Five Tricks for Building Better Bowls

Yay Leftovers! Episode 3

You've climbed lettuce mountains at salad bars, overstuffed soft and crisp tortillas at taco bars, and smothered baked russets at potato bars. Get ready to belly up to the bowl bar. Whether you're eating solo or feeding your family an easy dinner, a handful of simple principles will help you — and everyone else — turn components from the fridge, freezer, and pantry into exactly what they feel like eating.

The "tricks" are to use these five simple organizing principles to gather potential ingredients:

  • Heft — the foundation of the very best bowls

  • Oomph — to up the satisfaction factor

  • Edge — for the sharp, spicy, or briny flavors we crave

  • Splash — a drizzle or two that brings everything together

  • Sprinkle — garnishes to add crunch and freshness

To help you get started, here ‘s a quick video and two recipes for components that feature prominently in my happily haphazard instructional bowl. Have fun and feel free to share more ideas!

Miso-Carrot Sauce With Ginger

Makes: About 1 1/4 cups
Time: 15 minutes

Perhaps one of the most colorful and versatile sauces ever—it works warm on bowls or in stir-fries and cold as salad dressing or a dip. Everything comes together quickly in a food processor or blender and keeps in the fridge for several days.


  • 1/4 cup good-quality vegetable oil

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons mild or sweet miso (like yellow or white)

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • 2 carrots, peeled if you like, and cut into chunks

  • 1 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger (or more to taste), cut into coins

  • Salt and pepper


1. Put the oil, vinegar, miso, sesame oil, carrots, and ginger in a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to chop the carrots and ginger. Then let the machine run for a minute or so until the mixture is as chunky or smooth as you like.

2. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve right away or refrigerate in an airtight container for several days.

Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, 10th Anniversary Edition


Baked Tofu

Makes: 4 to 8 servings
Time: About 1 hour

Baking tofu gives it a firm, crisp crust, while its interior turns custardy, almost egglike. It’s easier, leaner, and less messy than deep frying but with a similar texture. Once sliced or cubed, baked tofu can be used anywhere: sandwiches, salads, stir-fries—and bowls. To vary its flavor, before putting it in the oven, brush it with soy sauce, miso thinned with a few drops liquid of your choice (sake, stock, water, etc.), barbecue or teriyaki sauce, ponzu, or even Dijon mustard. 


  • 1 or 2 bricks firm tofu (about 1 to 2 pounds)

  • Salt


1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Blot the tofu dry with towels and sprinkle it all over with salt. Line a baking sheet or in a large skillet with a sheet of parchment and put the tofu block on top.

2. Bake undisturbed for about 1 hour. The tofu is done when the surface is lightly browned and firm and it releases easily from the pan. Use right away or cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, 10th Anniversary Edition