized zucchini (aka zoodles)
  • Cauliflower rice

Step 2: Prep your protein.

Slice 1 lb of your chosen protein into thin strips or bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with salt. You can ask the butcher at the grocery store to do this for you behind the meat or fish counter and skip this step and the mess.

Set your protein aside and clean your cutting board if needed.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Boneless chicken breast or thigh
  • Shrimp
  • Ground beef
  • Flank steak
  • Boneless pork chop
  • Fish (salmon, cod, halibut)

Or 4 servings of:

  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Shelled edamame
  • Peanuts or cashews

Step 3: Prep your vegetables.

Choose 1 - 3 types of vegetables and slice or chop into bite-sized pieces. Vegetables shrink while cooking (especially greens!) so if you like lots of veggies, don’t be shy about adding more.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Bok Choy
  • Kale
  • Spinach

Winning combos include:

  • Cabbage and carrots
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Carrots and celery
  • Kale, spinach or bok choy on their own or paired with mushrooms

Step 4: Prep your flavor trio:

  • 1 TBSP chopped garlic
  • 1 TBSP chopped ginger
  • 1 TBSP chopped scallions

Step 5: Choose your oil (2 TBSP, separated):

  • Sesame oil (adds a slight nutty flavor)
  • Grapeseed oil (neutral tasting)
  • Coconut oil (lightly sweet)

Step 6: Start cooking

Finish cooking grains according to the package directions and set aside.

Heat 1 TBSP of cooking oil in a large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add your protein and stir frequently until fully cooked. For most proteins this means there's no pink left on the inside. Set aside. Wipe down the pan with a paper towel and throw it away (don’t dump oil down your sink as it can create plumbing problems).

Heat 1 TBSP of cooking oil in the same pan or wok over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, and scallions. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently to avoid burning the garlic. Add the vegetables and season with salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender but still brightly colored. If you're using greens like kale or spinach, add them towards the end as they cook quickly. 

Add the cooked protein back into the pan and mix with the vegetables.

Add 2 TBSP soy sauce to taste and heat for 1 minute.

Add the juice from 1/2 a lemon or lime. Serve over your grain of choice and top with a few extras like sesame seeds, sriracha sauce, red pepper flakes, chopped cilantro, nuts, or extra chopped scallions. 

Customization tips for picky eaters:

  • For those who like things plain - set aside cooked protein and vegetables before you add the soy sauce
  • For non-grain eaters - try zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, potatoes, or just skip the grains
  • For non-meat eaters - use tofu, edamame, peanuts, cashews, tofu, or eggs
  • For big appetites - double up on the protein or add extra nuts to the top at the end

Now that you know my secret, you'll be able to spot this formula on Instagram and Facebook. It turns out many of my meals are basically the same! 

Enjoy your new freedom from recipes and tag your pictures with #realfoodhouse #improvcooking so I can see your beautiful creations. 

Next up, another meal formula to add to your collection...

Happy Cooking,