Long before the world discovered, and fell in love with Pinterest, I was happily piling all manner of food items into bowls. Yes, before deconstructed burritos and smoothie bowls became THE things to post, I had a theory that everything tasted better in a bowl. A theory I tested thoroughly throughout my university years. I was so passionate about my bowl theory that I even did a lightning sketch of a logo for my bowl-centric restaurant in the margins of my uni notebook. Apparently, cubism wasn’t holding my attention that day.
I don’t mention this preoccupation with bowled food to brag about how ahead of the curb I was. I wasn’t. The bowl revolution was already at our doorstep the day I sketched that sketch. Freshii was already positioning itself to take over Toronto and Chipotle (although not in Canada at the time) had been slinging burrito bowls for years. I bring it up because I find it astounding that we can all unknowingly latch onto a food trend and assume it’s our thing until it becomes so ubiquitous that we disown it.
Unicorn frappucinos, charcoal desserts, sushi burritos, and bacon on every-f*king-thing. These are all food trends that captured the attention, minds and Instagram hearts of countless individuals. There was a moment when each of these items made people go “Oh man! That is SOO something I would eat.” They saw themselves in these trends. They, like me, thought they were ahead of the curb too. But now, these food trends mostly elicit eye rolls.
Why does this happen? It’s a bit maddening, to be honest. And I’m almost ashamed to admit, the pulse of the food world does enter into my mind when I’m planning recipes. When I thought up these Spicy Tofu Veggie Bowls, I considered whether the bowl had had its day. Was I being basic? Was I outdated?
Now, creating content for public consumption, of course, means I have to consider my audience. But the creative side of me resents letting the concept of trends enter into my process. The fact of the matter is, these Spicy Tofu Veggie Bowls are a riff on something I’ve been making for nearly ten years. I know it’s a good recipe, I know it’s a healthy recipe and I know it’s a beautiful recipe – shouldn’t that be all that matters? Shouldn’t we be able to draw from all the creative stimuli we’ve cataloged throughout the years at any given moment?
I don’t have any answers to these questions and maybe this is a hella weird thing to muse about in front of your blog audience. Who knows? I just thought I’d give you a backstage view of the level of overthinking that makes this beast of a blog happen. Terrifying isn’t it?
Anyway, despite my reservations over the trendiness (or lack thereof) of these Spicy Tofu Veggie Bowls, I obviously decided to post them. They’re delicious, beautiful, filling and healthy AF. What more could you want? So maybe bowls are SO over. They aren’t in my house and my blog is an extension of my house and, much like my mother before me, I’m only making one thing for dinner.
Okay, so if you’ve been shrugging your shoulders over my defensiveness in regards to this recipe, you’re probably not alone. It’s cool. I’m just working my way through my fifth extensional crisis of the day. This is the definition of normal as far as I’m concerned. So, let’s press on and talk about what’s in these “controversial” bowls of mine.
In the Winter when it’s drab and grey, I like to eat the rainbow. So, when I’m building a bowl, I walk into a grocery store and find the brightest most exuberant produce possible. On the day I went shopping for these Spicy Tofu Veggie Bowls that bright something was heirloom carrots. It was the almost fuschia member of that magnificent carrot display that totally did me in. With the heirloom carrots settled on, I built the bowl around them. To me, that meant sweet potatoes, broccolini, and micro greens. Don’t feel bound to this cast. You can pick just about anything, provided they play nice on a baking sheet together.Finally, it was just a matter of snagging some tofu and a stack of mushroom for that vital hit of umami.
I don’t have many rules for this recipe, but I do have one. Don’t skimp on the marinating time for the tofu. It is so so so vital. Under marinated tofu will turn this bowl into a yawn. And, in my experience, yawning and eating are not conducive to one another.
So, that’s the skinny on these Spicy Tofu Veggie Bowls. They’re really tasty and totally New Year’s resolution compatible, even if they are SO over!
- 1 block extra firm tofu, cut into triangles
- 100g (3.5 oz) oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sambal oelek
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 3 cups water
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 bunch broccolini, cut into thirds
- 3 heirloom carrots, peeled and cut into medallions
- 1 sweet potato, cut into medallions
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Fresh ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 handful broccoli micro greens
- 2-3 red chilies, thinly sliced
- Place tofu and oyster mushrooms in a large resealable container. In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, sambal oelek, honey and lime juice together. Pour the mixture over the tofu and mushrooms and seal. Give the container a shake to coat, then place in the fridge. Leave the tofu to marinate for at least 3 hours. For better results, leave the tofu overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 425F. Place the barley and water in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring the water to a boil and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Reduce to a simmer and let cook uncovered for 25-35 minutes or until the barley is tender and the water is completely absorbed.
- While the barley is cooking, place the sweet potato, broccolini and carrots in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, fresh ground pepper and the remaining salt to the bowl. Give the veggies a toss to coat. Transfer the veg to a large baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning once.
- While the barley and veggies are cooking, heat vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the tofu to the pan in a single layer and let cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes or until well browned. Flip the tofu and repeat. Transfer the tofu to a plate and add the mushrooms and the remaining marinade to the pan. Cook until the mushrooms are tender and most of the moisture is absorbed.
- Divide the barley amongst 2-4 bowls and top with tofu, mushrooms, and roasted veggies. Garnish bowls with micro greens, and red chilies. Serve immediately.