Brunch bowls, rice at top, and savoury oatmeal created by Chef Heidi Fink.

Kick Off the Day with Brunch Bowls

Freshly cooked breakfast or brunch built with grains, vegetables and eggs

  • Aug. 27, 2018 12:25 p.m.

I love the appeal of a big, freshly made breakfast, especially late on a lazy weekend morning. And I prefer to enjoy it at home.

Brunch at home means no lineups and no cramped tables. It means enjoying long, relaxing conversations with our guests without competing noises. It means using my favourite ingredients, and having my eggs just exactly the way I like them. Best of all, brunch at home means being able to try something new and healthy, while still feeling completely indulgent.

I love brunch and breakfast foods of every description, but the one that is exciting me the most right now is something I like to call a “brunch bowl.” It feels fresh, inventive and very satisfying, without being too complicated to make. Savoury and delicious, brunch bowls are built with a base of warm grains, served with a flavourful vegetable (or mix of vegetables) and topped with perfectly cooked eggs plus any condiment that tickles your fancy — think cheese, herbs, hot sauce, pickles, salsa, kimchi, breakfast meats galore….

Brunch bowls are mouth-watering and healthy, and can easily be catered to individual tastes. They are filling without giving you the post-brunch desire to nap. And they have room for invention: try savoury oatmeal with cheese, sausage and chives; or basmati rice with Indian-spiced cauliflower and sunny-side up eggs; or creamy polenta with sautéed garlic greens and poached eggs, finished with fruity, extra virgin olive oil and chopped basil.

Brunch bowls are an excellent vehicle for using leftovers of all kinds. If leftovers are not appealing, these bowls can be made fresh in the morning, while you enjoy a coffee or tea in your jammies. They can be very simple amid a quiet family morning, or made more complex for company.

I’ve included three brunch bowl ideas in this article, with detailed recipes. I’ve chosen one rice, one polenta and one oatmeal; I’ve been inspired by the flavours of Vietnam, Mexico and Italy, respectively.

Think of these recipes as guidelines only, springboards for individual creativity! There are many more grains to choose from, and many more flavour profiles to explore. Add breakfast meats, switch up the condiments, change the vegetables.

Have fun with these, and most of all, fully enjoy your weekend brunch at home.

Find Chef Heidi Fink here.

Polenta Brunch Bowl with Quick Salsa Fresca (Don Denton photography)

POLENTA BRUNCH BOWL Serves 2

I decided to give my polenta a Mexican twist. This tastes like huevos rancheros, except on a pile of warm creamy polenta, rather than crispy tortillas. Enjoy spice, salty cheese, fresh salsa and creamy avocado on top of sweet corn polenta. The salsa (recipe below), beans and chorizo can be made a day ahead of time.

Polenta Base:

1 cup corn grits or cornmeal

6 cups water

½ tsp salt

Toppings:

2 to 4 eggs, sunny-side up or poached

2 chorizo sausages, cooked and sliced or crumbled (optional)

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced ½ tsp cumin seed ½ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

¼ tsp dried oregano

¼ cup water

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Quick salsa fresca

Crumbled feta cheese or queso fresco

Sliced avocado

To make the polenta base, bring water and salt to a boil in a small pot. Whisk in corn grits or cornmeal, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until polenta is thick and creamy, about 15 minutes. Transfer polenta to two bowls and let cool slightly (so that its soft texture can hold up the beans and eggs).

Meanwhile, make the beans and eggs. For the beans, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, then the garlic and spices. Sauté until fragrant, 10-20 seconds. Immediately add water and beans, and cook together until the flavours have melded, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside. (This makes more than you need for the two brunch bowls; save the excess for another day.)

Cook eggs as you desire (I like sunny side up eggs for this dish).

Top polenta with cooked chorizo (if desired), spiced black beans and the eggs. Garnish with crumbled feta or queso fresco, the fresh salsa and sliced avocado.

Serve immediately.

Polenta Brunch Bowl with Quick Salsa Fresca (Don Denton photography)

QUICK SALSA FRESCA Makes about 2 cups

This quick fresh salsa can be made in the food processor for fastest results. The proportions of this salsa are not set in stone. You’re looking for a happy blending of flavours, which depends on the sweetness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the onion, the acidity of the lime and the heat of the chili. Taste as you go and feel free to make adjustments.

¼ small sweet onion, cut in quarters

1 to 2 jalapeños or serranos (seed them if you want the salsa to be less spicy)

1 clove garlic, pressed

¼ cup fresh cilantro

½ tsp salt, more to taste

2 to 3 tsp fresh lime juice

2 large ripe tomatoes* (or 3 to 4 medium, or 5 to 8 small), cut in large pieces

(*You can make this with canned tomatoes as well. Try substituting one 14-oz can of diced tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes in this recipe. You may need to add more garlic, lime and cilantro to this salsa.)

Combine the onion pieces, jalapeños, garlic, cilantro and lime juice in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes and the salt and pulse until tomatoes are chopped and everything is mixed well. Pour into a bowl and taste to adjust for seasonings.

Savoury Oatmeal Brunch Bowl (Don Denton photography)

SAVOURY OATMEAL BRUNCH BOWL Serves 2

Most of us think of oatmeal as a sweet breakfast; however, it is a revelation served as a savoury, polenta-like dish, topped with herbs, cheese, bacon or sausage bits, or, as I do here, with Italian flavours: sautéed greens, Parmesan, chili flakes and fresh herbs. As one of my friends said: “This oatmeal is the best breakfast I have ever eaten.”

Oatmeal Base: ⅔ cup rolled oats

2 cups water

¼ tsp salt

Topping:

½ container cherry tomatoes

2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

¼ to ½ tsp red chili flakes

½ tsp minced fresh rosemary

4 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (divided)

4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (divided)

¼ cup water

3 to 4 stalks broccolini

¼ tsp salt, or more, to taste

Handful soft leafy greens (spinach, dandelion, arugula, mizuna, etc.)

2 to 4 eggs

Garnish: shaved Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, herbs, more chili flakes

To cook the oatmeal, combine the rolled oats, water and salt in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal is cooked, thickened and creamy, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese until melted and well-combined. Transfer the oatmeal to two bowls and let cool slightly (so that its soft texture can hold up the tomatoes, greens and eggs).

To make the topping, start with the cherry tomatoes. Cut them in half, toss them with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and place them on a baking sheet. Put them in the oven as close as possible to the broiler and broil under high heat until the tomatoes have slightly softened (some of the skins may blacken in spots), about 2-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to use. (You can also leave these raw, to make life easier for yourself.)

Have all your ingredients chopped and ready by the stove. Have a pot of simmering water ready if you want to poach your eggs, or have a frying pan greased and ready if you want fried eggs.

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add garlic, chili flakes, rosemary, half of the basil and half of the parsley, and saute until fragrant, 10-15 seconds. Add the water to the pan, followed by the broccolini and salt. Stir and sauté about 2 minutes, until broccolini is just starting to get soft. Add the other greens and stir for about 30 seconds, just until limp. Remove pan from heat and taste for salt.

Cook eggs as desired.

Divide the sautéed greens up between the bowls of savoury oatmeal. Top with eggs, roasted cherry tomatoes, remaining basil and parsley and finish with shavings of Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and more chili flakes or cracked black pepper, if desired.

Rice Brunch Bowl (Don Denton photography)

RICE BRUNCH BOWL Serves 2

This Vietnamese-inspired brunch bowl is based on fried rice, drizzled with a delicious chili-lime sauce and brightened by quickles (quick pickles). The most important tip here is to make sure that your rice is fully cooled before you stir fry it, otherwise it will get mushy. This a fantastic way to use leftover rice. This recipe is inspired by a similar brunch bowl I enjoyed from local author Rebecca Wellman’s cookbook First We Brunch.

Fried Rice Base:

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp minced fresh ginger

½ stalk lemongrass, minced (optional)

¼ tsp salt, or more to taste

1 cup finely shredded green cabbage

1 head shanghai bok choi, sliced, or other green vegetable

1½ cups cooked and cooled long-grain brown or white rice

Topping:

2 to 4 eggs, poached

Nuoc Cham (chili-lime sauce — recipe follows)

Quickles (recipe follows — if you don’t want to make your own, use kimchi, or any other pickled vegetable)

Chopped cilantro and/or fresh mint for garnish

Have all your ingredients chopped and ready by the stove before you start cooking. Have a pot of simmering water ready for your poached eggs.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the garlic, ginger and optional lemongrass; stir fry for about 10 seconds, until fragrant. Add the cabbage, greens and salt; stir fry for 2 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Add the rice and stir fry until everything is heated through and rice is getting slightly crispy in some spots. Divide the rice mixture between two bowls.

Meanwhile, drop cracked eggs into simmering water; poach 3 to 5 minutes, until eggs are cooked to desired doneness. Remove with slotted spoon and transfer to a plate.

Drizzle rice mixture with a few spoonfuls of Nuoc Cham; arrange eggs and quick pickles decoratively over the top. Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs.

Serve immediately.

NUOC CHAM — CHILE-LIME DIPPING SAUCE

Makes approximately 1 cup

This sauce can be used either as a dip or as a dressing. Traditionally in Vietnam, white vinegar is used instead of, or in combination with, lime juice. Below is my favourite version of this sauce. Feel free to play around with the proportions as you see fit. 5 Tbsp white sugar

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp salt

½ cup boiling water

2 Tbsp fish sauce

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced very fine or pressed through a garlic press

½ cup fresh lime juice

1 to 2 tsp Sambal oelek (or more, to taste)

In a small bowl, combine the salt, white sugar, brown sugar and fish sauce. Pour the boiling water into the bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Set aside to let cool. Meanwhile, finely mince the garlic, or press through a garlic press. Once the sugar mixture has cooled, stir in garlic, lime juice and Sambal oelek. Mix well. Taste to adjust for salt. This sauce will last for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

QUICKLES (QUICK PICKLES)

Makes 2 cups quick pickles

These sour-sweet-salty vegetables can be made very quickly, and they brighten up so many meals. Use whatever firm vegetables you desire, cut into small, attractive pieces.

1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks

4 large or 6 small red radishes, sliced into very thin rounds

¾ cup water

¾ cup rice wine vinegar, or white vinegar

⅓ to ½ cup sugar (to taste)

1½ tsp fine sea salt

Place the prepared carrots and radishes into separate bowls. In a small pot, combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until sugar and salt are dissolved. Immediately pour half of this mixture into the bowl with the carrots, and pour the other half into the bowl with the radishes. Stir each bowl to combine and let sit until cool. Serve immediately, or transfer to glass jars with closed lids and store in the refrigerator.

– Story Heidi Fink Photographs by Don Denton

Ceramics, glassware, placemats, linens and apron from Open House Shop + Studio

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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