A Make-Ahead Rice Bowl With 2 Little Secrets for Big Flavor

Kiss your sad desk lunch goodbye.

April 24, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

There's so much more to pesto than just pasta. We're partnering with Filippo Berio to share one of our new favorite ways to cook with it: a pesto brown rice bowl.

Everyday, right around noon, I am hit with a wave of indecision. What am I going to eat?

This uncertainty is temporary and only lunch-related. Breakfast, on the other hand, is a steady routine: either scrambled eggs with avocado toast or savory oatmeal. At dinnertime, I consider what I’m in the mood for—be it something comforting and rich or something fresh and crunchy—and plan accordingly without thinking twice; one night it might be pasta, salmon the next, and maybe steak to cap off the week.

But lunchtime is always a question mark. For some unknown reason, I can never decide what I want, whether I’m making it at home or getting it out somewhere. Maybe it’s the array of choices that overwhelms me: hot soup or cold salad? A sandwich? Which sandwich? Leftover lasagna? Mushroom ramen? A turkey club with crisp bacon? My mind goes in a million different directions.

In a perfect world, my lunch is nourishing and filling but doesn’t weigh me down. I admire those who can down a chicken Parm with French fries and go about their day with vim and vigor—a too-heavy midday meal leaves me wanting a nap. If I err too far on the other side, though, I end up hungry at around 3 p.m. and irritably ravenous by dinner.

My solution to this food conundrum: the grain bowl.

Photo by Ty Mecham

A grain bowl contains everything I want in one dish. It can be hot or cold—or hot and cold. It can be comforting (rice) and fresh (vegetables) all at once. It’s totally customizable, making good use of leftovers, but not at all boring when done right.

My favorite brown rice bowl has a little bit of a lot of things. That way, I don’t leave the table thinking, "I wish I’d had something creamy" or "I was craving something crunchy." This recipe hits all of those points: contrasting textures, balanced flavors, and all the nourishment you could want from a meal. Even better, you can make each component ahead of time; this recipe works equally well for planners and spontaneous cooks alike.

Remember what I said about not being boring? That’s important. So many grain bowls are sad affairs of bland cooked grains under piles of plain, limp vegetables. To avoid this, I start by flavoring the nutty brown rice base with an ingredient that's usually reserved for pasta, but works perfectly here: pesto. It adds a depth of flavor to the rice, but doesn’t overwhelm the toppings. My other secret ingredient: quick-pickled watermelon radishes (they're ready in just 20 minutes and will last in the fridge for up to two weeks) for some crunch and a bright pop of acid—not to mention beautiful color.

A few drizzles of an addictively creamy sauce (that just so happens to be vegan!), plus some greens and avocado round out the whole bowl. There’s also the option to add a soft-boiled egg if you want a larger meal, but you can leave it off for a lighter dish.

At first glance, the recipe might look overwhelming, but the toppings are all simple components that you can easily prep with pantry staples while the rice cooks. Feel free to swap in other toppings as you like: roasted tomatoes, chopped olives, sautéed kale, toasted nuts, and crushed rice crackers are all excellent complements.

Then, do as I do, and make this your everyday lunch. In the mood for something spicy? Add some chili flakes or hot sauce. Want cheese? Throw on some grilled halloumi. Seriously hungry? Top it with shredded chicken. With this recipe in your pocket, free yourself from afternoon indecision, and make lunch the best part of your day.

What's your favorite desk lunch? Tell us in the comments below!

In partnership with Filippo Berio, we're making sure you never have to eat a sad desk lunch ever again. This wholesome brown rice bowl makes a tasty—and easy to to make ahead!—afternoon bite thanks to Filippo Berio's flavorful pesto, plus crunchy quick-pickled radishes, fresh greens, a creamy, vegan dressing, and a soft-boiled egg. Boring lunch who?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.

1 Comment

Dana E. April 24, 2019
Now I know what my next new lunch recipe is! I've never been a big fan of rice - I never get the texture right and it's always too bland. I love the pesto idea for flavor - time to give rice cooking another try :)