DIY Dinner: A Poke Bowl Has It All

poke bowl
Photo: Jesse Ballantyne/Unsplash

Corona cooking can be tough. Whether you’re feeling pigeonholed by picky eaters, are fresh out of ideas or just looking to spice up the monotonous blur of days spent staying at home, set up this DIY poke bowl bar to serve dinner right.

I was first introduced to poke in Israel, when I worked there during the summer after my sophomore year of college. When our days in Tel Aviv startup offices finished, we headed over to the beach, working on our tans and our dinner appetites. Rarely deciding or agreeing on what to eat, we soon discovered we didn’t have to: DIY poke shops offered a creative haven for everyone’s individual food preferences that were surprisingly filling. There was truly something for everyone.

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After spending the rest of the summer touring more of these trendy little shops and finding more ingredients than I could fit in my bowl, I decided to bring poke home. Ever since, I’ve made DIY poke bowl bars at many events, from fun family dinners to summer get-togethers with friends.

The ideas below are in no way exhaustive nor restrictive. After running many DIY meals, I listed different items for every station that I have found to be popular. If you don’t like something, or only half of my suggestions work for you, don’t worry. If you want to add something I might have missed, go for it. After all, this is a DIY meal—for both your guests and you, the chef.

The Set-Up:

Assemble stations 1-6 across a long buffet table. Place some bowls before station 1, tell your guests to start there and then work their way down to station 6.

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Station 1: The Base

The base is where your creation begins. As the launch pad for later assortments of proteins, veggies, sauces and garnishes, your bowl relies on its base to become, well, a bowl. But that doesn’t mean you have to pick just one path; the beauty of the poke bowl is that you can go crazy. Why settle for just a grain or salad, when you could have both?

  • Mixed greens (can be spinach)
  • White sushi rice
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa

Station 2: Cooked Veggies

Cooked veggies give your base some personality. They not only establish a tasteful flavor profile for your bowl, but add some serious color, too.

  • Roasted sweet potato
  • Roasted beets
  • Roasted cauliflower
  • Roasted zucchini
  • Lightly steamed or blanched broccoli
  • Balsamic mushrooms (see recipe at end)

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Station 3: Raw Veggies

Raw veggies = texture. At this station, you’ll load up on tons of nutrients while satisfying the crunch your bowl craves. And feel free to get funky—throw in any veggie you meet in the supermarket that excites you.

  • Shredded cabbage
  • Shredded carrot
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Tomato
  • Corn
  • Avocado
  • Mango*
  • Water chestnuts
  • Sprouts

*Mango cannot be stressed enough. Unless you have a severe aversion or allergy to mango, I seriously urge you to include it. When paired with avocado, the duo becomes the ultimate sushi power combo.

Station 4: Protein

Finally, the meat of the meal. But for poke, meat is versatile; it can be vegetarian, pescatarian and even vegan-friendly. No matter what protein you opt to serve or your guests choose to add, this station ensures your bowl bears the heft of being a full and healthy meal.

  • Plain grilled chicken (store-bought or grilled with a simple marinade)
  • Simple salmon with maple balsamic soy sauce (see recipe at end)
  • Sushi/sashimi-grade tuna seasoned with sriracha and sesame oil
  • Tofu with maple balsamic soy sauce (see recipe at end)

Make this: Salmon Run

Station 5: Sauces

Sauces scream flavor. Drizzle an array of your favorites on top of your creation to tie your mix together into a cohesive bowl.

  • Sweet chili sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Peanut butter sauce (see recipe at end)
  • Maple balsamic soy (see recipe at end)
  • Spicy mayo (store-bought or homemade)

Pro tip: Put the sauces or extra sauces on the table, so guests can add more after they eat through the surface layer of their bowls

Station 6: Garnish

Your bowl is almost finished, but not quite. Top it off with some garnishes for one last boost of aesthetics, flavor and crunch. This is the station where your bowl is completed and becomes truly picture-worthy.

  • Sliced scallions
  • Crushed peanuts
  • Edamame
  • Seaweed, torn into bits
  • Sesame seeds

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Balsamic mushrooms

  • Sauté one 8-ounce. box mushrooms in olive oil, until almost soft. Then add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar (about 1-2 tablespoons), 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and ½ teaspoon garlic powder

Maple balsamic soy sauce

  • Whisk together equal parts balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and maple syrup. Add 2 teaspoons of ground ginger. This sauce is great because it can be used for cooking the salmon, marinating and cooking the tofu and for drizzling as a sauce at station 5.

Peanut butter sauce

  • Mix together one cup natural, unsweetened peanut butter, 3/4 cup rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari, 2 tablespoons maple syrup and 1 teaspoon ground ginger. Taste and adjust to how peanut-buttery, how acidic, how sweet or salty you like it. Then add water until the mixture is thin enough to be spooned out as a sauce. You can also add some chili powder and lime juice for a kick. This sauce is a bit more complicated than the other, but also gets rave reviews.

Read more about the history of poke right here.

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