It was at her first job filling the bulk bins in a SoCal natural foods store where Carolynn Carreño, longtime foodie and James Beard Award-winning food writer, met the likes of quinoa, barley, millet, and amaranth.
“I like to think I come to the world of whole grains honestly,” she writes in the introduction to her new cookbook Bowls of Plenty: Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole-Grain Meals (available for purchase Jan. 17). “I grew up in the 1970s in Southern California, with a pseudo-hippie mother who drove a van with wall-to-wall shag carpet and made macramé plant hangers and stained glass windows in her spare time.” Amusingly, even back then, she wasn’t allowed to eat “anything white” for its lack of nutritional value.
It is these experiences and influences that frame Carreño’s definition of what “healthy” means to her.
She, of course, as a professional foodie, eats as all good and serious eaters should: She eats (and enjoys) everything, no restrictions. But foie upon foie upon pork belly does eventually take its toll on (and around) your stomach, so to navigate this world of indulging while still trying feeling good, Carreño turns to the grain bowl. The mission of each of the recipes in Bowls of Plenty is to, as she explains, “reflect a balance between feeling good and eating good.”
The recipes in this book, a culmination of her home eating habits, comprise four chapters: Breakfast Bowls, Salad Bowls, Main Bowls, and Dessert Bowls. Additionally, Carreño includes a special section about the grains she uses, so if you ever wanted to know what Khorasan wheat or freekeh is, she’s got you covered.
Carreño shared with us a number of her beautifully composed grain bowl recipes, like Five-Spice Riblets With Sticky Rice, Apple Slaw, Baja BBQ Shrimp Bowl With Corn Rice, and Four Grain “Nutella” Porridge With Toasted Hazelnuts and Jam. Carreño was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her cookbook and her food philosophy; continue reading for the interview below.
Bowls of Plenty officially releases Jan. 17, 2017. Click here to pre-order your own copy.
The Daily Meal: What is your philosophy of cooking?
Carolynn Carreño: You can’t make a good peach pie with a bad peach. The secret to making delicious food with minimal effort is to start with flavorful ingredients. I know, you’ve heard it before. (There are no new ideas.) You’re not sure it’s even true. (It is.) What you do know is that very often, it’s more expensive. (It’s worth it. You’re worth it.) And less convenient. (There are worse ways to spend a morning than at a farmers market.) The good news is, grains are cheap. And if you’re a meat-eater, my no-fail strategy for half-price meat: Eat half the meat.
How did it inspire the recipes you chose to include in this book?Well, one of the things the residuals from buying best-quality ingredients, for me, is that it just pains me to waste food. It costs too much, and I also feel bad for the food — and the person (or animal) who produced it. So I try never to waste anything, and I think my recipes reflect that. So, for instance, the Broccolini and Sprout Salad With Poppyseed Dressing and Avocado (inspired by my 1970s SoCal childhood) uses the whole head of broccolini, stems (all diced up) and all. Another thing about using great ingredients is that you can get away with not doing a lot with them. In the end, I’m a little lazy in the kitchen, or maybe you can call it greedy. I want to do as little as possible and get as much in return. For the Yogurt Green Goddess Dressing, you just throw a bunch of herbs in a blender with some yogurt and press “go.” I’m the first one to take a short cut if I really don’t think it will make a difference in the end, and my recipes reflect that.
What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
Obviously, I like all of the recipes in the book, which is why they’re there, but one that I find myself talking about all the time is the corn rice, which is rice cooked in stock that is made by boiling shucked corn cobs. I got the corn stock idea when I did an internship at Chez Panisse, where we used the stock to make a puréed corn soup. I love that this recipe literally leeches every bit of flavor from the corn cobs. And the resulting rice tastes like sweet corn even before you toss in the sweet corn. I tried making it with supermarket corn (because even I get tired of hearing myself say you have to start with good ingredients), but it didn’t work. The rice tasted like a vague memory of corn, and it certainly wasn’t worth the time of boiling the cobs. You have to buy the corn at a farmers market, which, in my opinion, is a pretty nice way to spend an hour on a summer (that’s corn season) day, so there could be worse prescriptions, plus the whole idea behind the rice was to take advantage of sweet summer corn while it lasted, which pretty much boils down everything I think about cooking right there in a pot of rice. Or quinoa, as the case may be.
How do you hope readers will use this book, what do you hope they take away?
Even though this is, technically speaking, a “grain bowl book,” there are a lot of just flat-out delicious recipes in the book that I hope readers will cook and use and stain the pages of. There are Pomegranate-Glazed Lamb Meatballs and Baja BBQ Shrimp and the best Caesar Salad dressing on planet earth (if I do say so myself). I separated all of the recipes into components (the Hummus, the Thai Peanut Sauce, the Kimchi Rice, the Chipotle Cashew Crema) in the hopes that readers will “cook around,” as it were, build their own bowls with what they love or what they have around. (Four “Build Your Own Bowl” sections show people what flavors go together.) Heck, they may even put it on a plate. Mostly I just want people to cook and eat good food, and to enjoy both.
Anything else you would like the share?
Yes, my phone number. My phone is like a hotline for my friends and family. I want them to cook (I mean I passionately, whole-heartedly, vehemently, and often annoyingly want them to cook). So no matter how busy I am or what else I’m doing, if someone asks my help with cooking, I give it. Recently I was in the middle of a tennis match and my friend Lisa, who awesomely covers my gray hairs with gold, texted me a picture of a load of produce she picked up at the farmers market. “NOW WHAT??” I was so excited that she actually went to the market and that she was committed to making something for her guy that I stopped, dropped my racquet, and quickly texted her some ideas. (Butternut Squash Risotto With Slow-Cooked Kale, since you asked.) I would never leave her and her pile of seasonal vegetables lost and forlorn. It would be against everything I believe. But share my phone number? Hmmm… maybe not my most realistic idea. But here’s this: Carreno@mac.com.