Pretty/Healthy: Buddha Bowls

As a little kid, to my parents’ chagrin, I was particular about a lot of things: the number of bumps allowed in my ponytail (zero) the way my socks felt inside my shoes (excess toebox folded just so over my pinkies), and dinner (absolutely no asparagus, eggs very dry-scrambled, and different foods NEVER touching). These days, I indulge my mild neuroticism in other ways, and I’m lucky if I can even find two matching socks, let alone the patience to smooth down my flyaways. The same goes for my meals--what were once scrupulously partitioned stacks of fish sticks and baby carrots now find themselves a lot leaner and greener, thrown into the same bowl and swirled into a nutritious but haphazard hodgepodge. It’s my lazy take on the Buddha Bowl, that colorful and macronutrient-complete concoction beloved by clean-food-porn Instagrammers. If you peruse the endless Buddha Bowl recipe Google results, you’ll find they follow a common formula: grain + legume or protein + pile of veggies + sauce, elegantly arranged like a color wheel in a generous, intentionally understated white bowl. The careful nestling of each foodstuff satisfies the picky five-year-old in me while nodding to my grown-up appreciation for single-dish efficiency.

Illustration by Holly Walsh

Illustration by Holly Walsh

The idea behind the Buddha Bowl is cohesive variety: cook a bunch of tasty, healthy items separately, then throw them all into the same container for maximum yumminess. That might sound annoying, but you can quickly learn how to time the cooking to crank out a hearty, low-stress meal in around 30 minutes. The oven does all the work if you roast chickpeas, salmon, chicken, or sweet potatoes, steaming fresh veggies takes all of two minutes in the microwave, and you can always buy pre-made sauces like pesto or salsa. As Buzzfeed notes, tahini and rosemary work especially well in bowls, though I’m partial to pairing curry spice and homemade peanut sauce. I tend to skip the Mondrianesque arrangement, unless I’m plating for an audience--Instagram not included. It’s a saturated market.

 

For this bowl, it’s easiest to break the entire cooking time down into thirds, or three 10-minute intervals. The potatoes and chickpeas need stirring every 10 minutes, while the kale and quinoa both take about 10 minutes to cook. The peanut sauce can be prepared a day in advance or in any 10-minute segment of the cooking process. I like to start by putting the the sweet potatoes and chickpeas in the oven first. I have enough time in that first ten minute segment to put the quinoa on to boil and set the ingredients for the peanut sauce out on the counter so that I’m not scrambling later. After I stir the chickpeas and potatoes for the first time, I prepare the kale on another baking sheet (if you only have two baking sheets, you can throw the kale in with the potatoes or chickpeas in their final 10 minutes of baking). At this point, the quinoa is usually boiling and can be turned down to a simmer for the next ten minutes. Once I’ve stirred the potatoes and chickpeas a second time (20-minute mark), I put them back in the oven with the kale for the last 10 minutes of baking and get going on the sauce, which cooks quickly. That way, everything wraps up around the same time and nothing in the bowl gets cold! Magic.

 

 

 

 

Basic Buddha Bowl  (serves 2, plus leftovers)

Ingredients:

For curry lime sweet potatoes:

  • 1 large sweet potato, washed, dried, and cubed

  • 2 tbs red curry paste

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tbs olive oil

  • Lime juice

  • Cracked pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 450 (or 400 for electric ovens). Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the curry paste, ½ of the garlic, olive oil, and a dash of lime juice, mixing to combine.

  3. Add the sweet potato cubes to the bowl, tossing to coat.

  4. Spread sweet potato cubes evenly over the lined baking sheet.

  5. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

For savory quinoa:

  • ½ cup dry quinoa

  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (similar to soy sauce, but much lower in sodium)

  1. Add the quinoa plus one cup water to a small pot and heat over high.

  2. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.

  3. Turn off heat and stir in 2-3 tsp Bragg’s liquid aminos, to taste.

For roasted kale:

  • 2 cups kale, any variety, washed, dried, and chopped

  • 1 tbs olive oil

  • Sea salt

  1. Oven should be at 450 (400 for electric ovens), per sweet potatoes. Line baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

  2. Spread the kale over the baking sheet and drizzle the olive oil on top. Mix with your hands to coat each leaf thinly.

  3. Rearrange the kale so it’s all in one layer over the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.

  4. Roast for 8-10 minutes, stirring once.

For homestyle chickpeas

  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and dried

  • 2 tbs olive oil

  • Sea salt

  • Pepper

  • Anise seed

  • Rosemary

  • Paprika

  • Chili powder

  • Cumin

  1. Oven should be at 450 (400 for electric ovens), per sweet potatoes. Line baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

  2. Spread chickpeas on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and mix to coat each bean.

  3. Season generously with the remaining 7 ingredients, stirring to coat.

  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes

For homemade thai curry peanut sauce:

  • 1 ¼ cup peanut butter

  • 1tbs sesame oil

  • 1 clove garlic, minced (the leftover prepped for sweet potatoes!)

  • 2 tbs red curry paste

  • ½ tbs fish sauce (I love to use Pretty Thai lemongrass-lime dressing, which contains fish sauce, plus a kick from citrus and chili powder)

  • 1 tbs honey

  • Chili powder

  • Coconut milk or soy milk

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium. Add sesame oil and swirl to coat pan.

  2. Add minced garlic and stir for about 1 minute, or until fragrant.

  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add peanut butter, curry paste, and fish sauce. Stir until combined.

  4. Add coconut milk or soy milk until sauce becomes more fluid and lighter in color. Dilute to preferred consistency (I like it thick, like plain yogurt) and continue to heat until warm.

  5. Stir in honey and sprinkle chili powder to taste. Serve warm and save the rest in the fridge for leftovers.

Putting it all together:

In a large soup bowl, add ½ of the seasoned quinoa. For the next layer, visually divide the bowl into thirds and fill each third with sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and kale. Drizzle the peanut sauce on top. Repeat for second bowl and save the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.