Things were humming right along. The only remaining element was the dressing, which meant I needed oil and acid. I glanced at my workstation, spotting the cucumbers soaking in lightly sweet vinegar. There was the acid. To give the vegetable oil for the dressing some personality, I sizzled sliced scallion whites and ginger in it for just 30 seconds, until their aromas were released.
As I waited for the infused oil to cool, I realized that the next time around, I could maximize productivity by making the scallion-ginger oil before anything else. It could cool as I prepared other items, and then it would be ready to go when it was time to mix the dressing.
I carried on, combining a few tablespoons of the pickling liquid with the oil and a little more of the hoisin sauce that I'd just painted onto the salmon. I took a taste: With very little work, I'd achieved a deeply complex, sweet-tart dressing.
Ready for assembly, I pulled out four shallow bowls. To avoid any dry grains, I tossed the rice with some of the dressing before arranging the hoisin-glazed salmon, roasted shiitakes and carrots, and gingery cucumbers on top. More dressing and showers of toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallion greens finished the bowl with final layers of crunch and freshness. I would pass sriracha at the table for those who liked a spicy kick. This bowl was everything I'd hoped for, and I'd pulled it off in about an hour.
With my maximum-efficiency bowl complete, I used my template to create three more: a bowl featuring honey-sriracha tofu and bulgur; a chicken and brown rice bowl with accents such as chipotle, lime, and pepitas; and a final bowl combining farro and sausage with roasted broccoli rabe, red peppers, and pickled grapes.
Mission accomplished: Here were four hearty but light, great-tasting bowls that didn't require tons of ingredients, time, or equipment.