Cozy Autumn Grain Bowls (with Cinnamon Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette!)

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The coziest kale salad you’ll ever meet – Autumn Grain Bowls! These hearty & healthy grain bowls are loaded with autumn-inspired ingredients – kale, wild rice, quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, apple, & smoked gouda – & finished with creamy cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette. These cozy harvest bowls are perfect for a healthy dinner this fall! Great warm or cold, meal prep-friendly, easily vegetarian, vegan, &/or dairy-free.

A large white bowl filled with autumn grain bowl ingredients: shredded kale, wild rice, quinoa, apple, roasted sweet potato, diced red onion, shredded cheese, chopped walnuts & shredded chicken. A fork is placed in the grain bowl, nestled to the left side under the wild rice & quinoa. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl are some whole walnuts & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

Pin this Autumn Grain Bowls recipe for later!!!

The BEST healthy grain bowl recipe for fall: Autumn Harvest Bowls!

Here’s the deal: I’m a salad girl, through & through. When you do salads right, they’re hard to beat: tons of fresh flavor, tons of great texture, & they’re so, so nutritious.

I’ll gladly eat a good salad any day of the year, but once fall rolls around, the cravings for something a little more comforting start to creep in.

That’s exactly when it’s time to bust out a cozy harvest bowl – this Autumn Grain Bowl recipe is one of my absolute FAVES. It’s filled with all of the best fall flavors, & they come together, forming the most perfectly smoky, sweet, crunchy, chewy, oh-so-satisfying bowls.

A combination of finely shredded kale, wild rice, and quinoa serves as the heartiest base of this autumn grain bowl. Kale adds just the right amount of crunch & wild rice adds the perfect amount of chew.

The base of these grain bowls is piled high with roasty-toasty spiced sweet potatoes, juicy & sweet Honeycrisp, chopped nuts for extra crunch, & shredded smoked gouda for a hint of smoky creaminess in every single bite. Plus, it’s all drenched in the best homemade grain bowl sauce for fall…more on that in a second!

Autumn grain bowl shown in a large white bowl. The salad ingredients are all tossed together & the harvest bowl is topped with roasted sweet potato, diced apple & lots of grated cheese. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl are some whole walnuts & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

This harvest bowl recipe is…

  • Packed with fall flavors & good-for-you ingredients.
  • The perfect balance of light + nutritious & also hearty + satisfying.
  • Easy to customize -As written, this recipe uses animal protein, but it’s easily vegetarian & vegan – I have notes for that below!
  • Perfect for meal prep. You can enjoy these bowls warm, cold, or at room temperature. Meal prep & make-ahead notes are below, too!
  • & they’re seriously oh-so cozy…

I’m pretty sure it’ll be your new favorite fall salad, because this autumn grain bowl is honestly THAT good! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Harvest Bowl recipe, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!

These Hearty Harvest Bowls are filled with autumn-inspired ingredients:

This grain bowl recipe is inspired by the season. These Harvest Bowls are filled with ingredients that create hearty textures & autumnal flavors.

A large white bowl filled with harvest grain bowl ingredients: shredded kale, wild rice, quinoa, apple, roasted sweet potato, diced red onion, shredded cheese, chopped walnuts & shredded chicken. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl is a small cutting board with whole walnuts & a paring knife, as well as an apple & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

Note: full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

What you’ll need to make these Harvest Bowls…

  • Grains – Of course! This grain bowl recipe features a hearty combination of wild rice & quinoa for rich flavor & varying textures. However, any grain(s) you love will work! Brown rice &/or farro would be my next top picks.
  • Kale – I adore its hearty, toothsome texture, which also makes it an ideal choice for make-ahead or meal prepped salad. Plus, it’s so, so good for you! If you don’t love kale, I suggest swapping it out with baby kale, which is much milder in flavor & delicate in texture.
  • Sweet potatoes, which are tossed in a spice rub & cooked until roasty-toasty. Feel free to sub whatever hearty fall veggies you happen to have on hand – butternut squash, carrots, or even cauliflower are all great options.
  • Apple – I always opt for Honeycrisp! You can’t beat its sweet, juicy flavor & its extra-crisp bite.
  • A little cheese – Because I can’t not! Shredded smoked gouda or sharp white cheddar are my faves for harvest bowls! Feel free to omit to keep things dairy-free.
  • Walnuts

Feel free to customize! The ingredients list here is admittedly a lengthy one! Everything is very simple & it all goes together really well, but you can definitely dial it back based on your time constraints or preferences (note – dairy-free, vegetarian & vegan options provided below!).

& then there’s a magical autumn grain bowl dressing…

FREAKIN’ CINNAMON MAPLE BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE!!! I mean c’mon.

Autumn grain bowl placed on light blue surface. A woman's hand reaches into the frame with a jar of maple cinnamon vinaigrette, pouring the dressing into the bowl. In the foreground sits a striped linen napkin. In the background, a small cutting board topped with walnuts, an apple & a small paring knife.

This vinaigrette is one of my all-time favorite creations! It’s a twist on my favorite maple balsamic vinaigrette, with a little bit of ground cinnamon added to the mix. It has the perfect balance of tanginess & sweet caramelly notes. The cinnamon adds the slightest kiss of warmth, making it taste just the way fall food should. It’s straight-up drinkable.

Plus, it couldn’t be simpler to make – combine some olive oil, aged balsamic, maple syrup, garlic, ground cinnamon, & some S&P in a blender or food processor. I like letting my blender do all the work when I make homemade salad dressings because its powerful blades do a better job emulsifying a smooth & creamy vinaigrette than I can ever do on my own.

The cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette will keep stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks – but I guarantee you’ll use it up before then. It’s the type of sauce you’ll want to put on everyyything. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

How to Make Grain Bowls – Meal Prep Tips, Assembly, & More:

As much as I love them, I’ll be the first to admit that grain bowls can be a little high maintenance. You have to cook a couple of different grains, chop up different veggies, & it can quickly feel a little overwhelming. I get it! But (there’s a major BUT here!), all of the prep work involved for this harvest bowl recipe is pretty simple, & much of it can be done well in advance.

Sharing all my grain bowl prep tips below!

A large white bowl filled with autumn grain bowl ingredients: shredded kale, wild rice, quinoa, apple, roasted sweet potato, diced red onion, shredded cheese, chopped walnuts & shredded chicken. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl are some whole walnuts & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

Note: full Recipe Directions provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Meal prep tips:

When it comes to grain bowls, a little bit of meal prep goes a looooong way in getting dinner on the table at the end of the day. It doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole Sunday in the kitchen, though – we are very anti-meal prep marathon here at PWWB.

Here are a few simple tasks you can complete in about 25 minutes active time:

  • Cook the wild rice & quinoa (separately) according to package directions. This takes about 5 minutes active time total & eliminates any stove time the day or night you’d like to make Autumn Grain Bowls. 
  • Shred rotisserie chicken. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Destem & finely shred kale. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Place a piece of paper towel in the container to soak up any condensation or moisture.
  • Dice 1 large sweet potato & finely dice a small red onion. Store in individual an airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Dice an apple. Store in an airtight container submerged in water to prevent browning in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

By the time you want to make your autumn grain bowls, all you have to do is roast up the sweet potatoes & make the cinnamon vinaigrette – easy!

Harvest Bowl Assembly:

With the harvest bowl ingredients prepped & ready to go, assembly is a cinch:

First, massage the kale: It sounds ridiculous, but “massaging” kale with a little vinaigrette makes a tremendous difference in its texture, softening it slightly & making it a little easier to chew. To massage, place the shredded kale in a large bowl & drizzle a little of the cinnamon balsamic vinaigrette over top. Using your hands, massage the vinaigrette into the kale until the kale wilts down slightly & turns vibrantly green.

Pile on the rest of the ingredients: Add the wild rice, quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, shredded chicken, red onion, apple, cheese, and walnuts to the the bowl over top the massaged kale.

Dress & toss! Drizzle more of the cinnamon vinaigrette over top (don’t hold back – no judgement here!) & toss it all up to combine.

These Harvest Bowls are great served warm, cold, or at room temperature, so feel free to dig in right away or package it up for later. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for storage instructions.

Grain Bowl Shortcut…

It’s my humble opinion that you really need 2+ grains in a grain bowl, creating varying textures & flavors in each bite. Grains aren’t difficult to prepare, but I’m the first to admit that cooking a bunch of different grains for 1 dish is a little high maintenance.

My favorite grain bowl shortcut? A pre-mixed grain blend. So many stores carry pre-mixed grain blends that you can cook all at once, in the same pot. Along similar lines, you can also definitely use those handy packets of quick-cook grains or grab a few bags from the freezer section. Do what works best for you – no judgements here!

Prefer Plant-Based? Vegan & Vegetarian options…

While I like these harvest bowls with bites of tender chicken mixed into them, you definitely have options if you prefer to keep things plant-based!

For vegetarian grain bowls, feel free to swap chicken with…

  • Crispy spiced chickpeas – Drain & rinse a 14-ounce can of chickpeas, patting them as dry as possible with paper towel. Toss them on the sheet pan with the sweet potatoes, doubling the oil & spices to ensure there’s enough to coat the chickpeas. Roast until crispy & delish!
  • Crispy tofu – Dice a block of firm tofu into 1/2-inch cubes, then 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Double the oil & spices used for the sweet potatoes & coat the tofu cubes. Roast alongside the sweet potatoes, on a separate sheet pan, for 30-35 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden & crispy.

For vegan grain bowls, you’ll also want to make sure to omit the cheese or replace it with your favorite dairy-free cheese. More power to you if you can find something with similar smoky notes to smoked gouda!

Side angle of harvest bowl - a fork is placed in the bowl under the wild rice. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface. In the foreground there is a striped linen napkin & a sprig of fresh thyme. In the background there's a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

I cannot wait for you to try this Autumn Grain Bowl recipe. It’s one of my all-time favorites for fall, & I know you’re going to love it too!

If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know!: Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡

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A large white bowl filled with autumn grain bowl ingredients: shredded kale, wild rice, quinoa, apple, roasted sweet potato, diced red onion, shredded cheese, chopped walnuts & shredded chicken. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl are some whole walnuts & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

Cozy Autumn Grain Bowls

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 20 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 Minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes (includes inactive time)
  • Yield: Serves 4 1x
  • Category: Entree Salad & Bowl Recipes
  • Method: Stovetop, Baked, Roasted
  • Cuisine: American

Description

The coziest kale salad you’ll ever meet – Autumn Harvest Grain Bowls! These hearty & healthy grain bowls are loaded with autumn-inspired ingredients – kale, wild rice, quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, apple, & smoked gouda – & finished with creamy cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette.

Meal prep-friendly, easily vegetarian, vegan, &/or dairy-free – see Recipe Notes, below, for tips!


Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked wild rice (see Recipe Notes)
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (see Recipe Notes)
  • 12 cups shredded Rotisserie chicken (see Recipe Notes)
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 bunch kale, destemmed & finely chopped
  • 1 large apple, diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda or sharp white cheddar

for the Cinnamon Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup good aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic
  • heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • heaping 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • heaping 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

Instructions

A large white bowl filled with harvest grain bowl ingredients: shredded kale, wild rice, quinoa, apple, roasted sweet potato, diced red onion, shredded cheese, chopped walnuts & shredded chicken. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl is a small cutting board with whole walnuts & a paring knife, as well as an apple & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

  1. Prep: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cook the wild rice & quinoa according to package directions. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. 
  2. Roast the sweet potatoes: Place the diced sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with the chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and kosher salt. Toss to combine. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender & crispy around the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  3. Make the cinnamon vinaigrette: Meanwhile, as the sweet potatoes roast, mix up the cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette. Add the olive oil, balsamic, maple syrup, garlic, cinnamon, kosher salt & ground black pepper to a blender or food processor. Blend until emulsified & creamy, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a jar or airtight container, then add in the fresh herbs. Shake or stir to combine. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 
  4. Other prep: Meanwhile, as the sweet potatoes roast, prep the remaining grain bowl ingredients – pull the chicken, shred the kale, finely dice the red onion, dice the apple, shred the cheese, & chop the nuts. 
  5. Assemble the grain bowls: Place the shredded kale in a large bowl. Drizzle a little of the cinnamon balsamic vinaigrette over top. Using your hands, massage the vinaigrette into the kale until vibrantly green & softened. Add the wild rice, quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, shredded chicken, red onion, apple, cheese, and walnuts to the bowl. Drizzle more of the cinnamon vinaigrette over top, then toss to combine.
  6. Serving: These grain bowls are great warm, room temperature, or cold. See Recipe Notes, below, for more meal prep tips. Enjoy!

Autumn grain bowl shown in a large white bowl. The salad ingredients are all tossed together & the harvest bowl is topped with roasted sweet potato, diced apple & lots of grated cheese. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl are some whole walnuts & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.


Notes

  • Grains: I love the hearty, textural combination of wild rice & quinoa in these autumn grain bowls, but any blend of grains will work great (brown rice, farro, etc.). Using a pre-mixed grain blend is also a great grain bowl shortcut! Make it your own by using whatever you love most, & if quick-cooking rice is your jam…go for it!
  • Make-ahead & Storage: These harvest bowls are super hearty & store very well. Feel free to prep & assemble in advance, omitting diced apple until serving. Store your grain bowls individually or in one large airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.
  • Meal prep: A little bit of meal prep will goes a long way in making grain bowls a little easier to throw together, cutting down on the active prep time involved. There are a couple of different routes you can go for this grain bowl recipe:
    • 15-Minute Meal Prep: Cook grains in advance to eliminate any stove time the day or night you’d like to make Autumn Grain Bowls. 
      • Cook the wild rice according to package directions. (~5 minutes active)
      • Cook the quinoa according to package directions. (~5 minutes active)
    • 20-Minute Meal Prep: Prep grain bowl components, chopping, dicing, shredding, etc. All you have to do at dinnertime is roast up the sweet potatoes & make the vinaigrette – easy!
      • Shred rotisserie chicken. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
      • Destem & finely shred kale. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Place a piece of paper towel in the container to soak up any condensation or moisture.
      • Dice 1 large sweet potato. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
      • Dice an apple. Store in an airtight container submerged in water to prevent browning in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
      • Finely dice a small red onion. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Keywords: Autumn Grain Bowl, Harvest bowl, healthy, hearty, fall, salad, warm, meal prep, make-ahead

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat

If you love this autumn grain bowls recipe, here are a few more hearty salads & grain bowls to try!

A large white bowl filled with autumn grain bowl ingredients: shredded kale, wild rice, quinoa, apple, roasted sweet potato, diced red onion, shredded cheese, chopped walnuts & shredded chicken. A fork is placed in the grain bowl, nestled to the left side under the wild rice & quinoa. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface, surrounded by sprigs of fresh thyme & a striped linen napkin. Next to the bowl are some whole walnuts & a jar of maple balsamic dressing.

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Don’t forget to pin this Autumn Grain Bowl recipe for later!!!

Autumn Harvest Bowls with graphic text overlay for Pinterest.

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 5.20.20
    Kristin said:

    My husband and I ate this for dinner, and we loved it! All the flavors and textures paired really well together. The gouda really makes this salad. I’ll definitely be making this again!

  2. 1.27.20
    Holly said:

    This recipe is very tasty but I’m looking for other dressing suggestions rather than balsamic, I don’t think that this dressing is for me.

    • 1.27.20
      jess said:

      Hi Holly – You could try the PWWB All-Purpose Vinaigrette. It’s made with lemon, white balsamic (sub with white wine vinegar if baslamic isn’t your jam), honey, mustard & garlic & has nice, bright flavor that I think will still pair nicely with the other flavors in these grain bowls.

  3. 11.12.19
    Kiley said:

    Everything I love about fall in one bowl! So good!

    • 1.17.20
      jess said:

      YES! Thanks for sharing, Kiley!!! xx

  4. 10.29.18

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll be making this tomorrow!

    • 10.30.18
      jess said:

      awesome! please let me know how you like it! xo