Umami Chicken and Black Rice Bowl

Umami Chicken and Black Rice Bowl

I love umami flavors. I’ve always loved them, but never knew they had a name until more recently. Umami is a fifth category of taste (aside from sweet, salty, sour, and bitter) which has really gained popularity over the last few years. It’s a savory, deep flavor present in meats, broths, mushrooms, and many fermented foods, and it’s the flavor I was going for when I put together this recipe.

Some of the ingredients I use in this bowl can be hard to find, and others have rather strong flavors that not everybody loves as much as I do. So for any off-the-wall ingredients I mention here, I’ll list an alternative just in case you can’t find/don’t like/don’t want to spend extra money on them.

Seamus likes to hang out with me while I’m cooking. He loves umami flavors too…especially fish sauce.

This bowl started with a base of black rice (also known as “forbidden rice”) which, on its own, provides a little pop of texture and a nice nutty flavor. You can use brown rice instead of black if you like, but I got the black rice at Kroger so it really wasn’t too hard to find, at least in my area. Once the rice was finished cooking but still steamy, I added a heaping scoop of white miso, which is a salty but mild fermented soy product that gives the dish its first hint of that umami goodness.

While the rice was simmering, I set to work getting some chicken thighs into the oven. I had already been marinating them in an oven-safe bowl with rice vinegar, sesame oil, coconut aminos, fish sauce, and some other seasonings for about an hour, so I just put the whole bowl into the oven, marinade and all, at 350 for about 23 minutes. My chicken thighs were cut pretty thin, so it didn’t take long for them to be fully cooked (165 degrees F), but if yours are thicker, just start checking the temperature around that 23-minute mark and they’ll be done when they reach 165 internally. I love how moist and rich chicken thighs are, but they can still get dry if you overcook them!

Coconut aminos and fish sauce are the umami component in this marinade, along with the chicken itself. I think I got both of those ingredients at Kroger as well (love u Kroger) but I know Wegmans has them and I’d expect Whole Foods would too. But if you prefer, soy sauce is a great substitute. It won’t provide quite the sweetness of coconut aminos or the punch of fish sauce, but it’ll still be good.

While the chicken was in the oven, I heated up a pan over medium-high heat for the snap peas and mushrooms. This is my favorite part of the bowl because this is where the black garlic comes in! If you can’t find black garlic, regular minced garlic is totally fine, but black garlic is a favorite of mine.

Black garlic is just a fermented version of the regular garlic we all love. I found mine at a local specialty food shop, and I would literally eat it like candy if it came a little bit cheaper. It’s soft, chewy, and has a sweet-savory flavor reminiscent (to my amateur palate) of balsamic vinegar. It still tastes decidedly garlicky, but it’s nowhere near as harsh as fresh garlic. Black garlic doesn’t lend itself well to mincing because of its sticky chewiness, so I cut it into coarse slices and then sort of mashed it up in olive oil with a fork, as pictured. I know that picture doesn’t look appetizing, but just trust me on this.

Anyway, I added the olive oil-garlic mash into the hot pan, followed by the snap peas. Then, about three minutes in, I added a pack of assorted mushrooms: shiitake, cremini, and oyster, along with a drizzle of fish sauce (because everything deserves a drizzle of fish sauce). I let it all cook for about 7 more minutes, stirring frequently, and by that time the rice and chicken were ready too. So I piled it all into a bowl, hastily snapped a few photos, and sat down to devour it while writing this post.

Also, it’s worth noting that this recipe can very easily be adapted to fit paleo or whole30 eaters–just skip the rice altogether and consider doubling the veggies instead.

Full Recipe

Makes 2 servings

Umami Chicken Thighs

  • 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2-3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Miso Black Rice (Omit for Whole30/Paleo option)

  • 1/2 cup black rice
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp white miso paste

Snap Peas with Mushrooms and Black Garlic

  • 8 oz sugar snap peas
  • 4 oz fresh mushrooms (cremini/baby bella, shiitake, oyster, or white)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cloves black garlic (or 3 tsp fresh or freeze dried garlic, minced)
  • Fish sauce to taste
  1. Place chicken thighs in a small oven-safe container and add sesame oil, rice vinegar, coconut aminos, fish sauce, garlic, onion powder, and a generous shake of salt and pepper. Allow chicken to marinate for 20 minutes to 2 hours.
  2. Heat black rice, water, and salt in a small pot over high heat until boiling, then turn heat to medium-low and simmer rice for about 50 minutes or to desired tenderness.
  3. While rice is cooking, heat oven to 350. Place chicken (with marinade) in oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  4. Meanwhile, roughly chop black garlic and mash with olive oil in a small bowl or custard cup, then heat mixture in a pan over medium-high heat. Add snap peas and a drizzle of fish sauce and saute for three minutes.
  5. Add mushrooms to pan with snap peas and cook, uncovered, for seven more minutes or to desired softness, stirring frequently.
  6. Meanwhile, when the rice is fully cooked, remove from heat and stir in 2 tbsp miso paste.
  7. Divide rice into two bowls and top with chicken and veggies.

Curried Sweet Potato and Parsnip Soup (vegan, paleo, whole30)

Curried Sweet Potato and Parsnip Soup (vegan, paleo, whole30)

I’ve been having some dental work done over the last couple of months. Thanks to crappy genetics and some questionable dental work I got done during my year in Costa Rica when I was seventeen, I’m now having to have an overhaul of the top half of my mouth. That’s as much detail as I’m going to provide right now seeing as this is a post about food.

I’m a nurse. I’m not squeamish. I mean, back in my operating room days I’d be standing over an open human chest, electrocautery tool in my hand, just doing my day job, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. But when someone takes that same tool and comes at my mouth with it, I freak out. I’m an absolute wimp with anything dental.

But I digress. Sorry if I’ve already ruined your appetite. I never really know how far I can go when talking about work without “being gross.”

Anyway, because of this dental work, I’ve been eating a lot of soft foods lately. I mean, mostly ice cream. But every now and then when I realize I need to eat a vegetable, pureed creamy soups have been my go-to. And this curried cream of sweet potato and parsnip is just the yellow goodness I wanted on a chilly day like today. It’s pretty much a smoothie bowl, except warm and savory. Aka my two favorite adjectives.

I peeled and diced a couple of sweet potatoes, cut up a couple of parsnips (you don’t have to peel them if you scrub them well), and threw them into a pot with some olive oil, vegetable stock, shallots, garlic, spices, and later added coconut milk. Then I blended it with my immersion blender and that was it. Seriously, that easy.

As is, this soup is vegetarian, vegan, paleo, whole30-friendly, gluten-free, dairy-free, whatever else you want it to be, and just super simple and yummy. But you can also dress it up with chicken, ground sausage, a baguette, some pumpkin bread, pita chips, naan, crackers, or whatever you like. Due to the current state of my mouth, I’ll be serving mine with a popsicle and some Advil.

Just be aware, though: don’t use a wooden spoon for this. It will be highlighter-yellow forever. I use a wooden spoon for every kind of dish, every occasion, except curry.

Quick Recipe

Makes 4 servings (or, if you’re like me and have no self control around soup, probably only 3)

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and large-diced
  • 2 medium parsnips, scrubbed and large-diced
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp turmeric powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can (14oz) full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
  • Pumpkin seeds (optional garnish)
  1. Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add shallots and saute about one minute, then add sweet potatoes and parsnips.
  2. Pour 2 cups vegetable stock over vegetables, followed by garlic, curry and turmeric, and salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil and then simmer until all veggies are fork-tender (15-20 minutes).
  3. Turn off heat, add coconut milk, and blend with immersion blender until uniformly pureed. Alternately, blend in full-size blender in two batches. Divide into four bowls or oversized mugs; garnish if desired.

Smoothie Bowl of the Day

Smoothie Bowl of the Day

Smoothie bowls are the most aesthetically appealing, Instagram-worthy dish around. Bonus points if they’re green in color and can be hashtagged with the word #superfood. And I feel that, as a twenty-three year old female, it is my duty to be on top of my smoothie bowl game at all times.

I live within walking distance from North End Juice Co., which is a little sidewalk smoothie cafe that churns out the best smoothie bowls (and poke bowls and juices and wraps) money can buy. But today it’s cold and rainy, and I walked more than five miles throughout my shift yesterday (nurse life, am I right?) so I wasn’t super keen on changing out of pajamas to go get breakfast.

Time to raid my fridge. I could reheat some gallo pinto that I made a couple of days ago (always a good idea), but I was in the mood for something sweet and refreshing. Plus I had some bananas that were about to go bad, and I really hate overripe bananas.

So today’s smoothie bowl was born. Strawberry yogurt, a banana, a handful of blueberries, and a few other little tidbits that I had on my shelf. Sometimes I use fancy ingredients like homemade kefir, baby kale, fresh mango, or half an avocado. Other times I use pre-flavored yogurt and the most basic, tried-and-true fruits out there. But that’s the cool thing about a smoothie bowl–you can throw anything you want in there and it’ll still turn out.

I started with half a ripe banana. I only used half because my yogurt was already sweetened, and a whole banana would have been way too much. If you’re like me and don’t like the banana flavor to overpower the bowl, just put the other half in a plastic bag or container and put it in the freezer for another day’s smoothie. Or slice it up and use as a garnish, because we all know we’re just doing this for the ‘gram.

I added a few scoops of yogurt and about a half a cup of blueberries, plus a scoop of collagen powder and a spoonful of ground flax seeds. These ingredients are totally optional, but they add an extra nutritional boost of protein, omega-3, and fiber.

I blended it all together in my bullet-style blender (I love this because it’s single-serve and doesn’t take up much space), but if you have a regular blender or an immersion blender they’ll work too. It turned a lovely light purplish color, which I appreciated because most of the time I choose my fruit ingredients based on which ones will produce the prettiest end product.

If it isn’t blending well because it’s too thick, you can always add a splash of milk, almond milk, fruit juice, or your liquid of choice, but make sure you add just enough so it blends. You don’t want it too runny or it won’t make a good bowl and you might as well drink it with a straw. Which is fine, but not as much fun.

Anyway, once it’s well-blended, just pour it into a bowl and throw some nuts and seeds on top. Sometimes I drizzle it with almond butter too, for some extra fat and protein to keep me full for longer. It’s definitely not a low-calorie or low-carb food, so if those are your goals, you can substitute plain yogurt or non-dairy yogurt, or add vegetables like greens or cauliflower in place of some of the fruit.

Quick Recipe

Makes 1 serving

  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup strawberry greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 scoop collagen peptides powder
  • Garnish of choice (suggested: pumpkin seeds, unsweetened toasted coconut)

Combine yogurt, blueberries, half of the banana, the flax, and the collagen in a blender and blend until creamy and well-incorporated. Pour into a bowl and arrange the other banana half (sliced), the pumpkin seeds, and the coconut on top of the smoothie mixture.

Simple Gallo Pinto

I can’t think of a more fitting recipe for my first-ever blog post than gallo pinto. I just got back last night from a work trip to Florida, and I’m working 12-hour shifts at the hospital tomorrow and the next day. So, on the tail end of my travel, and anticipating the need for packable lunches for my weekend at work, I was looking for a cheap and easy meal that reheats well and will last a couple of days.

When I was seventeen, I spent a year in a little community right outside San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. While I was there I ate rice and beans on the daily for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. Rice and beans are a staple in much of the world, and during my time in Latin America I grew to love them. Gallo pinto, as it’s called in Costa Rica, is just a thrown-together dish of leftover rice and black beans, and whatever else is on hand. Everyone has a slightly different recipe for it, and it’s traditionally served as breakfast. In the States we’re not necessarily accustomed to rice and beans as breakfast foods, but I’d gladly eat them any time of day.

Now, while gallo pinto is one of the most simple foods out there, it can be time consuming if you don’t plan ahead. Ideally, you will cook the rice and beans the day before and let them sit in the fridge overnight. This way, it’s easy to pull them out of the fridge, mix together, throw them in a pan to heat, and go. Plus, leaving the rice in the fridge overnight draws out some moisture and prevents it from getting soggy when combined with the beans and reheated. However, I did not plan ahead this time–and that’s okay too. You can still make this recipe right from scratch.

Start by cooking the rice and the black beans (separately) according to the package directions. You can even use canned black beans (drained but not rinsed) if you’re really short on time, but dried ones give the best flavor and texture. Again, planning ahead is helpful here–soaking the beans for eight hours overnight helps when it’s time to cook them. But if you did not soak them overnight, you can speed-soak them and cook as follows:

  • Combine black beans and water in medium sized pot (1 cup beans to 3 cups water)
  • Bring to a boil
  • Once boiling, remove from heat and let stand 1 hour
  • After 1 hour, add 1 tbsp minced garlic, 2 tsp cumin powder, and a liberal shake of salt
  • Place beans back on heat and simmer for an hour or more, or until soft
  • Drain beans of excess liquid, but no need to rinse

Same with the rice–if you did not cook it ahead of time and refrigerate, just go ahead and cook according to package directions, which may vary depending on type of rice chosen. White rice is the traditional choice, but I used brown rice for this recipe.

Once the rice and beans are done, set them aside. Chop up a medium sized onion and a red bell pepper (the pepper is optional; less traditional, but it adds more color and flavor to the dish). Saute them in about a tablespoon or two of butter–you can also use olive oil or a different fat if you want to make it vegan, but butter is the best flavor for this, in my opinion. When the onion and pepper are soft, add a tablespoon of minced garlic to the pan, and then add the rice and beans all together. I like to use freeze-dried garlic because it’s super convenient but still has a fresh taste. I tend to buy Litehouse brand garlic (and no, this is not an ad, I just like it).

Salt and pepper are the basic seasonings and should be added to taste, along with cumin, garlic and onion powder, chili powder, or other seasonings as desired. It’s important to be very liberal with salting and seasoning since this is such a simple dish.

Stir the whole mixture frequently as it cooks, and when it is warmed through and some bits of rice have become crispy, it’s ready to plate. It’s such a versatile dish that you can pair it with just about anything, or eat it on its own. My favorite way to eat it is with a fried egg and some avocado slices on top (and a cup of freshly-ground Costa Rican coffee on the side), but it’s also great with chorizo or chicken thighs, or in corn tortillas.

If desired, garnish with cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, salsa, shredded lettuce, or whatever you have in the fridge. The traditional crowning touch (and my all-time favorite condiment) is Lizano Salsa, which is the Costa Rican “everything” sauce and can be bought on Amazon if you want to try it. Again, not an ad, just a killer kitchen staple that everyone deserves to know about. Also, if you decide to purchase a bottle of Lizano, go ahead and put some in with your black beans while you’re cooking them. It’s so good. Seriously, if you think this is a recipe you might make again in the future, do yourself a favor and order a bottle of Lizano now.

There are a million ways to make gallo pinto, and even more ways to eat it. So experiment with different seasonings and toppings to see what you like best. It’s so cheap, and can also be easily multiplied to feed a group. A pot of pinto never lasts very long for me!

Quick Recipe

Makes 4-5 servings; keeps and reheats well
Per serving: calories 322, total fat 8.4g, cholesterol 0mg, total carbs 64.8g, fiber 18.5g, sugar 4g, protein 13.9g

  • Leftover black beans, drained but not rinsed (cooked from 1 cup dry; per package directions or as detailed above)
  • Leftover rice (cooked from 1 cup dry, per package directions)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp butter (or olive oil, for a vegan option)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (or more to taste)
  • 1 tsp cumin powder (or more to taste)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Garnishes of choice (fried egg, avocado, salsa, sour cream, cheese, etc.)
  1. Chop onion and bell pepper into small, uniform pieces
  2. Melt 1-2 tbsp butter or oil in a large cast iron skillet or deep saute pan and add onions, peppers, and minced garlic, cooking 10 minutes or to preferred softness
  3. Season veggies liberally with salt, pepper, and cumin
  4. Add cooked rice and beans to skillet and stir well, adding more salt & cumin if desired
  5. Spoon onto plates and add toppings of choice (recommended: Lizano Salsa)