Grain Bowl Beats Cornflakes for Breakfast

Of all the we meals eat, more people tolerate, even desire, repetition at breakfast than for any other meal. My dad ate a bowl of instant oatmeal every day of his working life with milk and sugar on it and a cup of instant coffee to go with it. I know some who find a piece of toast is all they need every morning. Maybe it is too hard to be imaginative about breakfast when the main morning goal is to pull ourselves together to go and face the world. Maybe it is just plain comforting to rely on a favorite daily breakfast. Personally, I like variety.

My young friend Meg visiting from Maryland this past week, reported on a breakfast she enjoyed in Boston that we recreated here one day during her stay. On the menu, it was listed as a Jerusalem Bowl (probably in honor of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook, a popular and inspiring new work) but at heart it is a grain bowl, a concept fairly new to we New Englanders who are accustomed to our grain made into porridge). The one Meg ate had a base of cooked farro, an ancient wheat that has been popularized recently, with feta cheese crumbled into it, a spoonful of curried vegetables spooned on, a bit of salad added, salsa, and a fried egg. She loved it, and wanted to learn how to make curried vegetables from scratch, so one morning, we made our own breakfast grain bowl when I showed her how to do a curry based on a recipe in my ancient copy of Anna Thomas’s Vegetarian Epicure.

As I put the dish together, though, I thought about how a grain bowl would absorb dabs of leftovers: cooked cauliflower, broccoli, beets, green beans; leftover salad; a few shreds of cooked chicken or pork; maybe a few chickpeas or lentils. How about chutney instead of salsa? Leftover cooked rice, barley, wheat berries, or quinoa instead of farro?

What made it a breakfast bowl? I suppose the egg; but why not for lunch or even supper? Our version of a grain bowl made such a hearty breakfast that I wasn’t ready to think about lunch until mid-afternoon.

To be sure, not everyone has farro, quinoa, lentils, curry powder, feta, chickpeas, or interesting sauces like chutney or salsa on hand. And this isn’t going to come off quite right if you rely on ketchup, but if this appeals at all, give it a try with a salsa fresca from the store, or canned chickpeas or black beans, shredded lettuce, grated carrots, and cooked rice, just to get the feel of a grain bowl. Don’t forget the egg.

To assemble one, don’t feel like you need to worry about quantities. Put together enough for the size serving you prefer. I like to have cooked grains on hand all the time: they are an easy add in for a salad, or to put in soup. Ditto various kinds of beans and lentils. It’s not hard to cook a little extra to stash away. You can decide for yourself if you want to join in on that.

Breakfast Grain Bowl
  • Half a cup cooked whole grain
  • Cooked vegetables, your choice
  • Mixed salad vegetables, lightly dressed
  • Fresh or jarred salsa or savory sauce
  • Feta cheese
  • An egg
  1. Assemble all the ingredients.
  2. Warm the grain and vegetables lightly.
  3. Fry the egg to taste
  4. Put the grain into a bowl, top with the vegetables and salad, add the salsa or sauce, sprinkle on the feta cheese and top all with the egg.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.