A meal that fits into a single bowl is appealing for multiple reasons. “For me, it really lends itself to healthy eating with whole-foods-oriented components,” says cookbook author Lukas Volger, a former vegetarian who still gives produce top billing in his day-to-day diet. Then there’s the inherent sense of ease: “When you’re cooking for one person, the bowl is portable in that way—you can take it to the sofa.” Third, of course, is Instagram, the square-oriented medium that, in the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, loves a circle. “The way you arrange the toppings, it’s a visual experience,” Volger explains of the evolved art of garnishing captured on so many feeds. “You want that overhead shot.”
This being food, you also want it to taste good, and Volger’s new book, Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals, aims to deliver on that front. He traces the impetus behind the project to a revelatory dining experience he had in Brooklyn about five years ago. “I got obsessed with this vegetarian ramen at Chuko, in Prospect Heights,” he recalls, noting that most meatless versions found elsewhere typically read as an afterthought. But that deeply satisfying meal, anchored by a seaweed-rich kombu broth, inspired him to tinker with other classic dishes from around the world.
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During the five years the book has been in development, the bowl phenomenon—coupled with the rise of vegetable-forward eating—has gained serious traction, from elevated workday spots like Sweetgreen to the downtown hangout Café Henrie, where chef Camille Becerra is updating the macrobiotic-inspired Dragon Bowl in a residency that runs through April. As Becerra sees it, people are beginning to approach dining from more of a “sensory level—if your food is beautiful and colorful and tastes good and is healthful, then you feel better,” she says of her customizable bowls (turmeric-poached egg or chicken? Carrot-harissa sauce or chili bone broth?).
Deciding what goes inside the bowl is of chief importance, which is why we enlisted Volger and Becerra, along with three of our favorite cookbook authors—Amy Chaplin, Heidi Swanson, and Diana Yen—to share delicious (and gorgeous) recipes.
But the vessel, too, is key, as Volger learned during the photo shoot for his book, which introduced him to the world of local ceramics by the likes of Clam Lab, Jono Pandolfi, and Recreation Center. “I’ve since started collecting all these beautiful handmade bowls,” Volger says, “and it totally improves the eating experience.”
In addition to Bowl, out this week, and two earlier vegetarian cookbooks, Volger also produces a line of small-batch, ready-to-shape veggie burgers, called Made by Lukas. This take on pho, one of multiple versions in the book, is suited for the coming change in season—not to mention the inevitable spring cold, in which case you should “make it extra spicy,” he advises.