9 Rice Bowl Recipes to Save You From Your Sad Desk Lunch

Repeat after me: fuss-free, make-ahead, ultra-satisfying.

May 27, 2019

When I was in college, at UCLA, Fridays were an extra-special day. Not because we broke for classes for the weekend; not because there was a football game (and tailgating) to look forward to the next day; not even because we would, in a few short hours, play Super Smash Bros. and then amble down to Westwood for late-night cheese wowshis from our beloved Bella Pita. Fridays were great because of the dining hall's weekly dinner specialty: the sushi bowl.

Sushi bowls represented resourcefulness at its finest, an artful assembling of leftovers greater than the sum of its parts (Thursdays were sushi night, as you might have guessed). Think: sticky rice doused with seasoned rice vinegar, salt, and a little sugar; steamed edamame; shredded carrot and cucumber; ribbons of pickled daikon; slivers of crunchy nori and a dusting of toasted sesame seeds; and—if you got there early—sliced avocado. It was all covered in spicy mayo and served with a sweet soy dipping sauce.

And though I'm not one to willingly eat rice (give me something bready or noodly any day), I've dreamt about that sushi bowl since the moment I graduated those hallowed halls. No matter how hard I try, I haven't been able to recreate the dish, with its impossibly delicious combo of crunchy, chewy, spicy, pickle-y, and fresh elements.

But I recently came very close, with a dish from Hetty McKinnon's beautiful new cookbook, Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day. The aptly named "Sushi Salad" (coined by McKinnon's kids, who are clearly on the same wavelength as me) has many of the same flavors and textures I love most about UCLA's dining-hall delicacy: the edamame, the toasty nori, the roasted sesame seeds, even the cucumbers and avocados, all on a bed of fluffy rice, with a super-creamy and funky miso dressing to top things off. Best part is, once the rice is cooked (and this can be done in advance, deeming this the ideal make-ahead meal), the whole dish takes about 10 minutes to put together. It's almost like I'm back at Rieber Hall.

And until I can make it back there, Sushi Salad is going to (happily!) take sushi bowl's place in my regular recipe lineup. Scroll down for Hetty McKinnon's brilliant recipe, along with 8 other tasty rice bowls you'll want to whip up each Friday—and every other day of the week.

Best Rice Bowl Recipes

1. Sushi Salad

Need I say more? Hearty brown rice, crunchy bits, and a basically drinkable dressing make this pretty much the perfect meal. As always, feel free to put an egg on it (you know I have).

2. Pesto Brown Rice Bowl with Quick-Pickled Radishes

Pesto takes brown rice to a whole new level to make up the base of this dish. Quick-pickled radishes amp things up even more. And a creamy white bean sauce that goes great on everything (plus, it's vegan!) makes this one soar.

3. Bibimbap (Mixed Rice with Vegetables & Beef)

The beauty of bibimbap is that it's the ultimate fridge-clean-out meal. In this recipe, marinated beef and an army of mixed vegetables are beautifully arranged atop rice (and drenched in a deliciously spicy chile sauce), but who's to say you couldn't try chicken? Or pork? Or tofu? Or all three?!

4. Black Sesame-Crusted Tofu Bowl with Quick-Pickled Veggies & Cilantro Tahini

Cilantro-tahini dressing (my new best friend!), crispy-custardy black sesame–covered tofu, and fragrant basmati rice—the mix of flavors and textures in this rice bowl is out of this world. "The perfect meal to make for a dinner party or a casual friend gathering," says recipe author Lily Diamond.

5. Warm Kimchi Bowl with Spicy Broccoli & Sesame-Scallion Wild Rice

This bowl is simple cooking at its finest. Roasted broccoli and lightly warmed kimchi take center stage, playing off each others' unique flavor and funk to great effect. Think of all that tangy, mirin-spiked dressing caught in the broccoli florets...

6. BBQ Chicken Burrito Bowls with Chipotle Mayonnaise Dressing

Reminiscent of another classic in my UCLA repertoire—Chipotle Mexican Grill's ever-popular burrito bowl (psst: be sure to ask for the tortilla on the side!)—this one's jam-packed with big flavors and covered in a creamy, tangy, spicy dressing. Though this recipe's a quickie as-is, you can save even more time by buying a rotisserie chicken at the store and seasoning from there.

7. Forbidden Rice Salad With Thai Coconut-Lime Dressing

Chewy, nutty, and savory, forbidden rice is the perfect counterpoint to the crisp, colorful vegetables in this grain bowl. The author, Asha Loupy, warns us of the dangers of her Thai coconut-lime dressing—it's that good.

8. Chile-Roasted Chicken & Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro Rice

Herby cilantro rice! Roast chicken and crispy sweet potato bits! Lime sour cream! This recipe's a multitasker's fantasy—you can make up the rest of the dish while the rice cooks.

9. Okinawan Taco Bowls

According to food writer and recipe developer Posie Brien, this mix of Tex-Mex and Japanese comfort food "might sound misplaced...but it all comes together in a hearty and filling bowl that's vibrant and bold in spice." I'm convinced! Soy, ginger, and miso salsa, meet cumin, chili, and paprika–spiced ground beef.

What would you put in your rice bowl? Let me know in the comments!

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Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

1 Comment

judy June 5, 2019
Lots of varieties. If you would like to change it up more, use different grains: farro, freekah, quinoa, oats, millet, or use beans such as pink, pinto or lentil--or any combination. Or how about mixed heavy greens such as chopped kale and cabbage? Thanks for the suggestions. I would ask include one with Indian curry flavor and serve with apples, raisins and a chutney dressing of sorts.