Buddha Bowls

I have a full on obsession with Buddha bowls. I am always trying to think up new ideas or will be searching on various food blogs to try and find inspiration. Grain bowls are my go-to lunch, they are super versatile, can be eaten hot or cold, and are easy to make ahead of time. It's kind of weird but eating them actually makes me feel healthier, it's probably all in my mind, but hey I'll take it. Having the ingredients separately doesn't do it for me, they have to be combined for me to really appreciate the health properties that they all have. It's odd how my brain works. The fact that these bowls make me feel healthy is one of the reasons why I keep on making them. It's nice when your food makes you feel good about eating it. Do you have any dishes or foods that do that for you?

I have already posted a few recipes for Buddha bowls; like the curried one last month or the cilantro lentil version I made in the spring. This week I thought that I would give you all the information that you need to come up with your own versions. The possibilities are endless once you start experimenting and expanding your horizons. 

In case you didn't know, Buddha bowls are grain based bowls layered with protein, veggies, and some kind of sauce. They can be inspired from just about any cuisine and the only rule is that there are no rules. Mix and match ingredients that appeal to you; make them complex or simple, have tons of veggies or just one. They are completely customizable based on your preferences. 

To begin you need to decide what type of grain you would like to use. Quinoa and rice are my favorites, but there are so many more options. Buckwheat, bulgur, couscous, barley, millet, and steel cut oats are all good choices. You also can combine more than one type to mix up flavors and textures. Personally I do this when I have a little bit of something random in my cupboard. You can add some flavor to your grains while you are cooking them if you know the direction that your bowl is going in. For Greek inspired bowls I'll add garlic and dried oregano. Turmeric in couscous works well for bowls that will be used with curry. This is totally optional, it just adds a little bit of extra flavor.  

The next step is protein. Normally my bowls are vegetarian, however yours don't need to be. My favorite protein toppings are chickpeas, lentils, eggs and black beans. If you are eating your bowl right after you make it a poached egg makes a great topping. If they need to be transported then boiled eggs can be used. If you are a meat eater shredded chicken, beef or cubed ham are great choices. There is also the option of flavoring your toppings. I like to cook my beans in spices like chili or curry powder. This adds depth of flavor to your dish and brings it up a level. 

Now that you have chosen your grain and protein it is time to move on to the veggies. I like to use more than one in my bowls, usually I'll have a leafy green and then a second option or two. Some combos will work better than others; for example parsnips and squash are a great match for winter bowls that will be served hot. Raw carrots and cabbage have a nice crunch for bowls that will be served cold. Decide if your bowl will be warm or not and then go from there. Remember just because you won't be eating your bowl hot doesn't mean you can't cook your veggies. Roasted beets and sweet potatoes are great examples of cooked veggies that you can enjoy at room temperature. If you are roasting your veggies you can add additional seasoning. I like to sprinkle chili powder on my yams for Mexican style bowls for example. 

The sauce really can make your bowl into something that is restaurant quality. You have tons of options here. Consider if your dish will be warm or cold, then think about what you have added so far. Do you need something rich and creamy? Added freshness? Acidity? I like to use a yogurt sauce with fresh herbs on top of roasted vegetables. Tahini dressings with roasted garlic goes well on top of just about everything. Soy ginger ones work great on rice with raw red peppers and edamame. Also think outside the box, maybe a red wine vinaigrette is what your bowl needs. Or how about salsa on your chicken bowl? Think about the flavors that you already have in your bowl and what you tend to have along side them, or what is classically put with them. Chances are that it will work.

I would be remiss not to talk about the extras. If you have ever eaten a Buddha bowl in a trendy restaurant you'll notice these in your dish. These are the little things that take something simple and really brings it up a level. Ingredients like nuts, seeds, fruit and cheese make a huge difference. You can also add fermented or pickled foods like kimchi or olives at this step. I like to make a room temperature bowl of quinoa, spinach, goat's cheese and apple with a mustard vinaigrette. This week I added pumpkin seeds to my bowl with roasted root vegetables. Olives and feta go great with cucumber and tomatoes. Use your imagination, you'd be surprised at what will work well in your dish.