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How to Build a Deliciously Satisfying Vegan Buddha Bowl

Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.

Tempura mushrooms, steamed broccoli, fried brown rice with Brussels sprouts, corn on the cob, roasted baby potatoes, steamed sweetheart cabbage, curried chickpeas with coconut milk, and in the centre a veggie burger with sriracha.

Tempura mushrooms, steamed broccoli, fried brown rice with Brussels sprouts, corn on the cob, roasted baby potatoes, steamed sweetheart cabbage, curried chickpeas with coconut milk, and in the centre a veggie burger with sriracha.

Why Is It Called a Buddha Bowl?

Gautama Buddha, popularly known as the Buddha, lived in the fifth century BC, yet the bowl that bears his name didn't come into use until—wait for it—2013, when Martha Stewart coined the term in her book, Meatless.

In Buddha's day, monks would take bowls around villages, getting them filled with whatever vegetarian food villagers would offer them. It could be that the array of foods proffered by those villagers was the inspiration for the term Buddha bowl, which is itself an assortment of foods.

That's not to say that no one had ever put together what we would recognize as a Buddah bowl until that year. Fast forward a couple of millennia, to the hippie culture of the 1960s, and we find a craze for so-called grain bowls. Indeed, an online search for grain bowl brings up images of dishes that could certainly pass for Buddha bowls. A bowl by any other name . . .

There are other suggestions as to why the term Buddha bowl was chosen, the most obvious being Buddha’s belly. A Buddha bowl is a substantial meal, and after eating one you may feel like your own belly is somewhat swelled, and worthy of a rub for good luck. As is often the case with food etymology, though, there is no definitive answer to its origin, beyond the mind of Martha Stewart.

Another suggestion put forward is that a key concept of Buddhism is balance, and this is what a Buddha bowl seeks to achieve. The combination of grains, protein, vegetables, dressing and some sort of topping can provide a nutritionally balanced meal.

But I think the original suggestion of monks being gifted foods by villagers is the most likely catalyst for the term. It's also the nicest story, so I'm sticking with that one.

Buddha: it's all good

Buddha: it's all good

Elements of a Buddha Bowl

Getting the balance right with a Buddha bowl

ElementExamples

Grain

Rice, Quinoa, Barley

Protein

Chickpeas, Tofu, Beans

Vegetables

Broccoli, Kale, Sweet Potato

Dressing

Peanut or Tahini Dressing, Sriracha

Topping

Seeds, Nuts, Sprouted Legumes

So, What's in a Buddha Bowl?

As the chart above shows, a Buddha bowl consists of five separate elements that combine to create a whole: a nutritionally balanced meal. Adhering to the five elements of a Buddha bowl is not a restrictive act, rather it opens up the whole cornucopia of plant-based eating. This is because there is no set recipe for a Buddha bowl; its construction is entirely down to the preferences of the individual. A typical bowl may comprise barley risotto (grain), spicy roasted chickpeas (protein), sweet potato wedges, steamed carrot and kale (vegetables), tahini lemon dressing (dressing), and toasted sunflower seeds (topping).

The possibilities are pretty much endless. Indeed, during my research for this article I came across a book that offers 100 Buddha bowl variations.

Veggie burger with roasted potato, sweet potato and parsnip, steamed broccoli and spring greens, and curried chick peas with coconut milk. The sauce is Perinaise mild.

Veggie burger with roasted potato, sweet potato and parsnip, steamed broccoli and spring greens, and curried chick peas with coconut milk. The sauce is Perinaise mild.

Is a Buddha Bowl Healthy?

I'd say most definitely. One of the images of a bowl in this article contains broccoli, sweet potato, parsnip and spring greens; pretty much four of your five a day at one sitting.

So that's the vegetables taken care of. Now let us look at examples of the four other elements of a bowl.

  • Chickpeas (protein) are high in manganese, folate, and copper, and are a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium, thiamene, phosphorous, selenium and pottasium.
  • Quinoa (grain): Even though quinoa is in the grain category (though technically it is a pseudograin), it could probably shack up with chickpeas in the protein house. It's high in fibre, and there are top ups on most of the aforementioned minerals on offer here too. Quinoa is also a source of antioxidants.
  • Tahini lemon sauce (dressing): There are more minerals coming your way with tahini, including lecithin and potassium. It is a good source of calcium, and it is also high in vitamin E, and B vitamins. The lemon juice adds a dose of vitamin C, to help ward off those winter colds.
  • Walnuts (topping): A handful of walnut pieces sprinkled onto a bowl will offer yet more antioxidant protection—more than any other nut, actually. Those papery pieces you find inside a walnut are actually the most nutrient-dense part of the nut. It's good to hear them breaking as I crush walnuts onto my bowl.

So, yeah. I'd say a Buddha bowl is healthy.

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3 Dressing Options for Your Buddha Bowl

A Buddha bowl can be dressed with a simple squirt of sriracha or a dollop of mayonnaise, but you can create dressings that will more than pay you back for the effort you put in. Here are three examples.

1. Peanut Dressing

This is one of the simplest, yet tastiest dressings out there. It’s made in minutes without any cooking and it goes with all manner of foods. This is my go-to dressing for a Buddha bowl, and it is certainly worth adding to your repertoire.

You can use smooth or crunchy peanut butter for this dressing. I prefer smooth because, well because it’s smooth. You see, I have an old sriracha bottle with a nozzle that I fill with this dressing so I can squirt fancy designs onto my dishes. But a dressing made with crunchy peanut butter is great for spooning over food.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup hot water (plus a little more on standby)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon wine or rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Method

  1. Put the peanut butter into a bowl, add the hot water and whisk. These two might not get on with each other at first, but persist and they’ll soon emulsify into a smooth paste.
  2. Whisk in the other ingredients and thin to the desired consistency with more hot water, or if the dressing is too thin, thicken it up with more peanut butter.

2. Sriracha Peanut Dressing

As above, but whisk in a squirt of sriracha to take the sauce off in a totally different direction.

3. Tahini Lemon Dressing

This is basically hummus without the chickpeas; a deliciously tangy, creamy dressing for your bowl. This recipe makes enough for a good drizzle on one bowl.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt to taste

Method

  1. As with the peanut dressing, put the tahini into a bowl and whisk in some warm water. Tahini is thinner than peanut butter, so be careful not to water it down too much (if you do, add more tahini).
  2. Add the garlic and lemon juice, and whisk everything together.
  3. Taste before adding salt, and add more lemon juice if necessary.
  4. Chill the dressing in the fridge so the flavours can infuse.
Buddha bowl with sriracha peanut sauce (recipe above)

Buddha bowl with sriracha peanut sauce (recipe above)

Buddha Bowl Prep Playlist

  • The Mekons - Where Were You? (Single) - YouTube
    I came across this way back when via that Fast Records compilation that everyone seemed to have. Where Were You has really stood the test of time - repetitive guitar and intensifying drums. I used to luurve playing this while getting ready to go out.

Mekons: Where Were You

construct-a-vegan-buddha-bowl

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