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The fast-casual lunch: from grain bowls to skewers
2016: Grain Bowl
We like grains. We like bowls. We like piling things on grains in bowls. But we went a little overboard in 2016, when the grain bowl became ubiquitous and topped so haphazardly it was like going to Pinkberry after a few drinks. Our 2017 grain bowl message: Keep it simple.
This isn’t exactly a tough sell. Many of our favorite foods are on a stick: kebabs, Thai satay, yakitori, corn dogs, popsicles, roasted marshmallows. So the fact that chefs are putting everything from French toast to chicken and waffles on sticks is fantastic news. (Pro tip: If you’re doing beef skewers, soak them in soy sauce for an hour before grilling. It’s a great marinade, and it will also prevent wooden skewers from catching fire on the grill.)
Seafood dish: From poké to kinilaw
We can’t vouch for all Hawaiian food (no Spam, thanks), but poké (pronounced POH-kay, which means “to section, slice, or cut”)—raw fish (usually tuna) tossed with Asian flavors—is simple, hearty, and incredibly delicious. Just combine cubes of raw, best-quality tuna with sweet onion, scallions, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, red-pepper flakes, and good salt. Done.
Kinilaw is the seviche of the Philippines, except made with everything from oysters to goat meat. It’s an unexpected way to prepare your favorite protein with minimal fuss: Raw fish or meat is doused with cane or coconut vinegar, mixed with onion or shallots, ginger, chili peppers, various fruits and/or vegetables, and maybe coconut milk, and left just 15 minutes or so.
Sandwich: From lettuce wraps to vada pav
2016: Lettuce Wraps
In 2016, carb-fearing guys started wrapping everything they used to wrap in a bun or tortilla, in lettuce leaves. It’s a nice idea—some of us think the bland bun detracts from the more flavorful meat and fillings anyway—but it kind of negates the point if you just end up eating more fries.
2017: Vada Pav
This Indian street snack is a spiced potato fritter on a bun. Think veggie burger, but fresh and vibrant, not dull and pasty. Says chef Vijay Sadhu of Dallas’ Cook Hall, “We called them Desi Burgers and would buy them from street vendors. They’re great with mint chutney.” To further lighten it up, use thin slices of whole-grain bread…or hey, wrap it in a lettuce leaf!
Breakfast: From avocado toast to jianbing
2016: Avocado Toast
We love mashed avocado on toast as much as the next guy, but its overwhelming ubiquity, especially on brunch menus (and on Instagram, where avo-toast documentation has become a competitive sport), makes us wish people would remember the other tempting forms that open-faced sandwiches can take (like Danish smørrebrød, which is starting to make waves in the U.S.). But let’s be clear: This isn’t to say we won’t keep piling smashed ripe avocados on bread.
Hailing from China, jianbing—a huge crepe with egg cooked onto it, folded and stuffed with herbs, vegetables, pickles, and sauces—is starting to find its way to street corners around the U.S.
“Jianbing is one of the most perfect Asian sandwiches, and it’s good any time of day,” says Gregory Gourdet of Departure Restaurants in Portland, OR; and Denver. “When you make it yourself, have fun with fillings—pork, duck, eggs—and garnish with hoisin and chili sauces.”
Guy salad: From salad in a jar to quick kimchis
2016: Salad in a Jar
We’re all for anything that gets guys to eat more salads. Layering ingredients in a jar so lunch involves nothing more than a quick shake is a brilliant idea that was everywhere in 2016 (including stores hawking “salad jars”). Just put the dressing and other “wet” ingredients at the bottom, then hearty ingredients like broccoli, carrots, and beans as Layer 2, so everything above it doesn’t get soggy.
2017: Quick Kimchis
Most of us know kimchi as a spicy, stinky fermented cabbage. But this Korean condiment comes in many shapes and forms, including noncabbage, nonfermented versions that are closer to salads, made with a range of herbs, vegetables, and even fruits. These are actually the most traditional kimchis eaten in Korea in the spring, and stateside chefs are catching on.
Chef Todd Kelly serves several quick kimchis at Cincinnati’s Orchids at Palm Court. “I love their adaptability,” he says. “You can use almost any healthy ingredients and combine them to accommodate any dish, or sandwich—or just eat it on their own.”
Pasta: From ancient grain pastas to vegetable pastas
2016: Ancient Grain Pastas
So-called “ancient grains” like einkorn, Kamut, and farro—so called for being relatively unchanged from their ancient form, unlike most commercial wheat— have a permanent place on our tables, along with quinoa, barley, buckwheat, and other nutritious whole grains. Pasta from these grains can be fantastic, and the quality of the store-bought versions has gotten so good, there’s no reason not to buy whole-grain pasta.
2017: Vegetable Pastas
You may have heard of “spiralizing” or “ribboning”— veggies like beets, carrots, zucchini, and broccoli cut or shaved into pastalike strands. (You might also have heard of “zoodles,” i.e., zucchini noodles, but let’s pretend you haven’t.) These can evoke a comforting pasta vibe with the right sauce (pro tip: Use a ton of parmesan cheese), and spaghetti squash even has a pasta texture built right in—it separates with a fork into spaghetti-like strands when cooked. Our favorite version: The roasted spaghetti squash with apples, pumpkin seeds, and raclette cheese at Chicago’s GreenRiver.
Dessert: From savory with sweet to pavlova
2016: Savory with Sweet
Salt on chocolate: Delicious not disappearing anytime soon. It doesn’t always work (parsnip ice cream?), but incorporating savory ingredients like carrots, beets, and squash into desserts can have tasty—and nutritious—results. Salt can actually accentuate sweetness (try a tiny bit on a grapefruit), and balancing tart, spicy, and savory elements is key to a complex dessert and was a big success among chefs in 2016.
This fruit-topped meringue dessert is overdue for its major moment. Australian chef Guy Turland of Bondi Harvest says: “Pav, as we call it, is super simple to make, versatile, and packed with flavor. It’s textural, with crispy meringue on the outside that’s light and fluffy yet a little sticky in the center, all topped off with some seasonal fruit and yogurt. It’s a healthier option, too: The main ingredient being egg whites makes it high in protein, low in fat, and gluten-free.
Protein substitute: From egg plant to jackfruit
You rarely hear “eggplant” without the adjective “meaty.” It’s best in thick-grilled slabs in an Asian marinade.
The fresh fruit is intimidating, so buy it frozen or canned in brine (not syrup) and sauté it a bit before using.
Obscure cut of meat: From pork belly to budget beef
2016: Pork Belly
We’ll always love it because it gives us bacon. But in the wrong hands, pork belly is a greasy diet buster.
2017: Budget Beef
Teres major, bavette, and coulotte are popping up on lots of menus. They’re lean, with great texture and flavor.
Grill Side: From quinoa salad to mexican corn
2016: Quinoa Salad
Quinoa is a terrific grain, but in 2016 quinoa salads started feeling like the generic pasta salads of picnics past.
2017: Mexican Corn
Served with a little mayo, cheese, lime, and chili, it’s our favorite Mexican snack this side of the border.
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