Recipe: Brown Rice Bowl with Chard & Nutty Tomato Romesco Sauce

Healthy Lunch Recipes from The Kitchn

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When it comes to lunch, I have competing desires. On the one hand, I want a predictable and easy meal I can grab without diverting much attention from my work. But I also don't want to eat the same thing day after day.

Meet my answer: the modular one-bowl lunch with mix-and-match toppings, including a smoky, nutty romesco that is quite literally the secret sauce to this meal. I love this stuff so much I call it my happy sauce.

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I became especially enamored of the one-bowl meal last year when I did some recipe development for Vegetarian Times. My editor asked me to assemble a few quick one-bowl dinners that could be made in just 30 minutes — each including a grain, a protein, and a sauce.

Now, sauces don't usually make it into my dinner routine, unless we're talking straight-up marinara and meatballs. But I got to work with some of my favorites, including chimichurri, curried coconut, and — new to me — romesco sauce.

That assignment turned out some of my personal favorite meals, and I've gone back to them many times since. I found that I loved having all the components on hand, like roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa, and chimichurri; I could toss them together as originally intended, or eat them separately with other meals. Chimichurri gets drizzled over steak; the quinoa can be eaten with a dollop of yogurt. It's a pleasant way to build a week of lunches (or dinners): make simple yet tasty elements and mix them up.

Get some of the recipes at Vegetarian Times

Not all of my one-bowl meals made it online, but here are two that did. The rest are in the September 2013 issue.

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But my favorite takeaway from that assignment was romesco. I've made it so many times, in so many different ways. It's like a pesto in that it includes nuts, for satisfying texture and body. But it's tangy and a little sweet, like tomato sauce. It's smoky, spicy, and so, so good. It's now my happy sauce, so I thought I would share another version of it with you today.

Romesco is a Spanish import, usually made of roasted red peppers and nuts, smoky and piquant, whizzed up into a thick and luxurious consistency, and great with seafood or vegetables. My version relies heavily on pantry staples instead of fresh produce, which makes it a year-round recipe for me; I use canned tomatoes instead of peppers, and a small jar of pimientos for spice. Don't let the length of the ingredient list alarm you; this sauce comes together very quickly.

Together with warm and chewy brown rice and tangy rainbow chard, this smoky sauce has just enough texture and nuttiness from the almonds, and a mild heat from the peppers. Eat everything together, or drizzle the sauce over a grilled chicken breast, or top the rice with the sauce and a few pieces of chorizo. I added some slices of Spanish smoked chorizo into my dish; Imperial Chorizo sent me some to try and I'm loving it.

Separate, together, however — all of these things taste good. Especially the happy sauce.

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Brown Rice Bowl with Chard & Nutty Tomato Romesco Sauce

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Makes 6 cups brown rice, 4 cups chard, 2 cups sauce.

For the brown rice:
4 1/2 cups water
2 cups short-grain brown rice
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the chard:
8 cups chopped chard leaves and ribs, from about 8 to 10 ounces chard
1 lemon, juiced, about 3 tablespoons
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the romesco sauce:
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 (4-ounce) jar sliced pimiento peppers, drained
1 (12-ounce) can plum tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup peeled almonds
1/2 cup loosely packed cup chopped Italian parsley
1 small slice sourdough bread, torn into pieces (optional — omit for gluten-free dish)

Optional accompaniments to serve:
Chopped roasted almonds
Minced Italian parsley
Sliced roasted chicken or smoked sausage

To cook the rice, heat the water to boiling in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the rice and the salt. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Remove lid, fluff with a fork, then cool and refrigerate in a covered container for up to 5 days.

To cook the chard, rinse the chard well then pat dry. Mix the lemon juice and vinegar in a small bowl.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large, deep skillet or wok over high heat. Add the garlic and sauté or stir-fry for 10 seconds, just until it begins to color. Add the chard, one handful at a time, waiting if necessary for it to wilt down before adding another. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper as you add the greens, and continue to stir-fry or sauté. When all the chard is in the pan, pour in the lemon juice and vinegar and continue cooking for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the chard is done to your liking. Cool then refrigerate in a covered container for up to 5 days.

To make the romesco sauce, heat the olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the pimiento peppers and the tomatoes; stir vigorously to help the tomatoes break up. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to break down. Add the smoked paprika, vinegar, almonds, and parsley and remove from the heat.

Blend until smooth in a blender or food processor. If using the bread, add now and blend until smooth. (The bread will give the sauce a silkier texture, but it's fine to leave it out for a gluten-free adaptation.) Cool and refrigerate in a covered container for up to 5 days.

Combine the separate elements into one big lunch container, or divide it among several. Warm before serving.

Per serving, based on 4 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
701
Fat
27.5 g (42.2%)
Saturated
6.2 g (31.1%)
Trans
0.2 g
Carbs
91.6 g (30.5%)
Fiber
8.1 g (32.4%)
Sugars
5.8 g
Protein
23.5 g (47.1%)
Cholesterol
51 mg (17%)
Sodium
433.5 mg (18.1%)

(Image credits: Faith Durand)

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