The irony of Buddha bowls
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One of the silliest food trends to emerge recently (and that’s saying something in a time of snow eggs, naan pizza and matcha with everything) is perhaps the Buddha bowl phenomenon. I’m tempted to ignore it completely but can’t let pass the very irony of a dish which refers to an ascetic monk eating donated food to survive becoming an internet sensation in a time of food decadence and plenty for many and abject food poverty for many others.
Enthusiasts say it’s a way of emulating the way Buddha used to eat; he would wake up before dawn and walk about with his bowl among the local people. They, in turn, would give away what they could spare and Buddha would then eat the resulting mix from his bowl—a small quantity of curry perhaps, a few different vegetables, rice.
There was a time, not so long ago, when we called this style of eating “clearing out the fridge”, putting together all the odds and ends and calling it lunch. In its new Buddhist avatar, the bowls are often vegan, nourishing and very colourful—perfect, in other words, for the “eat a rainbow” brigade. They also look pretty on social media. Just search Buddha bowls on Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean.
As food trends go it’s pretty harmless—there’s no denying that a meal based on vegetables and pulses is extremely healthy and, in the West, anything that encourages people to eat more of these is to be welcomed. Scottish government figures, for instance, reveal that in 2015, 11% of Scots ate no fruit or vegetables at all and only 21% ate the recommended five portions a day.
In India, of course, no gimmicks are needed to encourage us to eat lots of vegetables, and many will be happy to sit out the Buddha bowl phase. But if you do fancy finding out what all the fuss is about, they’re very easy, and quick, to put together. They also look lovely (and remember, we eat first with our eyes), and leave you feeling smug about having eaten your five-a-day in one go.
First choose a protein—tofu is popular (obviously) or hummus, hard-boiled eggs or a little fish. It would also be a great way to use up small amounts of leftover curry like matar paneer. Add to this a healthy wholegrain like brown rice or bulgur wheat (dalia) and a selection of your most vibrant vegetables. Bring the whole thing together with a delicious dressing and scatter over some nuts and seeds.
I made mine on a wet, miserable day in Edinburgh, the sort of day that makes you want to seek solace in the chip shop. Instead, I dug deep in the fridge and larder and managed to put my bowl together without leaving the house. It definitely made me feel a bit more sunny inside. But I couldn’t blame you for sticking to a thali.
Roasted chickpea Buddha bowl
150g bulgur wheat
200g cooked chickpeas (you could also use any leftover chhole dish)
1 tsp ground cumin powder
Half tsp dried-mango powder (amchoor)
One by fourth tsp salt
A pinch of red chilli powder
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cooked beetroots
2 carrots, grated
A large handful of baby spinach or other leaves—mustard, amaranth would be lovely
1 tbsp each of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds
For the dressing
One by fourth cup tahini
1 tsp honey
Juice of half-1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp soy sauce
Put the bulgur wheat in a pan with 300ml of water and a little salt. Bring to the boil, stir, then put a lid on the pan, take off the heat and leave for the grain to absorb the water, for about 15 minutes.
Put the cumin, dried-mango powder, salt and chilli powder in a bowl and mix. Tip the chickpeas in and toss to coat in the spices. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Put the chickpeas in and cook for a couple of minutes until they’re lightly browned. Set aside while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
Peel and slice avocado and beetroot. Peel and grate the carrots. Wash the spinach or other leaves. Toast the seeds in a dry frying pan for 1-2 minutes.
Mix all the ingredients for the dressing, adding a little cold water to achieve a creamy consistency.
Assemble all the elements (bulgur wheat, chickpeas, avocado, beetroot, carrot, spinach) in a beautiful bowl and serve with the dressing. Eat. Feel smug.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains