Brown Rice Bowls with Big Prawns (Amongst Much Else)

Now, sometimes a recipe is a strict rulebook, where if you put a foot out of line you’ll be digging for the pizza menu, and sometimes a recipe is a mere suggestion for what to eat. This one is very much toward the latter end – there isn’t an ingredient here, even the primary one, which can’t be substituted for another, and the best version of this meal is the one that suits your tastes, your larder, your wallet, the stock of your favourite local shop and the season.

Below is merely how I made it, according to all of the factors above, but if you’d like to use a different kind of rice (sushi rice is a very obvious choice), a different dressing (I’d personally keep it soy sauce based, but again use either what you have or what you like) or any toppings you like (I’d suggest making them total about double the bulk of the rice, and a nice mixture of protein in the form of fish, meat, tofu, seitan, beans and fresh, crunchy vegetables) then that’s exactly how you should do it.

I made today’s with some king prawns, cause it’s a good way to use a smaller amount of an expensive ingredient, but I would very happily eat these bowls with roast or braised pork, roast chicken, raw marinated salmon or tuna, marinated tofu, steamed fish-balls, braised mushrooms or even a medium boiled egg.

This list of ingredients may look worryingly long, but remember, this can be made however you like – you need rice, dressing and toppings. That’s it. Raid the fridge, or go out and buy the things you like.

For four people you will need –

  • 300ml Brown Rice (you’ll have some left over, with which you can make Fried Rice)

for the dressing

  • 100ml Japanese soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
  • 1tbsp mirin or maple syrup
  • 1tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated or crushed

for the toppings

  • 16-20 large raw prawns (4-5 per person)
  • A handful of beansprouts
  • A handful of shelled edamame beans (I buy these frozen and defrost them in warm water)
  • 2 Avocados, halved and cut into thin slices
  • Half a cucumber, halved, seeds scraped out and cut into 1/2cm dice
  • A handful of sugar snaps, chopped up
  • A handful of pea shoots
  • A large spring onion, finely sliced
  • A red chilli, finely sliced
  • 4tsp inexpensive fish roe, such as salmon or lumpfish (this is extremely, extremely optional, but nice)
  • A sheet of nori (sushi paper) cut into four squares

to serve

  • 4 lime wedges
  • Any leftover dressing
  • Sriracha and/or crispy chilli oil for people to help themselves to

Cook your rice well enough in advance that it’s not hot by the time you assemble the bowls. If you’d like, you can prepare it anywhere up to three days in advance, chilled quickly and kept in the fridge. The important thing here is that it’s not piping hot. As always with rice, take a look at the packet instructions. Chances are, with brown rice, you’ll add double the volume of salted water (600ml in this case), bring to the boil, then simmer on a low heat with the lid on for 30-35 minutes. If you’re worried about using leftover rice, just make sure you get it chilled and in the fridge as soon as possible, and remind yourself that a large portion of the world safely eats yesterday’s rice on a daily basis.

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl

Prepare all your toppings one by one, and have them laid out in an organised way, ready for assembly. Put your beansprouts in a sieve, wash them thoroughly, then slowly pour over a full, just-boiled kettle to blanch them.

Fetch four deep soup bowls (a ramen bowl of some kind would be ideal, but whatever you have) and add 200ml of cooked rice to each. Add 2tbsp of the dressing to each bowl and mix well until the rice is evenly dressed.

Now, either arrange the toppings over the top of the rice in an aesthetically pleasing way – five prawns, a big pinch of each of the vegetable toppings, and a teaspoon of roe in each bowl – or let people help themselves to whichever they like from the middle of the table, adding lime juice, chilli sauces and a dash of leftover dressing to taste. We ate this with our children, so that’s how we went about it, to make sure everyone got what they wanted.

Now the weather’s looking up a bit, this is the kind of dinner I really look forward to – light yet filling, full of fresh, zingy flavours, underpinned by deliciously toothsome brown rice. We eat a variation on it a few times a month, and never tire of it.

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