I think many vegetarians have a stir-fry as their go-to dish when they need something hot, fast and nourishing on the table. Some folks are more purists who make traditional Chinese dishes like asparagus and tofu with black bean sauce, while others will throw in the whole kitchen sink of vegetables and top it with tahini-orange-soy sauce.
There is another, similar category of dish that I use as a basis for improvisation that I find offers a fresher range of flavors. In our family we call it "rice bowl". I guess it is inspired somewhat by Korean bi-bim-bap. (And there is also "noodle bowl", inspired by Vietnamese bun, but otherwise much the same).
The basic idea is that you make a short grain rice (like Niko Niko or Thai Jasmine), and while it is cooking you make a few sauteed ingredients and a few fresh vegetables, and a quick sauce to complement them, and then take a minute or two to arrange them attractively and garnish before serving.
By keeping each of the items separate you have the opportunity to control how each one is cooked and seasoned for maximum flavor, and it is still attainable as a weeknight supper.
In the example above, the cooked ingredients are crisp-browned slices of tofu and zucchini and the raw elements are cucumbers, red onions, avocado, and basil leaves. For the sauce (more of a paste in this case) I threw some Thai chilis, garlic, green onion, sesame seed, cilantro, salt, pepper and lime juice in a mortar and pestle and gave them a rough pounding.
The thing I like about this method is that you can adapt it to just about any ingredients you have on hand in any season of the year, as long as you think about your flavor combinations. When in doubt, just stick to things you’ve seen paired before or that are common in a cuisine that you like. The dish above would be pretty purely southeast Asian in style with the possible exception of the avocado, but avocado is in a happy family with the onions and chilis and cilantro, so that works.
I don’t know if you really even need a recipe, but here’s an outline to get you thinking:
Vegetarian and Vegan
- 2.5 c. short grained rice (I usually use Niko Niko)
- 1.5 lb tofu, or 1 lb tempeh, seitan, spicy vegetarian sausage, etc.
- 2 big handfuls each of 1-2 vegetables to pan fry (zucchini, broccoli, eggplant, bok choy, …)
- 4 handfuls total of salad items: lettuce, red onions, fresh herbs, mango, papaya, avocado, carrots, corn, peppers, …
- herbs and spices for making a spice paste, or a bottled sauce of your choice (sweet chili sauce works well)
- toasted sesame seeds, citrus zest, crisped bits of garlic, sliced green onions etc for garnish. Or you could go the bi-bim-bap route and top with a sunny-side up egg.
- Cook the rice as you prefer, on the stove top or in a rice cooker.
- Wash, dry, and slice the salad items, keeping them all separate. If you like, you could give any of them a quick pickle in rice vinegar.
- Prepare the sauce.
- Slice the protein item thinly and pan fry in a little oil until brown, season with salt.
- Individually pan fry the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, or a little soy sauce if you like.
- To serve, put about 1 c. of cooked rice in the bottom of a bowl, arrange the salad items around it, and top that with the cooked protein and vegetables, then drizzle or mound the sauce and sprinkle on the garnishes, finishing with a few grains of sea salt and a grind of black (or szechwan or balinese long) pepper.