Buddha Bowls-The Healthiest Meal You Can Eat!

I used to be overweight.  Not too many years ago, when I worked in the mental health field with emotionally disturbed foster children, I ate at Taco Bell and Jack and the Box daily, slipping in a drive-thru run inbetween crises and sessions.  This practice not only put on weight, but left me feeling lethargic, bloated, caused headaches and sleep issues and may have been the beginnings of digestive problems.  After I left that job, I spent years working on getting my health and body healed and back into good shape.  My quest for delicious yet really easy and fast meals that could help nourish and strengthen my health and body led me to revisit easy vegan dishes I had enjoyed during my late teens and early twenties.  I had spent many years exploring veganism, macrobiotics and the raw foods diet in my younger days so I decided it was time to dust off those old cookbooks and recipe folders and see what healthy treasures they held.  I was delighted to rediscover Buddha Bowls!

Buddha Bowls are the easiest, yet most nourishing and healthiest meal you can possibly eat.  They are versitile enough to eat every day (I eat them most days for lunch) and are surprisingly satisfiying and delicious.  You can even make a Paleo version,  (I'll get to that later).  Buddha bowls essentially consist of a bunch of vegetables, a grain and a sauce.   That's the basic formula.  Then you can add all kinds of yummy extras.  Here it is in recipe form for those of you who are just skimming the post:

Ingredients

  • Veggies
  • Grain
  • Sauce
  • Optional: Yummy Extras

Let's start with the basics.   First, Veggies!

The kinds of vegetables you can use in your Buddha bowl are endless.  If you are new to exploring veggies or are in the process of recommiting to a healthy eating lifestyle, I suggest you start out with using one or two of your favorite vegetables in your Buddha bowls and build from there.  Fresh, local produce that is in season will almost always taste best but I don't judge those who use canned or frozen veggies (I really have no room to judge anyone- I used to eat at Taco Bell!)  All vegetables are welcome to your Buddha bowl.  If you are interested in expanding your vegetable knowledge, I encourage you to visit your local farmer's market. Vendors are often friendly and eager to share with you how to prepare their vegetables or give you a free taste to see if you like it.  Here is the link to the USDA's national directory of farmer's markets, on-farm markets, and CSA's.  CSA's (stands for Community Supported Agriculture) are a great way to familarize yourself with new local and in-season produce.  The way they work is you sign up to receive a produce box at regular intervals, usually every month or two weeks.  Included in the box are a variety of vegetables that had been picked that week from local farms, all of which can be used in your Buddha bowl.  Also included in the CSA box are usually recipes and sometimes a selection of fresh local fruits or herbs as well.  I find that vegetables do not just happen in one's diet; you have to make them happen.  Unlike sweets and starchy carbs, which can just magically end up in your diet without any effort at all, vegetables require a focused effort to get them in.  CSA boxes are an easy way to get the ball rolling on making vegetables happen in your diet. 

You have choices of how you can prepare your veggies for your Buddha bowl. 

  • You can steam them in a vegetable steamer or a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water, which is usually very quick, less than 10 minutes.  Bring a pot of water to boiling, or fill your vegetable steamer with water.  Add sliced vegetables to vegetable steamer or a steamer basket and place over pot of boiling water and cover.  If you are steaming starcy veggies like carrots, steam for 10 minutes or until a fork can go in them but they still have a crisp to them.  If there are no starchy veggies, you only need to steam for about five minutes, until the greens turn bright and the other veggies soften a bit.  Don't over steam your veggies until completely soft!  Vegetable taste better with a bit of crunch.
  • You can bake them in the oven at 350 degree, which takes longer (if you are baking starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes or turnips it will need to bake 40 to 50 mitnues. Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli or kale can bake usually in 30 mintues)  but generates a more savory, roasted flavor.  Toss your cleaned and cut up veggies with olive oil (you can also sprinkle a bit of salt and herbs or spices like rosemary or curry power), and bake until the vegetables are slightly brown or have browned edges to them.
  • You can leave them raw and just slice them up, depending on the kind of vegetables you are using.  Tomatoes, cucumber, snap peas, bell peppers, spinach, kale and broccoli are great raw choices.
  • Lastly and the least healthy of these ways to prepare your veggies is you can sauté them lightly in a pan with some olive oil over medium heat.  Sautéing takes just as long as steaming (just about 10 minutes) so there is no advantage timewise, but it will give your vegetables a different flavor and texture. 

I recommend making up three to five times more vegetables than you plan on eating so you have some prepared for later or you can use the extra vegetables to make complete Buddha bowls and wrap them up for lunch later in the week. 

Here are some ideas of veggies to use:

  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms- shiitake, porcini, portobello, white, trumpet, chanterelle, creminis, button, etc.
  • Kale- dinosaur, curly, red, etc.
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Peppers-red, green, orange,or yellow bell peppers,  jalapeno, anaheim, poblano, fresno, pepperoncino, etc.
  • Potato-golden yukon, sweet potato, red potato, purple majesty, fingerling, russet, jewel yam, etc.  (there are more than 100 kinds of potato sold in U.S.!)
  • Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Squash- zucchini, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, summer squash, etc.
  • Cucumber
  • Tomato-cherry, heirloom, roma, beefsteak, etc.
  • Endive
  • Fennel
  • Onions-red, green, white, yellow
  • Shallots
  • Watercress
  • Green beans
  • Sunchokes
  • Baby corn
  • Chard-Swiss, Rainbow, Green
  • Leeks
  • Peas- green peas, snap peas, marrowfat, etc
  • Radishes-scarlet globe, purple, white, etc.
  • Turnip
  • Sprouts-alfalfa, broccoli, bean, radish, lentil, etc.
  • Parsnip
  • Water chestnuts
  • Arugula
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Beets
  • Cabbage

This is not an exhaustive list of vegetables available.  Have fun exploring and expanding your vegetable knowledge.  By eating more vegetables, your love of simple, pure foods will grow.

Next, you can add a grain to your Buddha bowl.  Any cooked grain or bean works.  If you have some leftover from dinner last night, perfect!  Prepare them as you always would or as specified on the label.  I admit, I cheat here and often will use canned beans or microwave brown rice if I don't have something already made up. However some grains such as millet or quinoa (which isn't actually a grain, it's a seed) cook up in only 10 minutes, so it takes as long as steaming your veggies.  Here are some ideas of grains to use:

  • Barley
  • Rice- brown, jasmine, short grain, sushi, wild, etc.
  • Lentils- green, brown, black, red split, yellow, etc.
  • Garbanzo beans or chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Teff
  • Beans- black, adzuki, lima, kidney, pinto, red
  • Farro
  • Polenta or corn grits

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, just some ideas to get you going.  The classic Buddha bowls almost always use brown rice or chickpeas so you can start there and mix it up as you desire more variety. 

Vegetarians can skip this section!

Paleo Note:  I mentioned earlier that it is easy to make a Buddha bowl Paleo (although I'm not sure you would still call it a Buddha bowl given most Buddhist are vegetarian).  Simply swap out the grain for an animal protein.  It makes a very easy meal if you use some thing ready to go and already cooked such as canned or pouched tuna, salmon, clams, or shrimp, or leftover strip steak or chicken from another meal.  You can purchase from deli sections of grocery stores fully cooked and seasoned sliced chicken breast.  If you like your food fresh, however, you can sauté a sliced chicken breast or sliced steak up in about the same time it will take to steam your veggies.  To make clean up even easier on yourself, stir-fry the veggies and your protein in the same pan.   All you have to do then is add the sauce and toss it in the bowl. 

Now it's time for the sauce!  This is what really ties the Buddha bowl together and will make it your favorite go-to quick meal.  You can use any sauce, salad dressing, or hummus you like but here are some of my favorites:

Nut Butter Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, soy, etc)
  • 1/8 cup milk (soy, cashew, rice, almond, dairy if you like)
  • dash of salt

Stir ingredients together until they blend and become creamy- it will take a bit of stirring so don't give up too soon!

Miso Sauce

  • 2-3 Tablespoons water (to get your favorite consistency)
  • 1 Tablespoon light or mellow miso paste
  • 3 Tablespoons tahini
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsely

Mix all ingredients together until blended.  Add additional water if too thick to pour. 

Red Bell Pepper Sauce

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or high powered blender until smooth. 

Savory Sauce

  • 1/2 cup almond, safflower or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup Bragg's
  • 1 package firm tofu
  • 2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil

Blend all ingredients in a blender.

You can go with a very pure and simple approach to your sauce by using just a squeeze of lemon or lime,  just a splash of tarmari or Bragg's Liquid Aminos or just a drizzle of flaxseed oil.  A simple vinaigrette of oil and vinegar whisked together is a wonderful sauce for Buddha bowls. 

Now you can stop there and enjoy your own custom Buddha bowl.  Or you can throw on some yummy extras.  Here's a list of ideas:

  • sliced avocado
  • sprinke of seeds, either flax, sunflower, pumpkin, chia, or sesame
  • seaweed such a sheet of  nori or soaked kombu or kelp
  • sliced scallions
  • roasted garlic
  • fermented or brined veggies such as pickled ginger, beets, sauerkraut, kimchi, green beans, olives or capers
  • sprinkle of nut pieces like walnuts, pecans, almond slivers, pinenuts, etc.
  • sprinkle of nutritional yeast or spices like cayenne, turmeric, cumin, salt
  • chopped herbs such as parsley, basil or mint
  • grated veggies like beets or carrots

Now enjoy the purest and most nutritious meal in which you can nourish your body.

What is your favorite Buddha Bowl combination?  Let us know on Twitter!