Black Rice, Roasted Beets, Cannellini Beans & Summer Squash - A Formula Meal

Have you heard of FORMULA MEALS yet? It's a different way to meal plan that gets dinner on the table FAST! ~ and gives you plenty to work with for make-ahead lunches! Here's how this one came about.

When I visited one of my favorite humans in Seattle a few weeks ago, I left my family with three instructions:

1. Keep the seedlings moist.

2. Eat the produce before it goes to waste.

3. Clean your dishes.

They tried... an assortment of veggies definitely needed some attention. Another strong wind and rain storm swept through as well, leaving us another downed tree to process. In true multi-tasking fashion, I prepped the veg, wrapped it in heavy duty foil and cooked it atop the rocks lining the brush fire ring - tossed together with a whole grain, some legumes, fresh herbs and a vinaigrette... dinner (plus tomorrow's lunches) is done!

My son calls these meals Whoo-Hash... "we're havin' some of mom's Whoo-Hash for dinner? Awesome!" My neighbor calls them the modern-day casserole.

I call them FORMULA MEALS. It's basically combining a whole grain with veggies and/or fruit, extra protein, herbs/seasonings and a vinaigrette. Leftovers always make fantastic lunches for a couple of days!

The basic concept is to work with a few whole ingredients - seasonal produce, proteins, healthy fats, herbs and spices that can be mixed and matched in any number of ways. I've found planning meals this way to be ingenious because it:

~ saves time

~ allows flexibility

~ requires no recipe

~ boosts kitchen confidence

~ fosters creativity

~ reduces food waste

~ packs in plenty of quality nutrients

This meal is the result of this process. You choose:

~ what you enjoy eating

~ what's in season

~ what's available

~ what fits your budget

(photo: forbidden or black rice)

Here's how it works. You choose a whole grain, some veggies (cooked, raw or a combination), additional protein, dressing, seasonings and/or herbs.

The FORMULA that works well is: PRINT HERE

1 part cooked whole grain

2 parts veggies (combined with fruit if desired)

1 part additional protein

1/8 - 1/4 part dressing

seasonings and/or herbs to taste

This allows you to make as much or as little as you need. You can prepare the components and store them in the refrigerator individually, or you combine everything together and then refrigerate. This will formula will also give you twice the amount of produce to grains and additional protein, making it a LOT easier to fit more fruits and veg into your day!

Here are some ideas:

Whole grains (cooked) or grain substitutes ~

~ barley, hulled - pearled barley has had the nutritious bran removed

~ buckwheat (kasha)

~ cracked wheat

~ farro (emmer wheat)

~ kamut

~ legume pastas: lentil, black bean, edamame

~ millet

~ quinoa

~ oat groats (whole kernel, only husk removed)

~ rice: black, brown, burgundy or wild

~ rye groats (whole kernel, only husk removed)

~ spelt berries

~ teff (tiny grain, cooks like a porridge)

~ whole wheat berries, soft white

~ whole wheat bulgur

~ whole wheat couscous

~ whole wheat orzo

~ whole wheat small shell pasta

(photo: Natalia Fogarty @vigour8 on Unsplash)

Veggies ~ (raw, pickled, fermented, steamed, roasted, grilled, lightly sautéed or a combination of any of these)

~ artichoke hearts

~ beets

~ baby bok choy

~ broccoli (broccolini or broccoli raab)

~ cabbage

~ carrots

~ cauliflower

~ corn

~ cucumbers

~ eggplant

~ fennel

~ kale or chard

~ kohlrabi

~ onions

~ parsnips

~ peas (shelling, sugar snap or snow)

~ peppers (sweet, hot, or both!)

~ radishes

~ spinach

~ summer squash

~ sweet potatoes

~ tomatoes

~ winter squash

(photo: Milada Vigerova)

Additional protein (yes, plants DO have protein!) ~

~ Beans: cannellini, kidney, garbanzo, navy, black, adzuki, edamame, yellow-eyed, Jacob's cattle, green or black lentils

~ Tofu: extra-firm (sprouted or regular), cubed

~ Tempeh: smoked or regular

~ Nuts and Seeds: (these also add healthy fats) sliced almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, filberts, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sunflower seeds, peanuts (not a true nut, but a legume)

Dressing ~

~ I like to keep it simple and use a fresh vinaigrette. If you have some left-over vinaigrette, fantastic! Use it here, just keep in mind any herbs/spices already in the vinaigrette when adding additional fresh herbs.

The basic vinaigrette ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts extra virgin olive oil. Then season with a touch of salt and pepper. If you prefer LESS acid, use citrus juice instead of (or in addition to) vinegar. You can also add a touch of honey or maple syrup to balance the acidity.

Or you might like to try one of my oil-free dressings:

~ Orange Ginger Dressing

~ Lemony Garlic Dressing

~ Creamy Lemon Basil Dressing

~ Almond Butter Lime Sauce

Seasonings ~

Seasonings can either be added directly to the vinaigrette or added to the dish separately. Use fresh herbs whenever available, just keep in mind you will need more fresh herbs than dried. You can also use dried ground spices. Think about what you enjoy eating (and smelling!) and don't be afraid to experiment... just start with a small amount, taste and adjust.

Here are some fresh herbs to consider:

~ basil (so many varieties available now!)

~ chives (have you tried garlic chives yet?!)

~ cilantro (or Chinese parsley)

~ dill~ fennel fronds

~ lovage or celery leaves

~ mint (also many varieties)

~ oregano, Greek or Mexican

~ rosemary

~ sage

~ savory, summer or winter

~ scallions or bunching onions

~ tarragon, French (Russian is much less flavorful)

~ thyme (have you tried lemon or orange thyme yet?!)

~ edible flowers: (nasturtium, pansy, borage, bachelor buttons, calendula, etc). For a great list of edible flowers and their flavor profiles, check out THIS POST (about 3/4 of the way down)!

Other ideas ~

~ avocado, diced - keep in mind it may oxidize quickly

~ fermented veggies

~ fruit, dried: chopped dates, apricots, prunes, figs, pineapple, cranberries, raisins, cherries

~ fruit, fresh (or grilled): apples, pears, peaches, pineapple, nectarines, plums

~ olives, any kind The idea is to experiment and see what you like.

Once combined, three to four days is usually the maximum time a formula meal like this will stay fresh. If you're preparing a meal for those with discerning palates, you can easily keep each part separate and serve "build-your-own" style. Any leftovers make excellent lunches!

This one pictured contains the following:

black rice

cannellini beans

yellow zucchini, diced & roasted

red beets, diced & roasted

sliced almonds, toasted

fresh herbs: chives, basil, French tarragon and summer savory

Tarragon-infused red wine vinaigrette

So if I want to end up with 4 servings (2 cups each), let's take a quick look at that formula again:

1 part cooked whole grain

2 parts veggies

1 part additional protein

1/8 - 1/4 part dressing

seasonings and/or herbs to taste

These are the quantities I used: [2 cups = 1 part]

2 cups cooked black rice

2 cups yellow zucchini, diced & roasted

2 cups red beets, diced & roasted

4 cups total (the individual amounts can be anything you like)

1.5 cups cannellini beans

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

2 cups total (the individual amounts can be anything you like)

6 - 8 Tbsp dressing

2 Tbsp fresh herbs

Toss together and you're DONE! Easily scaled up or down.

Let me know what your favorite combinations are... I love trying new ideas!

Nutrition information is for a 2-cup serving using the formula above (6 total Tbsp vinaigrette)

DISCLOSURES: None. This post was not created in affiliation with any product or brand. The opinions expressed are my own. I will only write about products I use and trust.

NOTE: All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my photos without prior written permission.

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