Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls and a Table for One

I recently moved into my own place, a decision that only those not entirely disgusted by watching their paycheck drop into a bottomless pit every month should undertake.  The part of me that can overlook the pains of that, however, thrives in this situation. Quiet solitude may not be for everyone, and as a frequent assembler of people, it’s certainly not what I want all the time, but for the time being this solitary physical space feels very right.

In the month leading up to my move, I dished out at sizeable portion of my savings for apartment staples. You know, things like a couch and a TV so that I can at least maintain my solo nights of Netflix and chill. A dining table and four chairs also took a high priority on my furniture-buying list, because what home would not be complete without a place to eat, right? So now a simple wooden round table with four unabashedly hipster, white plastic bucket-seat chairs divide the space between the kitchen and my TV corner.

I envisioned having bi-weekly dinner parties, filling those four spaces with friends, good food, and hours of storytelling at its finest.  Just as the kitchen table during my childhood was a fundamental place where the family reassembled each night to share the day’s experiences, I desired that my table too would become central to the little life I’m creating here. And yet, eight weeks after moving in, I can probably count on my two hands the number I times I’ve, including on my own, sat at the table to eat.

I’m afraid to say that that I play victim to the monotonous rhythm of the daily eat-work-eat-run-eat-sleep routine. I cook the same handful of go-to recipes, ones that make enough to serve 4-6 and that I heat in the microwaves at work all week. I find that I all too often park myself on a stool at the countertop or on the couch to idly take in forkful after forkful alongside a daily dose of unnecessary and unfulfilling Facebook perusing. Amidst the repetition, the kitchen table remains ignored.

Unfortunately I don’t see this changing too much. My goals of hosting frequent dinner parties were lofty to say the least, though let it be heard that I will gladly welcome anyone who wants to let me cook for them in exchange for bringing the wine. And the reason I find myself turning to the same old recipes month after month is because, well, I like them. I mean, yes, cheesy eggs on toast does get a little old after 4 days in a row but somehow I still crave it pretty frequently. But above all other go-to dishes, the one that stands alone as the meal that I could eat every day for the rest of my life and die happy, is little more than a bowl of rice.

That might be why I’ve kept this recipe to myself for so long. Something about the dish feels inherently solitary. It provides the “wrap yourself in a blanket on the couch and eat while watching Anthony Bourdain or The Bachelor” sort of comfort you want to experience alone, whether you’re feeling lonely or not at all.  It pairs well with contemplation, red wine, and the threadbare pair of leggings you’ve had for ten years. And since it was a dreary sort of day where many may not venture outside of the confines of their homes, it seemed right to finally share it.

It starts with a pot of rice, a 50/50 mix of brown and white rice cooked in Alice Waters’ foolproof method of boiling and then oven steaming. I mix it with kale and coconut that have been roasted with a sesame dressing until crisp and smoky-sweet. It’s seasoned with furikake and sesame seeds and beyond that, this simple rice base only needs a variety of topping options. The simplest add-ons are slices of avocado and sheets of nori which I use in place of utensils to grab onto a clump of rice. It’s not a very graceful way of eating which is probably another reason why I consume this alone. Other options are a fried egg with a runny yolk or chicken, salmon, or shrimp that’s been diced, doused in soy sauce and sesame oil, and sautéed. So tonight, hungry and alone, though not at all lonely, and with a lot of things on my mind for good contemplation, I set my table for one.

Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls
serves 4
adapted from Shutterbean's recipe 

½ cup brown medium grain rice
½ cup white medium grain rice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 bunch of kale, stripped from its stalk and torn into rough pieces
1½ cups large flake coconut
2 Tbs. furikake rice seasoning
1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
salt and pepper, to taste

Topping options: fried egg, avocado, nori, sautéed chicken, shrimp, or fish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a large, ovenproof and nonstick pot. Add the brown rice and let the water continue at a low boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes. If you are using all white rice, skip this step. Add in the white rice and cook for 10 minutes. Drain almost all of the water, stir in a splash of olive oil and cover the pot with the lid. Transfer to the oven to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until dry. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

While the rice cooks, add the kale and coconut to a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, sesame oil and soy sauce. Add two thirds of this dressing to the kale and coconut and toss to thoroughly coat. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast in the 400 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, tossing periodically. When cooked, remove from the oven and sprinkle with a large pinch of salt.

Toss the cooked rice with the rest of the sesame dressing along with the furikake and the sesame seeds. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Add in the kale and coconut mixture. Place a portion of the rice in a bowl along with your desired toppings.