Buddha bowls are visually appealing, obnoxiously healthy and utterly delicious paths toward nutritional nirvana....
After Thanksgiving I walked into a Trenton business to find the owner, ordinarily a fit and energetic man, hobbling around with a cane. Gout, he told me.
He said gout attacks were caused by uric acid crystallizing in joints, frequently associated with the consumption of rich foods and meat. That made it a natural menace around feast holidays like TG. He said in centuries past gout was called “the rich man’s disease” because back then only the wealthy could afford to eat the foods that triggered attacks.
Which of course got me thinking about wealth and poverty, feast and famine, human nature versus human yearning for the divine; greed, asceticism, religion, economics and the prevailing social order.
Oh, and food. Buddha bowls, specifically.
Accumulation of wealth is the focus and aim of our economic system, while meanwhile the world’s great religions militate sternly against it. Christian priests and nuns must take vows of poverty, and I read somewhere that Buddhist monks are allowed only two possessions, their prayer mat and begging bowl. A simple, basic-needs kind of life is a godly one, is the general trend of thinking: you can be rich or you can be good but probably not both.
Transfer that mindset to the food world and you will have a general picture of the inside of my tormented brain. I love to cook and I love to eat, I’m interested in all kinds of cuisines and I’m always reading recipes I want to make that will expand my ass into the next galaxy. But I also want to be thin, or at least to reside within one ZIP code, so most of the year I resist these worldly temptations. Then in the holidays I relax my moral code a little. All right. A lot. This season, in late November I made the chocolate walnut torte featured in a recent Chef Guevara column, for New Year’s Eve a chocolate trifle, and in between a long orgiastic succession of desserts that came piping hot out of the oven and simply screamed for the cool contrast of ice cream.
Now all that’s over—at last!—and we are entering the cold, clean time of year I call the Holy Month of Robindon. I am not a religious person of any stripe but I like to do what I call “keeping January holy,” meaning free of fattening food and alcohol, fasting and praying not so much to purify the soul as to shrink the bod back into its natural geographical boundaries.
This January I’m keener than ever. I don’t have gout but I’ve been doing some hobbling of my own. I spent the spring and summer of 2017 immobilized by a broken leg, eating and drinking from self-pity and too crippled to exercise off the extra calories.
It was a diet disaster, and when I had to go to the doctor in the fall I dreaded stepping on the scales. (One of the few perks of being in a leg cast is they can’t make you.) But in a kind of fat-girl miracle, the scales had no display I could read myself, just a monitor at the nurse’s desk, and she was too busy bitching to another nurse about a previous patient to tell me what I weighed: “She says to me, ‘I’ve had to wait an hour,’” said the nurse, “and I says to her, I says, ‘Well, hon, looks like you’re fixin’ to
wait an hour more, don’t it?’ ” Meanwhile she typed my weight into the chart with vengeful hard clicks but without mentioning it to me or really noticing I was there, a neat trick considering I’ve gotten massive enough to have a pull on oceanic tides.
Anyway! I escaped that visit without having to face my weight, but shortly afterward the doctor’s office called to say my cholesterol was soaring and recommend I start taking medications. Something had to be done!
So before I got waylaid by Thanksgiving and the ensuing month of wretched excess, I had already started my own dietary vow of poverty, which I will resume now that the Holy Month of Robindon has arrived. In my case, because of the cholesterol issue, I had the idea of adopting a vegan diet as far as possible. I can’t live without milk but can easily manage meatless, and I am determined to try giving up cheese, which I love obsessively enough to harden arteries all by itself.
Therefore I did some research on vegan cooking and that’s where I came up with these “Buddha bowls,” a trend I had never heard of before but which immediately became an obsession of their own. Take a look and see if you don’t go a little wild, too!
I had always imagined that what Buddhist monks were given when they held out their begging bowls would be some grayish unappealing kind of gruel. But these modern Buddha bowls are visual dynamite and it was their looks that sucked me in. I make fun of people who put pictures of their food on Facebook, but one whole week I found myself photographing each Buddha bowl I made for lunch.
A Buddha bowl is sort of like my previous lunch standby, the Everything Salad, in that it has all kinds of disparate healthy ingredients in it and is a great way to use up leftovers. (You'll note that I've made all mine in my favorite salad bowl.) The difference is that in a salad you mix the elements together and in a Buddha bowl you leave them touching but separate. Then when you eat your Buddha bowl you can mix food in forkfuls as you please and see which taste best together and which separate.
Buddha bowls are more a method than a recipe: Take at least one wholesome grain and at least one nutritious bean—these will fill you up—garnish them with colorful vegetables that look good beside them, then pull the whole thing together with some light, sparkling dressing that complements all the ingredients.
The grain part can be as easy as leftover brown rice, but once you get started you'll enjoy trying some new ones. In the one above I used quinoa--that's the fluffy-looking grain between the red kidney beans and the steamed broccoli. Quinoa is high-protein and bursting in nutrients, not to mention one of the tastiest grains. Equally seductive are nutty brown bulgar and luxurious golden couscous (featured in the BB at the top of this article).
Most of these whole grains cook much more quickly than rice, but I like to cook extra at dinner and have some in the fridge for lunches. As for where to get them, in Dade County you can buy some of them packaged commercially in our local grocery stores but all of them are available in bulk, and more economically, at the Wildwood Natural Foods store at highways 299 and I-59.
Otherwise, Buddha bowl ingredients are whatever you have handy that looks and tastes healthy and great. In summer you might want everything to be cold, but I began in fall and I enjoyed mixing up temperatures. In the above two Buddha bowls, I've steamed a little broccoli and barely heated through some green peas, both from the freezer. I also tend to have on hand those julienned carrots from the produce section and canned dark-red kidney beans. All these things are easy to keep around and good for Buddha bowls because they simply burst with color. So do some pickled vegetables--you will notice in two of these bowls I've been unable to resist throwing in pickled jalapeno slices, which are not very Zen but which I grow in my garden and love more than life itself.
I like to mix raw ingredients and cooked ones in my Buddha bowls. In the one above, I've sliced raw daikon and turnips from the garden and also added spring mix salad from the grocery store.
And again, leftovers can be scrumptious in Buddha bowls. In the one at the top of the article, I've tossed in two felafel patties from dinner the night before, and in that one and the one just above, I've deployed hummus--that's the amorphous dippy-looking stuff in the middle--I made with the same peas as the felafel. In this one I tossed in some slices of pita bread to scoop it up with.
Hummus and felafel are made from legumes and qualify for the bean part of the BB. Do you know how to make them? They're vegetarian staples. Felafel you make by soaking raw chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, in water for at least 18 hours. Then drain them and grind them, still raw, in the food processor with a raw onion, several cloves of garlic, a fistful of fresh parsley, salt, dry cumin and any other Middle Eastern herbs you like. If the resulting gop doesn't seem sticky-together enough you can add a teaspoon or so of flour but be careful! Too much makes felafel taste bready. Drop by spoonfuls into a little hot olive oil and fry until brown and crispy.
Hummus you make by taking the same beans, the chickpeas or garbanzos, but cooked until tender this time (or use canned) and pureeing them with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a scoop of tahini, a delicious sesame paste you can also get at the
Wildwood store. Tahini is also often used to make a dressing for Buddha bowls. A dressing recipe is below.
Recipes for felafel and hummus abound online. But here's a tip I've learned during this latest vegetarian kick: Both felafel and hummus were originally made from fava beans and can in fact be made from whatever bean or pea you might like to try. I made the ones above with a mysterious dried yellow pea I got at an Indian grocery store and didn't know what to do with, and I've also made good felafel with lentils. One of these days I'm going to make it from the good old redneck pinto beans I grew up eating three times a week. Like, namaste, you-'uns!
But back to those Buddha bowls: Vegetable-wise you've seen what I put it in mine, as determined by what I had in the garden, refrigerator or pantry. Other primo ingredients are:
Anything goes, and anything colorful goes twice on Sundays! I've seen "autumn-roast" recipes using cooked chunks of sweet potato and un-vegan ones featuring a sunny-side-up egg in the middle.
Now, a light, citrusy dressing to bind the whole varied mass of colors and tastes into a unified and complete Thingness. I'll confess, for most of my Buddha bowls I've just used the garlic-lemon vinaigrette I make for all my salads, which is so simple and basic I have never grown tired of it, and for which I like to say I'm "famous as far as Wildwood." I've written it before in these pages but here it is again:
Chop a clove of garlic fine and put it into a small jar. Pour olive oil to cover generously. Splash in some balsamic vinegar and squeeze in half a lemon. Add enough soy sauce to mellow the flavor and color the liquid slightly. Shake.
You can add fresh herbs when available and vary the amounts of acid to oil to your taste--I like more lemon than anything else--but be careful with the soy sauce. Put in too much and there's no way you can ever add enough of the other ingredients to balance it out.
If you're feeling more exotic, try a Tahini dressing, and after you do, try to leave some Tahini for next time, as opposed to eating the rest of the can on crackers like peanut butter, only more expensive. Tahini is a basic Middle Eastern ingredient and there are a million recipes for dressings with it, but here's one I liked off the internet.
1/4 cup tahini
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 clove garlic, diced
1-2 tbsp sriracha to taste
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt to taste
1/4 cup water, or as needed to thin out dressing to desired consistency.
Well, there you are! Whether or not rich lifestyles are bad and poverty good, rich foods really are not as healthy for you as simple whole ones. Buddha bowls, though, are so gorgeous and tasty they make virtue into a pleasure. I, anyway, have converted to them wholeheartedly and am wandering the wilds of the Rising Fawn Metro Area with my begging bowl trying to proselytize others.
But I've carried on long enough. Until next time--