Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines.

What's a Budda Bowl?

Dennis’ Bowl

April and May in our area have got to be at the top of the best months of the year when it comes to weather. The cool to cold and damp of the winter have given way to pleasant temperatures and bright skies. We haven’t yet moved into the stifling heat and humidity of summer in South Texas. Spring has truly sprung with perfect weather and an explosion of flowers. It just makes you want to go outside and run. I may have overstated the running part, but spring does make you feel like eating a little healthier.

You may be inspired to gravitate a little more toward a plant-based diet, at least for some of your meals. You may want to eat a wide selection of vegetables, both cooked and uncooked, of every imaginable color. You may find yourself mixing in a variety of whole grains like farro, quinoa, brown rice, millet and barley. For good measure, add a few legumes like black beans and edamame. And, if you are not eating vegan or vegetarian, you can mix in a few bites of animal protein. Top all this off with a great dressing, arrange the ingredients artfully into a bowl until the food mounds into a shape reminiscent of Buddha’s belly and you have made a Buddha bowl.

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus about how these healthy meals have come to be called Buddha bowls. Some say Buddha would wake up before dawn each morning and walk through town with his bowl. People would drop bits of food into his bowl, and at the end of his walk, he would eat whatever had been given to him. Others say this way of eating a variety of vegetables, grains and legumes, has been the way Buddhist monks have been eating for more than 2,000 years. And still others say it was a marketing trick that came about in 2017 and has stuck. For what it’s worth, I think the latter has more truth to it.

Whatever the genesis of the name, Buddha bowls can be incredibly interesting; beautiful to look at; and very flavorful, easy and quick to prepare, and if that’s not enough, they can be very healthy.

Last month, Louise and I went to visit two of my sons and their families in northern California. These bowls were all the rage with entire restaurants dedicated to these dishes. The imagination used to compose the bowls was truly staggering.

There are no real rules for composing Buddha bowls, but there are some suggested constituents. An easy way to get started would be to choose one or two ingredients from each of the categories listed below.

  • Grains: Brown rice, quinoa, farro, wheat berries, barley. These grains need not be plain. For an Asian flare, add a little soy sauce, fresh ginger and maybe some sambal oelek. For a Southwestern influence, add some cumin, roasted peppers and caramelized onions.
  • Legumes: Black beans, edamame, red beans, peanuts, cannellini, pinto and garbanzo. As mentioned above, use your imagination. Canned beans, once rinsed, are a fast and easy addition. You can spice them up any way you like.
  • Vegetables: Any vegetable works. Either raw, steamed or lightly sautéed. Consider spinach, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, sprouts, avocado or scallions.
  • Protein: When a grain is combined with a legume, you have a perfect protein. If you want a little more protein, consider adding some tofu. If you are a meat eater, small amounts of beef, chicken, pork or seafood really makes for a substantial bowl. A fried egg topper is also a treat.
  • Dressing: The finishing touch is the dressing. If you have constructed the bowl as described, you already have a symphony of flavors, so the dressing should complement the flavors and not dominate the flavors. A simple vinaigrette will always work. My favorite is a lemon jalapeno vinaigrette. The recipe is included.

The bowls are composed by placing about half a cup of each of the food categories around the bowl. The ingredients are not mixed at the time of presentation. The mixing is left to the diner.

Whether you call these grain bowls, veggie bowls or Buddha bowls, these bowls make a great healthy lunch or dinner. I have included a couple of suggestions to get you started. Amounts are not included. Just add the quantities that appeal to you.

Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines. His passion is introducing people to ingredients and techniques that can be used in their home kitchen. He and his wife, Louise, own The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar.

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