Sweet potato and chickpea forbidden rice bowls with oil-free coconut lime dressing
Doesn’t the “forbidden” elevate the idea of rice? Not that simply saying black rice would be any less appealing. But “forbidden” adds a haunting mysticism that’s kind of irresistible.
It seems forbidden rice owes its name to ancient Chinese dynasties when, thought to promote longevity and good health, it was exclusively reserved for emperors. Personally, I think it could as easily come down to the way the sticky black grains tend to create a comically unsavory toothless look when they lodge in your teeth. But it’s so good. Just be sure to have a toothbrush handy when you eat it, or at the very least plan on a vigorous but discreet swish with water immediately after eating and before talking if with company.
Call it a dragon bowl, buddha bowl, hippie bowl, just a bowl; forbidden rice or black rice, whatever the names, this may be my new most favorite dish ever (for now). Power packed with good nutrition, easy to make, easier to vary, and awfully beautiful to boot. Best of all, it’s sooo satisfyingly yummy. I made it originally solely for an excuse to write down and share the dressing, adapted somewhat from a coleslaw recipe my sister made when we were visiting CT earlier this summer. It came from an issue of Milk Street Magazine, and I was so taken with that coleslaw I wanted to record it here to come back to but felt uncomfortable doing so. It just seemed like tweaking and creating something new would be more fair somehow.
Given that this meal was built expressly around a sauce, I guess the “all about the dressing” streak continues. On the other hand, this particular combination of subtly spicy chickpeas, roast sweet potatoes, caramelized red onion and greens is an absolute perfect fit. As for the dressing, it’s awfully adaptable too. I thought about including a little sesame oil, only because I doubted there was none in the original. I’m so glad I trusted memory and left it out. It would have been a foolishly gratuitous inclusion. I did make some changes (more coconut milk, soy sauce for fish sauce, chili garlic sauce for serrano chiles), and the result was so tasty I couldn’t help licking the lid of the jar I made it in.
Speaking of mysticism (back to the whole forbidden thing), lately little F has been getting into The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. I LOVE these chapter books. Reading them to students to conclude the day is among my very dearest memories of teaching Kindergarten and something that keeps me thinking I’ll come back to it. We’d dim the lights and I’d play soft background tracks from an Enya CD to match the mood of the story. (Her album, Without Rain is the perfect pairing.) I loved that time so much that one summer, pre-parenting, I tried reading them to the same music all by myself. It wasn’t the same.
Anyway, it took me by surprise how drawn to them little F became at not quite four, but I love this shared time together so much. Recently, we’ve been reading a set of “Merlin Missions” wherein the characters Jack and Annie are tasked with finding secrets of happiness to help a sorrowful Merlin. And here I’m going to start stretching for connections in such a way that borders on unbearable, depending who you are. As I do.
I do a lot of daydreaming while cooking. A lot of thinking and musing. Getting cheesily philosophical about “recipes for happiness” is a staple theme. It’s funny how contented we can be in our now while yet so anxious and fearful of what tomorrow might be. Since Little F was born I’ve known radiant happiness while continually quietly mourning the necessary drift. Always fervently hoping that as each new level of letting go arrives, I’ll find myself capable of whatever it is I need to be ready for. So far, it’s been alright. The other morning for instance, our keen “marching to four”-year old woke up early, and for the first time ever, he chose not to wake us up. Instead, all by himself he pulled his curtains, made his bed, got dressed (T-shirt adorably backwards), and busily set about “delivering” his stuffed animals to various locations throughout the house. I awoke hearing him bustling about and you could sense the joy in the movement. It was a milestone of independence. While my heart definitely felt a pang, it also bloomed with pride and joy for him, as has been the case so far with all these dreaded yet special steps into his own.
That night while while cooking, my mind was wandering…there was the usual noting of worry regarding said drift, and time passing, and also Jack and Annie, happiness in general, that coleslaw from Milk Street I’d been too hesitant to write down even for myself as is. And suddenly, all these fluttering thoughts collided and I felt somehow closer to an important truth. Not there, but closer. The Buddhist ideal of non-attachment began to make a little more sense. It seemed less cold and distant, more graceful and accepting than I’d interpreted before.
Sometimes the most stirring epiphanies are those representing the things that seem like they should be the most obvious. Maybe an important key to happiness is letting go of ownership. The less we own, the less preoccupied we are with boundaries. I don’t own recipe combinations. Neither does Milk Street, for that matter (well, actually depending on copyright maybe they do, but you know what I mean). My marching-t0-four year old son is my world. I grew him from a tiny seed and his father and I love him to pieces, nourish him, revel in the weightiness of responsibility that is caring for him. Yet he is not ours. Recognizing this does not dull my love for him in the slightest, or lay the foundation for walls around my heart. If anything it makes me love him even more, if that’s possible. But remembering he is his own gives a little more peace. At least in this moment.
The dressing for this dish is to me amazing. I’m not sure what makes it so. So simple, but everything works together (and who can scoff at coconut and lime, really?). There is no secret ingredient. You’ll take it and make it yours, and therefore better. Here’s the big corn, friends. Ultimately, the secret ingredient, always, is you.
- 2 cups black rice
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
- cooking spray
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 4 cups baby kale or mixed greens
- Prepare the rice: Cook 2 cups in 3 ½ cups water. Rinse under cold water. Bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low, cook until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 35 minutes.
- Coat chickpeas with chili powder and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange sweet potatoes and onions on a baking sheet and coat generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven to turn with a spatula and add chickpeas. Bake for a further 15 -20 minutes, turning once.
- Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients through coconut milk to combine.
- Add half the dressing to rice, stirring to coat. Divide rice into serving bowls, then top with equal amounts of kale/greens mix, sweet potatoes, onions and chickpeas. Drizzle remaining dressing evenly on top. Enjoy!