Poke seems to be everywhere these days, from fine restaurant menus, to fast-casual and even food trucks. Chefs are coming up with clever combos and creative reinterpretations – even fish-free versions for the veg set. I knew had to take a stab at it. Or at least a poke. Sorry.
For those of you hearing about poke for the first time, this fresh and tasty dish (pronounced POH-kay), hails from Hawaii. In its most unadulterated form, poke is raw fish, originally combined with sea salt, candlenut and seaweed. It evolved over the years as ingredient availability increased, and the salt was replaced with soy sauce, the seaweed with spring onion, the candlenut with sesame and so on. Once it hit mainland America a few years ago, poke mania ensued and the dish evolved to become more of a meal – not just a snack. Now it is often served atop rice and garnished with all manner of innovative ingredients. Fully-focused poke restaurants have established themselves in major cities across North America. Many of these eateries allow their patrons to customize their bowls with veggies, sea weed, pickles, beans, nuts, and alt-grains, tapping into the to the fact that fast, fresh, healthy meals are becoming mainstream. Which totally rocks.
I had most of the elements for my own poke-inspired version in my head…except for the fish (the most important part?). I racked my brain to come up with something that looked just like tuna or salmon, but didn’t want to use fruit, like watermelon or papaya, since I didn’t want the dish to be sweet. It wasn’t until I was trying to fall asleep one night, that it came to me…chiogga beets! Chiogga, or candy-striped beets are gorgeously two-toned when they are raw. Sliced thin horizontally, they reveal rings of deep pink pigment and creamy white, resembling something that your grandmother keeps on her coffee table in a crystal dish. But for anyone who has ever roasted these stunning creatures will know that the magic doesn’t last; the magenta bleeds into the white during cooking, resulting in an almost homogenous pale pink, with slight variegation. WHICH LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE TUNA. I almost couldn’t sleep. Too excited.
The next day I gathered up all the things I’d like in a poke bowl: short grain brown rice (not long grain – an important distinction), spring onion for bite, carrot for crunch, edamame for pop and protein, and avo for creaminess. I took this last one a step farther and blended it with lemon and wasabi for the most boss sauce ever. This alone would be delish on most things…please try it. And for the fishy component, I thought back to the raw vegan “tuna” I made for my first cookbook, and how effective adding a sprinkle of nori was to boost that fresh-from-the-sea flavour. This is not a deal breaker for the overall dish, but it definitely made it taste complete. If you can’t find nori flakes, just crunch up a couple sheets of the stuff that you’d use to make sushi. Easy fix!
I like to use wasabi powder in the avo cream since the pre-made stuff in a tube is questionable. Have you ever read the ingredient list on one of those packages? It can be scary stuff. In a pinch, use it, but tracking down the powder is worth it from a nutrition standpoint, and also a flavour one. The real stuff tastes infinitely better! What a shocker.
Wasabi is Japanese horseradish, and like its western counterpart, it belongs to the Brassica family, like cabbage, broccoli and mustard. The root is dried and then pulverized, which gives us the powder that we can blend with water to create wasabi paste. It is a difficult crop to grow, which explains the high price for the genuine product. Most wasabi powders don’t contain any wasabi at all, but are instead a mix of mustard powder and regular horseradish mixed with green food dye. A high-quality wasabi powder should be organic and contain only horseradish and wasabi. The colour should be pale green – not disco neon. Most health food stores carry wasabi powder. This is a good brand.
Everything unfolded just as I’d hoped it would. The beets came out perfectly pink with those thin white stripes that look just like fat striation. The marinade that I tossed them around in was acidic and ginger-y and just plain yum. Building the meal up with the rice, the beans, the veggies, a dollop of cream, a sprinkle of nori and roasted sesame, was ever so satisfying and fun. This healthy, fresh meal is calling you. No need to poke about, just make it. Again, sorry.
Poke-Inspired Beet Bowl
1 cup / 200g short grain brown rice, soaked overnight if possible
¾ tsp. fine sea salt
2 cups / 250g edamame beans, fresh or frozen
2 tsp. cold-pressed olive oil
a couple pinches flaky sea salt
Beets & Marinade
3 medium Chiogga (candy striped) beets
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. finely grated ginger
pinch fine sea salt
Avocado Wasabi Cream
2 medium ripe avocados
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 tsp. wasabi powder, to taste
pinch fine sea, to taste
2 spring onions, sliced lengthwise into ribbons
2 medium carrots, julienned
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
3 Tbsp. nori flakes
1. Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet in the oven. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes (to check doneness, peel back the foil of one beet and insert the tip of a sharp knife. If there is little resistance, it’s ready). Peel back foil from each beet and let cool slightly.
2. While the beets are roasting, make the rice. Drain and rinse well. Place in a pot with 2 cups / 500ml of fresh water and salt. Cover, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook until tender (add more during cooking if necessary), about 45 minutes.
3. While the rice is cooking, make the Avocado Wasabi Cream. Scoop out the flesh from both avocados and add to a food processor. Blend on high, then add the lemon juice, wasabi powder and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, ginger and salt. Slip the skins off the cooled beets. Cut the beets into cubes and toss in the marinade. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.
5. While the beets are marinating, bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Add a few pinches of salt and the edamame. Simmer for a couple minutes until bright green and tender (do not overcook!). Drain and rinse under cold water to halt cooking. Toss with a little olive oil and sprinkle with flaky salt.
6. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast sesame seeds, stirring often until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
7. Julienne the carrots.
8. To assemble, divide the rice among the bowls. Add the marinated beets, edamame, carrots and a dollop of Avocado Wasabi Cream. Sprinkle with nori flakes, the toasted sesame seeds and top with the spring onions. Enjoy!
I’m on my last few days of I just ended the North American cookbook tour. Honestly, it’s been just magical and I am so grateful to all of you who came out to show some love and connect with the healthy community around them!
All love and smiles,
Show me your bowls on Instagram! #mnrpokebowl