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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Alex Brannian; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

The Grain Bowl Goes Big (Really Big) in a Party Menu Where Vegetables Star

published Jun 6, 2021
Eat More Plants
The Big Grain Platter

This colorful grain salad is packed with cauliflower, beets, carrots, peppers, snap peas, and more, and finished in a tangy miso dressing.

Serves6

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This story is part of Eat More Plants, Kitchn’s June 2021 special issue devoted to putting the flavor and magic of plants at the heart of your plate.  

As the world begins to open, so do the farmers markets, which means double the reason to celebrate. As I stroll the stalls filled with produce of every shape and shade, I want to buy allll the things — and now that we can have some people over to eat allll the things, I can give into that urge.

When I have people over, I like to make something that’s satisfying and a little special. Even though I’m a cookbook author, recipe developer, and food stylist (or maybe because of all of that), I lean toward food that’s casual and considered but not contrived (think: more wabi-sabi than fancy-schmancy). A dish that sits squarely where that Venn diagram intersects is the grain bowl. It’s fun and casual, but it’s also full of surprises and open to endless variations. It’s typically served for lunch or brunch, but why not go big and arrange all that grainy goodness on a platter for a shareable, party-perfect, vegetable-packed main dish? It’s satisfying and filling, packed with flavor and texture and color, and a fun way to play around with all of that peak produce. Here’s how to do it. 

What to Buy for Your Grain Platter

Designing your platter starts with the shopping. To make your grain platter gorgeous enough to double as a centerpiece, choose as wide a variety of vegetables as you are willing to cook. Imagine the colors and composition of the platter as you move through grocery or the market, and choose vegetables accordingly.

If something is available in a color rather than good ol’ green or white, go for it. Choose red onions, purple or orange cauliflower, red or orange peppers, purple cabbage. You get the idea. Try to find an interesting, colorful radish, like watermelon or purple daikon, to shave over the top for a real party trick.

Any grain will work, from the basic brown rice (go for short-grain, which has more of a chew) to freekeh, which is a smoked green wheat that’s similar to bulgur but with a slightly smoky taste and a lovely green color.

Three Platters We Love

How to Build Your Grain Platter, Party-Style

Once you’re home from the market, it’s time to get cooking. To maximize flavor and texture, I use a mix of roasted, blanched, and raw veggies. I like to roast the veggies at a high heat to encourage browning and caramelization. That hot blast does wonders for cabbage, carrots, and beets, making them tender and enhancing their sweetness. Lots of salads are made with raw onions, but I prefer roasted red onions and shallots here, which brown around the edges and emerge from the oven looking like flower petals. Because everything will be served at room temperature, you can easily roast the vegetables the day before and stash them in the fridge. To keep the flavors from melding, be sure to store each vegetable in a separate container.

The roasted vegetables give the platter heft and depth, then the blanched and raw veggies come in with the punch and crunch. Sugar snap peas are blanched in heavily salted water, then given an ice-bath plunge to keep their crispness and color. Shaved radishes also get the ice-water treatment to keep them crunchy. Sliced fresh bell peppers bring a juicy sweetness all their own.

For this recipe, I’m using a vinaigrette made with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. I add some maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness, and a little miso for richness. I toss the cooked grains with some of the dressing and reserve the rest for serving alongside the platter. And a grain bowl isn’t complete without a swipe of thick, creamy sauce. I’m using store-bought hummus that I dress up with little lemon juice and tahini. For color and flavor, I’m a big fan of beet hummus, which is available in many supermarkets, but any kind of hummus will do.

Now it’s time to build! If I’m placing this platter in the middle of the table, I like to arrange everything in a mirror image, meaning two piles of each item on opposite ends of the platter, on top of a mountain range of grain so everyone can access everything from their seat. In any case, keep each vegetable separate when you’re plating to retain that grain bowl integrity. 

Rounding Out the Grain Platter Party

These two recipe ideas are completely optional, but they keep the plant party theme going and are a great matches for the grain platter. 

  • Avocado Butter: Avocado and butter may seem like an unlikely pairing, but the buttery vegetable plus actual butter are a winning combo that’s also super striking on the table. To make it, mix 1 ripe avocado, 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of softened unsalted butter or vegan butter, the juice of 1/2 lemon, and salt to taste in a food processor until smooth. Feel free to add any fresh herbs or seasonings (like red pepper flakes) that you like. Serve with your favorite bread.
  • Carrot Cocktail: Why should tomato juice have all the fun? Sweet carrot juice is a great base for a refreshing drink — and it couldn’t be simpler to make. Add carrot juice to ice-filled glasses and top with vodka, gin, or sparkling water. For a fun garnish, use a vegetable peeler to shave a carrot into long, thin slices, and soak in ice water for 10 minutes until they curl and ruffle. If you have fresh carrot tops, you can use those for garnish, too.

The Big Grain Platter

This colorful grain salad is packed with cauliflower, beets, carrots, peppers, snap peas, and more, and finished in a tangy miso dressing.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the platter:

  • 1/2

    small head red cabbage (about 12 ounces)

  • 1/2

    small head cauliflower (about 14 ounces), preferably purple or orange

  • 4

    small golden beets (about 12 ounces total)

  • 1 pound

    carrots

  • 2

    small red onions or large shallots

  • 5 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 ounces

    sugar snap peas (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 1

    medium red bell pepper

  • 1

    watermelon or 3 regular radishes, peeled or unpeeled

  • 1 (10-ounce) package

    beet hummus, such as Ithaca

  • 2 tablespoons

    freshly squeeze lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons

    tahini

  • 4 cups

    cooked freekeh, quinoa, bulgur, farro, or brown rice, preferably still warm

  • 1 1/2 cups

    cooked beans, any kind but bigger is better

  • 6 ounces

    feta or ricotta salata cheese (optional)

  • Pea shoots, microgreens, and /or edible flowers, for garnish (optional)

For the dressing:

  • 1

    medium shallot

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons

    white miso paste

  • 2 tablespoons

    rice or apple cider vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon

    maple syrup or honey

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Prepare the vegetables:

  1. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 425ºF. Have 2 rimmed baking sheets ready.

  2. Prepare the following vegetables one type at a time for roasting. After each vegetable is cut, transfer to a large bowl, toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper, and then arrange into an even layer on the baking sheets. Cut 1/2 small red cabbage through the core into 6 wedges. Cut 1/2 small head cauliflower into large florets. Peel and quarter 4 medium golden beets. Peel 1 pound carrots, halve lengthwise if thick, then cut crosswise into 4-inch pieces. Peel and cut 2 small red onions or large shallots through the core into 8 wedges. Reserve the bowl.

  3. Roast until starting to brown on the bottom, about 25 minutes. Flip the vegetables, rotate the baking sheets between racks, and continue to roast until tender, 10 to 15 minutes more. If any vegetables are ready sooner, remove them from the baking sheets. Meanwhile, prepare the remaining vegetables, hummus, and dressing.

  4. Bring a small saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, remove any tough strings from 4 ounces sugar snap peas. Thinly slice 1 medium red bell pepper. Peel 1 watermelon or 3 regular radishes if desired, then very thinly slice (use a mandoline if you have one). Place the radishes in a bowl of cold water and refrigerate until ready to serve.

  5. When the water is ready, add the sugar snaps and blanch until crisp-tender, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to an ice water bath until cool. Remove from the water, pat dry, and cut in half on the diagonal.

  6. Place 1 tub beet hummus, 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons tahini in a small bowl and stir to combine.

Make the dressing:

  1. Finely chop 1 medium shallot (2 to 3 tablespoons) and place in a small bowl or jar. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon into the bowl (about 1 tablespoon), then squeeze the juice of the lemon into the bowl (about 1/4 cup).

  2. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons white miso paste, 2 tablespoons rice or apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Whisk or seal the jar and shake until combined.

  3. Place 4 cups cooked grains in the reserved bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the dressing and toss to combine. Set aside until the vegetables are roasted.

Assemble the platter:

  1. Take the largest platter you have (a turkey platter is perfect) and spread the hummus mixture on the bottom. Taste the grains and add more dressing, salt, or pepper as needed, then arrange in a central pile running down the length of the platter.

  2. Arrange the roasted vegetables, snap peas, bell pepper, and 1 1/2 cups cooked beans around the grains (I like to do a mirror image so it’s easy for everyone to grab what they want). Remove the radishes from the water, pat dry, and scatter over the top of the grains. If using cheese, crumble 6 ounces feta or ricotta salata over the top. Sprinkle with pea shoots, microgreens, and/or edible flowers if desired, and serve right away with the remaining dressing on the side.

Recipe Notes

Hummus: Any kind of hummus can be used here.