Bowled Over by Nordic Nicoise

A Nordic Nicoise bowl to cozy up to.

A Nordic Nicoise bowl to cozy up to.

 

I sometimes chuckle that avocado toast has become a thing.

Really? Ripe avocado smeared on bread — haven’t we been eating it for ages? Why did it all of a sudden become a hip thing to nosh?

Same with food in bowls. Have we not piled food in bowls to dig into since we can remember?

Still, I can see why both appeal. There is something comforting about them. There’s the flex factor, in that you can put most any ingredients together on that toast or in that bowl, and come away with it being pretty tasty. There’s also something exciting yet satisfying in the fact that every bite is a little bit different from the last.

BowlsCookbook

Bay Area food writer Molly Watson has captured that irresistible attraction in her new cookbook, “Bowls!” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy.

Inside you’ll find 26 full recipes for perfectly composed bowls — everything from “Tuna on Toasted Quinoa” (with steamed beets, cannellini beans, hard-boiled eggs, olives, radishes and mustard vinaigrette) to “Zoodle Taco Salad” (zucchini noodles, spiced ground turkey, roasted chile guacamole, cherry tomatoes and chile citrus sauce).  Additionally, there are 90 recipes for separate components that you can mix and match, such as “Root Vegetable Hash,” “Creamy Dill Sauce,” and “Cumin Pita Crumbles.”

Watson also offers suggested bowls to put together, including the one I chose to try: “Nordic Nicoise.” Like Julia Child, I will never turn down a perfectly balanced Nicoise salad. And this one is surely that.

While there are detailed instructions on cooking everything, there aren’t necessarily exact measurements for putting this particular bowl together. It’s left more to your own discretion. Maybe you like more potatoes? Or fewer green beans? It’s entirely up to you. And that’s another reason why bowl food has taken us by storm — it’s infinitely adaptable to your own likes, dislikes, mood, and pantry and fridge supplies. So feel free to play with the measurements I give below.

For four ample servings, I found that a good foundation to start with is 1 pound of green beans, 1 pound of potatoes (I used Russian banana ones, which are quite creamy in texture), 2 small heads of butter lettuce, and about 1 1/4 pounds of smoked fish. Remember, smoked fish is fairly salty, so you don’t need a lot of it to add punch to a dish. I used smoked trout in half the bowls, and smoked salmon nuggets from Whole Foods in-house smoked fish department for the others. Both versions were delicious.

The caper dressing is super thick and concentrated in flavor. So again, a little goes along way. You might think the recipe makes a small amount at first glance, but just a drizzle here and there in your bowl will give you assertive bites of brininess with a small hit of heat from dry mustard that dissipates quickly. The dollops of goat cheese add creaminess and measured richness to the whole dish.

This is a perfect weeknight or lazy weekend dinner, especially now that sunnier weather is upon us, because you can enjoy it warm, at room temperature or even chilled. Steaming the veggies takes little time, as does mixing the dressing.

Plus, just think how trendy you’ll be digging a fork into it all.

It's the best of grazing and a one-dish meal.

It’s the best of grazing and a one-dish meal.

Nordic Nicoise

(Serves 4)

For the caper dressing:

2 tablespoons drained capers, minced

1 small shallot, minced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the rest of the bowls:

1 pound small potatoes (Russian banana, fingerling, Red Bliss or Yukon Gold)

1 pound green beans

Fresh dill

1 1/4 pounds smoked fish (such as lox or trout or salmon nuggets)

Chevre

2 small heads butter lettuce, shredded

 

To make the caper dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the capers, shallots, olive oil, vinegar, and mustard until well blended. Season with salt and pepper.

To steam the potatoes and green beans with a steam basket or colander: Select a pot into which the basket or colander will fit. Pour water into the pot to a depth of 1 inch (the water must not touch the bottom of the basket or colander once it is added). Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Put the vegetables in the basket or colander (if steaming more than one type of vegetable, keep them with like so you can take out the ones that are done first), set it over the boiling water, cover, and cook.

To steam without a steam basket or colander: Pour water to a depth of 1/4 inch into a large frying pan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the vegetables, cover, turn heat to low, and cook.

With either cooking method, cook the vegetables until they are crisp-tender or tende to the bite, as you prefer. Start checking after 3 minutes. The timing varies depending on the type of vegetable so follow your palate and not the clock. Transfer the vegetables directly to the bowls. Serve warm or at room temperature, arranging the rest of the bowl ingredients however you like. Drizzle on a little of the caper dressing, and serve.

Adapted from “Bowls!” by Molly Watson

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Another Molly Watson Recipe to Enjoy: Braised Chicken with Farro, Kale and Winter Squash

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