A protein. A grain. A veggie. A sauce. A tablespoon or two culinary bling.
This is the humble Buddha Bowl.
Buddha Bowls, or Dragon Bowls, are the ultimate, delicious no-brainer meal, and they're perfect for busy, health-conscious runners. I make them at least 3 or 4 times per week. I think most people love this combination because of the interesting array of textures and flavors: comforting carbs, chewy protein, creamy sauce, crunchy toppings.
Buddha Bowls first became a crunched-out vegetarian restaurant menu mainstay in the 1970s and 1980s. The rest of the world has finally caught on. Now, they're "of-the-moment" and multifarious recipes are exploding the Interwebs. Ray-Ray even calls them one of the top 4 food trends of 2017 – right along with jackfruit, which was a top food trend in vegan circles about 5 years ago.
Oh, Rachel. Mais, non.
Buddha Bowls are not a trend. They are a classic. They are the eternally correct answer to the eternally anxiety-inducing question, "What should I make for dinner?"
Buddha Bowls: The fartlek run of recipes
To use an analogy that runners will understand, Buddha Bowls are the fartlek runs of recipes. You make them up as you go along. Several excellent Buddha Bowl cookbooks are available now. While they provide a fun intro to the "bowl" concept, I honestly prefer the pure, improvisational nature of these one-bowl wonders. They are:
- Easy to put together – Assemble. Dress. Toss. Boom.
- Nutritious – You can enjoy the benefits of all major food groups in one handy bowl, assuming you start with healthy ingredients
- Ever-changing. The ad-lib nature of Buddha Bowls means you'll never get bored; it's unlikely you'll ever make the same bowl twice.
- Versatile - Use what you have on hand. You can make Buddha Bowls using restaurant or dinnertime leftovers. Store-bought items. Or if you're feeling particularly ambitious, you can execute a "bowl" recipe to the letter - from grain to dressing to protein to topping.
- Economical – Restaurant Buddha Bowls usually cost around $10. Even the most extravagant DIY Buddha Bowls cost about $1
Since you eat with your eyes first, arranging your ingredients in an eye-pleasing vessel is paramount. The bowl should be large – big enough to toss stuff around with room to spare. I prefer noshing from handmade bowls or vintage Pyrex. Go with what makes your heart and eyes happy. Truth be told, I find myself most often reaching for plain, white bowls since they show off the colorful abundance I'm about to consume.
A Buddha Bowl is only as good as its ingredients.
The quality of the dressing or sauce is most important since it literally infuses every item in your bowl with flavor. Homemade is always best, but I've used store-bought in a pinch. (My favorite storebought dressing is Trader Joe's Goddess.) Fresh herbs and toasted nuts are fantastic toppers that give your bowl that mysterious somethin'-somethin'.
Instead of handing you a bunch of Buddha bowl recipes, here are two basic formulas, along with some suggestions below to get you started. They simply show the visual ratio of the various ingredients in your bowl; a certain amount of eyeballing is required. I've included a regular, Everyday Buddha Bowl and Carby Buddha Bowl for runners who are carb loading or just need some extra glycogen for a long run or hard workout.
Assemble your plate, then top with your favorite dressing or sauce (anywhere from 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup), sprinkle on some toppings and dinner is served.
Buddha Bowl Carbs
- Cooked whole grains (Eg, quinoa, couscous, brown rice, millet, barley, farro, bulghur, kasha, wheat berries). I usually prep for the week ahead by cooking a large pot of grains on Sunday evenings. Try using broth as the liquid instead of water for more flavor.
- Cooked noodles, preferably whole grain (Eg, soba noodles, rice noodles, quinoa noodles, whole wheat noodles)
- Cooked starchy veggies (Eg, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets, winter squash)
- Leftover pilafs and grain-based salads (eg, rice and beans, tabbouleh, tagines)
Buddha Bowl Protein
- Cooked beans (Eg, lentils, chickpeas, falafel, cannelini beans, edamame, pinto beans, black beans)
- Cooked soy curls – my very favorite
- Tofu- Sauteed, dry-fried or baked and marinated
- Tempeh- Sauteed, dry-fried or baked and marinated
- Seitan- Sauteed, dry-fried or baked and marinated (I'm not a fan of storebought seitan. My go-to seitan recipe is the baked version in Salad Samurai)
- Storebough veggie sausages or "chick'n" patties, chopped
- Leftover veggie burgers, crumpled
Buddha Bowl Veggies
- Any kind of cooked, steamed, sauteed, or roasted veggie or a mixture of several: Among the best for bowls – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, collards, carrots, caramelized onions, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, mushrooms). Great use for leftovers.
- Raw veggies. Bowl-friendly favorites – organic baby spinach, sweet potato "noodles," zoodles (zucchini "noodles), onions, sprouts
- Leftover salad (Eg, massaged kale salad, last night's dinner salad)
- Avocado, sliced or cubed (I know, I know. Technically, it's a fruit.)
Buddha Bowl Extra Stuff
You don't have to limit yourself to just one.
- Fresh herbs (eg, parsley, cilantro, mint, dill, tarragon)
- Dried fruit (eg, raisins, currants, chopped dried apricots, goji berries)
- Toasted or raw nuts or sesame seeds
- Tortilla chips
- Splash of sriracha
- Dried roasted chickpeas
- SnapPea Crisps (Dangerously good)
- Pita Chips
Buddha Bowl Dressings and Sauces
- Hoison sauce
- Mole sauce
- Satay sauce (Make your own by heating peanut butter, hot sauce, coconut milk and a splash of agave in the microwave)
- Your favorite salad dressing, homemade or storebought (My favorite salad dressing recipes are any in the Abundance Diet. I've tried them all and they're all phenomenal. In fact, I keep asking Somer to write a salad dressing cookbook)
A few Buddha Bowl theme ideas:
Mexican: Black beans or refried beans, brown rice, corn, sautéed peppers, salsa, chopped avocado, cilantro, a few crushed tortilla chips for crunch
Hippy-Dippy: Cooked millet, steamed kale or chard, dry-fried tofu or marinated basked tofu, Green Goddess dressing, alfalfa sprouts, toasted almonds
Japanese: Sautéed soy curls, cooked soba noodles, sautéed cabbage and shiitake mushrooms, scallions, sesame seeds or gomasio, slliced avocado
Southern BBQ: cooked, cubed sweet potatoes BBQ seitan "ribs" (This ribz recipe rocks the metrodome), raw or sauteed sliced onions, roasted Brussels sprouts, toasted pecans
Moroccan: Whole-wheat couscous flavored with cinnamon, zatar, sumac or other Mediterranean spices, crumbled sautéed tempeh, steamed cauliflower, steamed baby spinach, fresh mint and parsley, chopped dried apricots, handful or raisins, toasted pistachios