Until recently I would have hesitated to post a recipe with the word “rice” in the title, given the widespread anti-carb fervor that has raged in the nutrition world.

Fortunately, the last year or two have seen the emergence of a more balanced view of carb-rich foods. They’re not seen as evil anymore, nor are they hailed as the ultimate cure-all. Phew — it was about time we found some middle ground!

Before we get to our recipe, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and talk about how the nutrition community’s views on carbs have changed over the past few decades.

1980s and 1990s: Carb-Centric Diets: Towards the end of the last century, U.S. dietary guidelines emphasized a high-carbohydrate, low-fat approach to nutrition, largely influenced by the belief (now largely debunked) that dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, was the primary driver of heart disease. Carbohydrates, especially complex carbohydrates like whole grains, were promoted as the foundation of a healthy diet, while dietary fat, particularly animal fat, was vilified.

Food companies jumped on the bandwagon and created thousands of processed food products that were high in carbs, and low in fat, like sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, crackers, pretzels, granola bars, and rice cakes, and publishers churned out low-fat diet books.

Late 1990s to Early 2000s: The Rise of Low-Carb Diets. Around the turn of the millennium, there was a shift away from low-fat dietary recommendations as skepticism grew regarding their effectiveness for cardiovascular health. This period saw the rise of low-carbohydrate diets, such as the Atkins and ketogenic diets, which advocated for massive reductions in carbohydrate intake and a higher consumption of fats and proteins in their place. Carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates and sugars, were increasingly blamed for contributing to rising rates of metabolic syndrome, and other health issues.

Food companies jumped on the bandwagon and created thousands of processed food products that were low in carbs and, often, high in fats, such as snack bars & shakes, baking mixes, cereals sweetened with artificial keto sweeteners (e.g., erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit sweeteners), pasta alternatives (zoodles or heart-of-palm strips, anyone?), and low-carb breads and wraps. Meanwhile, publishers churned out low-carb & keto cookbooks.

Mid-2000s to Early 2010s: Carbohydrate Quality vs. Quantity: By the mid-2000s to early 2010s, there was a growing recognition that not all carbohydrates are created equal, leading to a shift in focus towards carbohydrate quality rather than just quantity. Emphasis was placed on choosing carbohydrates from whole, unprocessed sources such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, while reducing intake of refined grains and added sugars. This period also saw the rise of the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) concepts, which provided a framework for assessing the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar and insulin levels, and overall health. Towards the latter part of this period, vegan diets became the new craze, fueled by concerns over the environmental impacts of factory farming.

Food companies jumped on the bandwagon and created thousands of processed vegan convenience foods, such as vegan protein bars, plant-based jerky, dairy-free cheeses, imitation meat products, yogurts and “milks” made from grains or legumes, vegan snacks pasta made with lentils or chickpeas, plant-based dips and spreads like hummus, guacamole, and almond dips, and vegan convenience meals like meals such as frozen burritos, wraps, and sandwiches. Publishers pivoted again and started churning out vegan cookbooks.

Mid-2010s to Present: Personalized Nutrition and Moderation: In more recent years, there has been a move towards more personalized nutrition, which recognizes that individual factors such as a person’s genetics, metabolism, gut microbiome, and lifestyle play significant roles in determining dietary needs and responses. Carbohydrates are no longer universally demonized or glorified, but rather their role in the diet is evaluated based on individual circumstances. Balance is emphasized, and most nutritionists recommend eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including carbohydrates, as part of a well-rounded diet.

This latest shift makes me very happy, for I have always advocated the judicious consumption of nutritious carbohydrates. After all, I advocate eating a Mediterranean diet, which is packed with nutritious carbohydrates!

While keto diets seemed appealing and made sense in theory, I was never very comfortable recommending them across the board as they seemed too extreme, and many people found them hard to stick with. For sure, they can be very helpful for people with specific medical diagnoses, such as aggressive brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, seizure disorders, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric diseases. However, for most people — even those with a degree of insulin resistance — cutting out nutritious carb-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains seems to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The Mediterranean diet is heavily plant-based, which means it’s rich in foods that supply carbs. Not the types of carbs most people imagine when they think of Mediterranean food (pasta, pizza, gelato, breadsticks or baguette), but carbs like cannellini beans, kale, celery, carrots, squash, and turnip (i.e., Tuscan bean stew), or chickpeas, dried apricots, preserved lemons and bulgur (i.e., Moroccan chicken & chickpea tajine). These foods provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that support all our bodily functions, as well as starches and fibers that nourish our gut microbes (which also support all our bodily functions).

Carb-rich foods provide something else that often gets forgotten by folks debating the merits of foods: comfort and pleasure. Pillowy butter beans, chewy rice & pasta, a perfectly ripe, juicy fruit, or a humble slice of sourdough toast rubbed with garlic and olive oil offer more than just physical nourishment—they provide a sense of familiarity, warmth, and emotional comfort that can uplift the spirit and soothe the soul.

With that, I give you: Mediterranean rice bowls, packed with nourishing carbs: deliciously chewy parboiled rice (which has half the glycemic impact of most regular types of rice), prebiotic peas and chickpeas, and a wide array of vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber & onions).

Topping the bowls with shawarma-marinated chicken (as here), shrimp or tempeh, some feta cubes, and a Mediterranean dip of baba ghanoush or tzatziki provides the proteins & fats to round out this delicious meal.

Mediterranean Rice Bowls

Keyword: Dairy-Free (or can be), Gluten-Free (or can be), Legumes, Low-Carb, Meat & Chicken, Salads, Vegan (or can be), Vegetarian (or can be)
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 494kcal
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • 1 pressure cooker/Instant Pot optional, but speeds up the rice cooking

Ingredients

Shawarma seasoning blend

  • 4 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp ground allspice
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ½ tbsp cayenne pepper

Shawarma-marinated chicken

  • 2 tbsp shawarma seasoning blend see above
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice freshly pressed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp garlic minced (about 4-5 medium cloves)
  • lb chicken thigh meat skinless, boneless; cut into ½-inch cubes

Rice

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 cup brown rice I use BEN'S ORIGINAL™ Whole Grain Brown Rice which is parboiled and therefore is rich in resistant starch, which lowes its glycemic impact and nourishes your gut bacteria
  • 1 cup chicken bone broth
  • ¾ tsp salt

Lemony chickpea, tomato & cucumber salad

  • 3 tbsp olive oil dressing recipe here
  • 1 medium-large garlic clove finely minced (I also use a MIcroplae zester for this)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper freshly ground
  • 2 tsp lemon zest freshly grated; I use a Microplane zester
  • cups chickpeas equivalent to 1 can; drained & rinsed
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes quartered
  • ½ large English cucumber halved lengthwise, seeded (use a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds), and cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • ½ small red onion finely diced
  • cups fresh herbs I like using a combination of mint, parsley and dill, but other herbs works great, too

Assembly & garnish

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup cilantro (leaves and stems) coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas defrosted but not cooked
  • 2 oz feta cheese preferably made with sheep milk
  • ½ cup baba gannoush a dip made with roasted eggplant and tahini (I use store-bought baba gannoush; my favorite brand is Boulder-based Falafel King)
  • ½ cup tzatziki a herbed yogurt dip (I use store-bought tzatziki; my favorite brand is Boulder-based Falafel King)
  • 12 kalamata olives pitted
  • a few slices of pickled onions these make a delicious tangy garnish; I like Small Town Cultures' sliced red onions (they are fermented and contain probiotics)

Instructions

Shawarma seasoning blend

  • Combine all the ingredients in a dry, clean jar, seal the lid, and shake to combine. Store in a cool, dark place; shake before using.

Marinating the chicken (or another protein like tofu, tempeh, or shrimp)

  • 1 to 12 hours before you plan to cook this meal, combine 2 tbsp of the shawarma seasoning blend, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and black pepper in a bowl and stir with a wire whisk to form a fragrant paste. Add the chicken and coat it with marinade on all sides. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until using.

Rice

  • Warm the olive oil in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds; then add the rice and stir until all the rice grains are coated in oil.
  • Add the chicken bone broth, lock the lid, and program to cook on HIGH PRESSURE for 9 minutes. Once the cooking time ends, leave under pressure for another 10 minutes, then release pressure. The rice should be al dente (slightly chewy). Keep warm iuntil needed.

Lemony chickpea, tomato & cucumber salad

  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine olive oil dressing, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon zest and stir to combine.
  • Add the chickpeas, diced tomatoes, cubed cucumber, and diced red onion and mix with the dressing. Let sit; the herbs are folded into the salad just before the meal is served.

Assembly

  • Warm 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet and saute the marinated chicken over medium-high heat, turning it with a spatula every 4-5 minutes (avoid stirring too much as this prevents the formation of an appetizing savory crust).
  • When the meat is nearly done, add the chopped cilantro and the peas to the hot rice and toss to combine. Set out four individual bowls and spoon ¼ of the rice & pea mixture mixture into each bowl.
  • Fold the chopped herbs into the chickpea salad and spoon it into the bowls, alongside the rice.
  • Once the chicken is done, place it on top of the rice & chickpea salad in the bowls.
  • Serve immediately and let your fellow diners garnish their bowls with feta cheese, baba gannoush, tzatziki, olives, fermented onions. Garnish with a few leaves of fresh mint if desired.

Nutrition

Serving: 1bowl | Calories: 494kcal | Carbohydrates: 42g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 94mg | Sodium: 818mg | Potassium: 313mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 95mg | Iron: 2mg