Want to make a better grain bowl this year? The secret's in the sauce. The answer to a better grain bowl is all about how you're topping it. And these five quick sauces — made with ingredients you probably have waiting in your pantry — are an easy way to up to kick up the flavor and make those grain bowls pop.
The sauce is the final touch to your grain bowl. It can seem like a small component, in that it shouldn't require a laundry list of ingredients or take more than a few minutes to pulse together.
5 Simple Grain Bowl Sauces + When to Use Them
Each of these quick sauces includes about six ingredients and can be blended together in five minutes. Whip it in your high-powered blender, or pull out the stick blender to give these a whirl.
This is what the basic template for each sauce looks like:
Base + Oil + Flavor Boosters
Each grain bowl sauce starts with a base from the pantry or fridge, like tahini, peanut butter, or goat cheese. Add some oil (olive or sesame), and for some, a spoonful of water to loosen the sauce. Then it's all about flavor boosters, like fresh herbs, honey, Sriracha, and fish sauce, to really bring the sauce to life.
You can make any of these sauces ahead of time, and then store it in the fridge until you're ready to eat. Or pull it together while the ingredients for your grain bowl cook.
Orange Tahini Sauce
Makes 3/4 cup
This is the "go-with-everything" sauce. Need a basic to keep in the fridge? This is the sauce to keep on hand. It pairs with just about any and every type of grain bowl and makes a delicious dipping sauce for fresh veggies. With its savory sesame flavor, hint of sweetness, and orange undertone, this sauce is the grain bowl staple.
Combine 1/2 cup tahini, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, zest and juice of 1 orange, 2 tablespoons honey, and 1 clove garlic, then blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
Try It with This Grain Bowl: Vegan Amaranth Bowl with Garam Masala Butternut Squash
Spicy Sriracha Peanut Sauce
Makes 3/4 cup
First you get the sweet and salty peanut-soy flavor, and then a spicy kick from Sriracha slowly sneaks up on you. This is my favorite kind of spicy sauce — where the heat isn't immediate. Use this sauce to boost everything from chicken and steak, to tofu, lentils, beans, and veggies.
Combine 1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky), 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha, then blend until well-combined.
Try It with This Grain Bowl: Chicken Rice Bowls
Mediterranean Olive Sauce
Makes 3/4 cup
Dress up your grain bowl with bright and briny punch. This salty olive sauce, balanced with lemon juice, fresh herbs, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, is a match for Greek and Italian-inspired bowls and anything and everything grilled.
Combine 1 cup pitted olives, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, 2 cloves garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, then blend until you reach your desired consistency.
Try It with This Grain Bowl: Creamy Polenta Bowl with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes and Zucchini
Hoisin Ginger Sauce
Makes 1/2 cup
Hoisin brings umami flavor and a touch of sweetness to this sharp and gingery sauce. The toasty notes from sesame oil prevent it from becoming overly sweet. Use this sauce to give your Asian-inspired grain bowls a boost, or pair with fish like salmon, cod, halibut, and tilapia.
Combine 1/2 cup hoisin sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger, and 2 cloves garlic, then blend until smooth.
Try It with This Grain Bowl: Farro Bowl with Crispy Salmon and Toasted Sesame Spinach
Herbed Goat Cheese Sauce
Makes 1/2 cup
Cheese-lovers, rejoice! This creamy, tangy goat cheese sauce loaded with a mix of fresh herbs is right up your alley. This is the kind of sauce you'll want to spoon over bowls loaded with chicken, fresh and roasted veggies, and anything Mexican-inspired.
Combine 4 ounces of softened goat cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 2 tablespoons water, then blend until smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs (any combination of chives, parsley, basil, and mint), and season to taste with salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
Try It with This Grain Bowl: Burrito Bowl with Roasted Corn and Poblano Peppers
(Image credits: Kelli Foster)