Bowls used to evoke visions of Oliver Twist holding one while posing that fateful request: “Please sir, I want some more.” But Dicken’s famous waif has been pushed aside in my mind by another Brit: celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who poses on the cover of her 2015 cookbook with a stack of pristine white bowls in her hands.
“If I could, I’d eat everything out of a bowl,” Lawson writes in “Simply Nigella,” in which she gives what she calls “bowlfood” a chapter of its own. “For me ‘bowlfood’ is a simple shorthand for food that is simultaneously soothing, bolstering, undemanding, and sustaining.”
The word might also be considered shorthand for a new way of eating — as the bowl takes over the dinner plate as the meal vessel of choice in restaurants and at home, it has come to mean a category of food, with all the elements of a meal together.
Robin Asbell offers a template on how to build a bowl in her new book, “Great Bowls of Food” (Countryman Press, $21.95). Start with about 3/4 to 1 cup of the grain or starch (or an alternative like sweet potato “rice” or zucchini “noodles”) as a base, then add your protein, vegetables, dressing broth or sauce, and finally the garnishes.
“The ones that look the most beautiful have the most color and a combination of different colors and textures,” said Lukas Volger of Brooklyn, N.Y., author of “Bowl” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25).
What might be more challenging than building a bowl is finding the right bowl to use. Asbell urges readers to “mindfully” select their bowls.
“Some of the bowl ingredients like to sprawl out in a wide pasta bowl-type dish. A bowl of this kind offers a wider surface to arrange your lovely toppings,” she writes. “Other recipes are for times when you want to feel comforted by the abundance of a deep bowl with its round belly.”
GRITS WITH SPICY COLLARDS, SHRIMP, ROASTED RED PEPPERS AND AIOLI DRIZZLE
Prep time 15 minutes, cooking time 20 minutes.
This recipe is from Robin Asbell’s “Great Bowls of Food.” Polenta may be used instead of grits, she writes.
3 cups water
1 cup grits
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch collard greens, stems removed, sliced
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined
2 jarred medium roasted red peppers, drained, sliced (or homemade)
1. Heat the water to a boil in a 1-quart pot over high heat. Stir in the grits and half the salt; cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat, cover and let stand to thicken, about for 5 minutes (or follow package directions).
2. While the grits cook, stir together the mayonnaise, garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. In a large skillet, heat half the olive oil over medium-high heat; add the collard greens. Stir to wilt, then sprinkle in 1 teaspoon water; cover the pan. Cook until softened, 2 minutes.
4. Scrape the greens into another bowl. Add the remaining olive oil to the same skillet; heat over medium-high heat. Add the red pepper flakes, and shrimp; sprinkle with the remaining salt. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are pink, lightly browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes depending on size.
5. Divide grits among four bowls. Top with the shrimp, place the greens beside the shrimp, garnish with red pepper slices and drizzle with mayonnaise mixture. Serve warm.
Makes 4 servings.