Instagram has ushered in a torrent of colorful, one-hit-wonder food trends, but if New York City's latest brunch spot is any indication, one particular dish is here to stay: grain bowls. Charley St, a new fast-casual concept in Nolita, champions nourishing, customizable bowls that make healthy eating refreshingly simple (and yes, Instagramable).
"My mission is to work on adding color and vibrancy to people's diets," says Australian chef and TV host Dan Churchill, who started Charley St with co-founders Aaron Cook, Kale Evans, and Kieren Dwyer. Naturally, bowls were the perfect vessel to deliver color, nutrition, and flavor. "Grain bowls are incredibly trendy these days, and for good reason: They're nutrient-dense, making them perfect post-workout fuel or mid-day nourishment [and] are super satiating, but light enough to make you feel energized and ready to take on the day," he explains.
Not all bowls are created equal, though. Ahead, Churchill explains how to build a balanced, nutrient-dense dish and shares the recipe he swears by for better gut health.
Churchill can tell the nutritional value of your meal just by looking at it. The key, he says, is color. "Color gives you an idea of the type of phytochemicals (naturally occurring substances) found in plant foods that give them their health benefits," he explains. For example, the phytonutrients that give blueberries their blue color also make blueberries one of the fruits with the highest antioxidant content.
If you're unsure how to balance the ingredients in your dish, Churchill says color variation is a handy cheat. "The classic rule of thumb is to have at least half of your plate be veggies, but at Charley St we like to think in terms of color and nutrient density, rather than any set rule," he says. By choosing vegetables in an array of colors, like avocado, broccoli, and carrots, you'll create a dish that's not only beautiful but also nutritionally varied.
Add Gut-Healthy Ingredients
Though gut health has only recently become a buzzy topic, there's growing research to suggest it plays a significant role in our overall well-being. Thankfully, a few small diet tweaks can have a significant impact on your gut microbiome, including the ingredients you add to your grain bowl. "Generally, pickled ingredients are great for the gut because they contain the kind of lactic acid bacteria that helps in digestion," Churchill explains. Examples of these beneficial fermented foods include pickled kimchi and miso. Other digestion-friendly ingredients include onion and garlic, which contain prebiotics.
A healthy lifestyle isn't confined to what you eat, he points out—it's also about how you eat it. "We know that environment plays a big role in gut health. Taking the time to really savor a meal and enjoy it in a relaxing, welcoming environment can contribute to ensuring you're fully chewing and digesting your food."
Add Nutrient-Dense Toppers
Finally, consider the dressings and toppers you add to your bowl to round out the ingredient mix. "Our favorites are nutrient-dense nuts, seeds, and colorful dressings," he says. "You also have the option of topping your bowl with different healthy fats like cold-pressed olive oil, tahini, and walnuts."
Need a little guidance? Try Churchill's Healthy Hash recipe below, or head to Charley St and let the pros make it for you.
Healthy Hash Bowl
1/2 cup dry quinoa
1 cup filtered water
1 cup fresh arugula
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
1 cup sweet potato, shredded
1 handful Brussels sprouts, halved
1/4 cup onions, cut into thin rounds
Fine-grain sea salt
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Start by cooking your quinoa in one cup of water in a pot with the lid on, simmering for 10 to 12 minutes or until just tender and water is absorbed.
Turn off heat and let it steam with the lid on for five minutes.
In the meantime, toss the sweet potato and Brussels sprouts in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a generous amount of fine-grain sea salt, and pepper. Spread out in a single layer on two separate trays (one for sweet potato, one for Brussels).
Bake the Brussels sprouts for about 25 minutes, or until browned, and the sweet potato for about 15 minutes (or until well-caramelized and crispy).
While the vegetables are baking, heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When it's shimmering, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until browned—about five minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let caramelize until the Brussels are done, or for as long as you can.
Assemble the bowl: Lay the quinoa in the base, and top with arugula, roasted veggies, and onions. Drizzle with extra olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
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