If I was to describe some of my favorite foods and dishes I would say whatever one can pile into a bowl and mix together to savor all the flavors. Not only of each individual ingredient, but also as each item intermingles with the other there are a range of flavor explosions! That is the real kick I get from a dish.
Maybe it is the Indian in me. As far as I can remember I have always enjoyed my meals a lot more when I got to mix up the ingredients on my plate or in my bowl. From the very basic dal and rice, mixed with a few pickles and a refreshing yogurt raita – bowl food has always been my kind of food.
Since the Middle Ages, we have enjoyed ladling stews or porridge into “trenchers”, which basically were hollowed out bowls cut from loaves of old bread.
The concept of food in bowls is hardly a new one and I presume it originated from the Asian kitchens. The idea of Thali, which basically is an Indian-style meal, made up of a selection of various dishes, served on a platter, is basically to offer different flavors of sweet, salt, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy on one single plate. For us Indians, a proper meal should be a perfect balance of all the 6 flavors for our tastebuds .
Since the Middle Ages, we have enjoyed ladling stews or porridge into “trenchers”, which basically were hollowed out bowls cut from loaves of old bread. Eventually, if one follows the history of how food is plated we seemingly evolved from bowls to plates, thanks to Marie-Antoine Careme, arguably the first celebrity chef, who brought plating into the modern world back in the 18th century.
What we did not reckon with was the 21st century, and that our inner desire for comfort and social media would bring back the bowls stacking high in our cabinets. The Western world has taken to the bowl food trend with a vengeance and bowls have replaced plates in our kitchens. It seems the common idea these days is not so much what you eat but how you eat it, the key factor being that food has to look pretty while you shoot it.
“The theory that food served in bowls is healthier than the same food served from plates is almost as loopy as Lord Sugar losing weight by eating food only using a tiny fork.” ~ Harry Wallop, Telegraph
According to Charles Spence, an expert in the psychology of taste at the University of Oxford, that while the idea is not completely foolish, bowl food might be tricking your brain. He has pointed out that if you hold the bowl while eating from it, the receptacle’s weight could make them feel more satisfied with the meal.
An idea I do have to agree with. There certainly is something more satisfying and comforting for my inner self, when I am hugging my bowl and scooping out dal and rice with my fingers! Not much comes close to that feeling. However, I am a firm believer of using common sense, especially when it comes to food and what goes into our bodies regardless of the current trend. The “what” is the key factor. I do not mind riding on the waves of trends but I make sure to make sensible and healthy choices adapting the trends to fit my diet, to complement my body and that of my family. I know that my bowl food is truly healthy and tastes better if I have selected fresh, regional, organic produce and if I have prepared each ingredient with care using my experience, knowledge and taste to guide me. That is the key concept to any kind of food.
A combination of kale and Brussels sprouts, kalettes are the latest vegetable to rock the food market.
Sweet and nutty in flavor, the vegetable looks like a mini cabbage with delicate, kale-like leaves. Fans claim it is more versatile and quicker to cook than either of its parents, which tend to be boiled, steamed, or hidden in a smoothie. Kalettes, however, can be sautéed, roasted, grilled, microwaved and even eaten raw.
Bowl food today come in fancy names: Hippie Bowls, Nourish Bowls, Glory Bowls, Rainbow Bowls, Buddha Bowls. Whatever they are called – pick the one that shows your current state of mind and soul – the concept for all of them are similar. Building your own bowl is fairly easy and made to suit any diet.
Complex carbs are one of the main elements of the Buddha bowl. Sensible healthy choices are brown rice, barley, quinoa or millet. Prepare these with herbs and spices for added flavor. As a guideline, in terms of portions, complex carbs should make up roughly 20% of your bowl.
As I try to keep my intake of refined / simple carbs low, my bowls are packed with high power proteins. These give me not only the needed energy but helps me stay fit, reduce belly fat, keeps my hormones balanced and my hair and skin glowing. I also notice that when I allow myself to slip and indulge in more simple carbs my moods tends to sink. However, with my usual high protein diet I do not suffer from mood swings, my concentration is a lot better and I am able to maintain my weight. Proteins make up about 30% of the bowl and I usually pack my them with lentils, chickpeas, fish, eggs, quark, feta cheese, cottage cheese or chicken.
I love my veggies and find the 10-a-day guideline fairly easy to keep. Buddha bowls are predestined for loading on the vegetables and these can be served in any form. You can steam, sauté, pickle or add them raw. Usually for a balanced Buddha bowl roughly 20% greens, like kale, spinach, rucola and 20% other seasonal vegetables like carrots, parsnip, beets, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower will make up the perfect bowl.
I stress the sensible in this section as this is often where I find one can be tempted to stray from the healthier version of the Buddha bowl and pile on the calories. The extras usually refer to toppings, sauces and healthy fats and should only make up 10% of the entire bowl. This includes things like hummus, avocado, nut butters, pesto, tahini, nuts and seeds.
With this basic guideline it becomes so easy to create a wholesome and entirely satisfying meal. Whether I am feeling the flow like a hippie or in my zen zone like the Buddha – there will always be a nourishing idea not far away. Bowl food is my soul food!
To provide you with a few more exciting and creative bowl food ideas I turned to my friends and group buddies on Facebook. They never let me down and as I was gathering the selection last night, not only was it stimulating my brain I was inspired with a few sensational ideas. There are over 70 awesome Buddha bowl, Glory bowls or Nourish bowls with a variety of flavors – from Thai to Mexican, vegan, cluten-free and with meat. I have placed them all in The Best Buddha Bowl board over on Pinterest – click on the image above to get your big healthy bowl!
My own Buddha bowl is inspired by the Middle Eastern kitchen and comes loaded with giant couscous, crispy baked falafel, pickled vegetables, spiced lentils, hummus, garlic and the cutest kalettes! Each item is prepared differently with its own specific aromas and as each of the flavors come together into one harmonious bowl there is something similar to a flavor explosion.
- 250g giant couscous, prepared according to packet instructions
- 1 portion my cauliflower chickpea recipe
- 1 portion my hummus recipe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 200g pre-cooked Puy lentils
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 red chili, finely chopped
- 200g kalettes
- 100g feta cheese
For the pickled vegetables
- Cucumbers, kohlrabi, red peppers, carrots, grated
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- Couple of sprigs of dill
- 2 cups vinegar (apple cider or white wine)
- 1 cup water
- approx. 200g sugar
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon each of peppercorns, mustard seed, fennel seed, coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- First make the pickles as they will need at least one day to infuse. In a small sauce pan, bring the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat then allow to cool. I like grating or shredding my veggies but you can easily also cut them all into bite sized pieces if you prefer. Pack two (or three depending on the size) jars tightly with vegetables, garlic cloves, and dill. Ladle the pickle mix into the jars to cover the vegetables. Screw the lids back onto the jars and refrigerate. The pickles are ready to eat as soon as the next day, but will obviously gain flavor over time.
- Now begin your prep for the buddha bowl by individually preparing each component separately. You can prepare the baked cauliflower and chickpea falafels and the hummus ahead of time
- For the lentils, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Add 2 garlic cloves and 1 chopped red onion. Sauté until fragrant and translucent. Add the red chili. Add the lentils. As the lentils are pre-cooked they really just need to heat through and soak up the aromatics. Once ready keep warm and set aside.
- For the kalettes reduce the heat to medium-low, pour in the remaining tablespoon olive oil in the pan, add the remaining garlic and onion and quickly sauté the greens. They will become crispy and crunchy, keep an eye on them so that they do not burn. Season both lentils and kalettes according to taste.
- Assemble the buddha bowl by layering first the couscous, then place the lentils and kalettes around the quinoa. Dollop some hummus in the middle and pile a few falafels on top. Then scoop a tablespoon of the pickled vegetables and finally crumble the feta over the top.
- What you now have is one extremely divine and inviting meal. I prefer this when the quinoa, lentils, kalettes and falafels are still warm. The falafels can be gently re-heated in the oven or the microwave. However, this meal is great too at room temperature.
Craving a bowl? In reality whether you prefer eating out of a bowl or off a plate or on a banana leaf – the point of food is to relish the flavors, enjoy the complex aromas and savor the meal. It should be balanced and nutritional and no one ever said that a cheat once in a while would harm us. As a person who loves food – eating and working with it that is my only wish. Food has always been a source of memories and emotions for me and I try to build a healthy relationship with food and my eating habits. At the end of the day the vessel in which we eat from is not top priority! So open up a bottle of wine, grab a fork and come join me! Enjoy!
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