Once upon a time, bowls were for soups, salads, and cereal. Now, the bowl has become a clean-eating catch-all, a marketing device (Broth Bowl, Power Bowl, and so on), a magic trick. Much of what we eat from bowls these days could, theoretically, be served on plates, but—somehow—composing the same ingredients in the curves of a bowl transforms them.
I am reminded of the power of the vessel. The power of the objects we choose to hold and store and serve. My relationship with things can be a bit tidal—regularly surging toward minimalist ideals only to surrender, again, to the truth that ordinary objects are meaningful. In this case, the meaning is practical first: my favorite shallow bowls catch every last drop of the silky, spicy sauce that binds this bright, fresh tangle of Thai noodles and veggies. But fast forward past the prep (a rapid chop, an even faster sauté in a hot, hot skillet) to a moment when the steaming bowls are served: possibility.
We could curl up on the couch, cupping our bowls, and let the intense flavors of garlic, ginger, red curry, and sambal oelek warm us through. If the March night feels right, we could eat on the porch, balancing our bowls on our knees and our beers on the steps. Or we could come in ravenous from the gym, throw this rainbow of saucy, spicy vegetables in the skillet, and have it in bowls minutes later.
It’s just a bowl. Just a dinner. Just a versatile, veg-heavy curry you can make in a flash. But, of course, like anything we consume, it can be so much more.
Bangkok Noodle Bowls
Coconut curry sauce
1 Tbs. neutral oil
3 shallots, minced
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced (approx. a 2-inch piece)
4 Tbs. red curry paste
2 cans (15 oz. each) full-fat coconut milk
1–2 Tbs. sambal oelek chili paste (depending on how spicy you like it)
3 Tbs. fish sauce
3 Tbs. soy sauce
3 Tbs. neutral oil, divided
2 heaping cups of broccoli florets (approx. 1 small head)
1 ½ cups matchstick carrots
½ head purple cabbage, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
12 oz. rice noodles
1 lb. shrimp
Salt and pepper
2 limes, quartered
- Soak rice noodles in a large bowl of cold water to soften, about 20–30 minutes. When soft, drain and rinse.
- Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add ginger and shallots and cook for 3–5 minutes. Add curry paste and cook for another minute, stirring. Stir in coconut milk, sambal oelek, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Simmer for about 15 minutes and stir occasionally, until sauce reduces and thickens.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and sear until opaque, 2 minutes per side. Squeeze a couple of lime slices over the shrimp. Remove shrimp and set aside.
- Heat the remaining 2 Tbs. of oil in the same skillet. Add the scallions, broccoli, carrots, and cabbage and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Vegetables should soften slightly, but retain a little crunch.
- Remove skillet from heat. Add sauce, shrimp, and noodles to the skillet, tossing quickly to evenly distribute sauce. Serve immediately in shallow bowls and finish with a few squeezes from the remaining limes.