Tips and recipes for building your own lunch bowl

Save your cash, and skip the fast-casual assembly line by building your own lunch bowl.
Save your cash, and skip the fast-casual assembly line by building your own lunch bowl. Photo: Stacy Zarin Goldberg/The Washington Post

Tell me if you've heard this one before.

Friday: "I'm going out to lunch again. Why don't I make my own grain bowl?"

Saturday: "People are going to be so jealous of my homemade lunch bowl."

Sunday night: "I still have time to do this!"

Monday: Taps credit card for another $12 at fast-casual XYZ.

Friends, the DIY lunch bowl no longer needs to be an aspiration. You, too, can save your single-serving $12 and use your cold, hard cash – not to mention pantry ingredients – to stretch your budget into a week's worth of interesting, easy and satisfying midday meals. Here's how, starting with a Mediterranean option, followed by a few other global combinations.

Pick your genre

Grain or salad bowl? Make a pot of your grain of choice – brown rice, couscous, bulgur, etc. It will keep just fine in the fridge for several days. Ditto with mixed greens if that's more your style.

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Choose a protein

This would be a great time to pop an easy roast chicken in the oven; poaching a few chicken breasts works, too. Or just pick up a barbecue chicken at the supermarket. Lamb meatballs would be oh-so-classy. You can't go wrong with chickpeas – home-cooked, canned or even crispy – either. Soft-boiled eggs are always welcome, too.

Get saucy

Now we're getting to the part of your personal assembly line where you just say "put it all on". Tzatziki is a natural fit; try adding chopped parsley, dill or mint. Or how about a tahini dressing? Make it even easier by snagging a squeeze bottle of tahini – no can, no stirring, just a fun shake. Harissa is one of the best spicy condiments going. If you prefer your zesty kick a little milder, a Greek vinaigrette might be the way to go. Of course, hummus is a wonderful option, too.

Adorn generously

This is the place to add some crunch. Think about staples with a good shelf life: Pita chips, pickled peppers, carrots and nuts. Pickled onions take very little effort and pay off in flavour and versatility. Other garnishes to consider: Roasted capsicum (can't beat the convenience of jarred), fresh herbs and cheese, especially feta.

Want a few more flavour possibilities? Step right this way:

Black pepper and kaffir lime beef bowl with coconut rice and salad recipe.

Black pepper and kaffir lime beef bowl with coconut rice and salad. Photo: Katrina Meynink

ASIAN

Base: Any listed above.
Protein: Chicken (roasted, poached or store-bought rotisserie); baked tofu.
Sauces: Sriracha; coconut milk mixed with curry paste (homemade or store-bought); peanut dressing.
Toppings: Roasted peanuts; coriander or spring onions; wonton chips; kimchi (buy or make) or Asian-style slaw; bean sprouts.

MEXICAN

Base: Any listed above.
Protein: Chicken; spiced chickpeas; canned or cooked black beans; chorizo.
Sauces: Salsa verde; lime-juice-spiked sour cream; pureed black beans.
Toppings: Feta cheese or queso fresco; coriander; tortilla chips; pico de gallo or chunky salsa (jarred or homemade); avocado; cabbage slaw; pickled jalapenos.

INDIAN

Base: Any listed above.
Protein: Chicken; spiced chickpeas.
Sauces: Coriander-mint chutney; lemon-spiked yoghurt or raita.
Toppings: Mango chutney (store-bought or homemade) or fresh mango chunks; coriander; pickled onions.

MORE RECIPES

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