Meal-in-a-Bowl: Buddha Bowls, Grain Bowls, and Burrito Bowls
Who cares what they’re called when they taste this good?
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Greek Halloumi, Vegetable, and Quinoa Bowls; photograph by Olga Ivanova
When I need a quick dinner that satisfies everyone, including my picky son, I turn to Buddha bowls. Each of us fills a bowl with whatever we like from an assortment of whole grains, proteins, cooked and raw vegetables, and condiments. In my son’s case, often his bowl has only one or two items — but that’s fine with me. He’s eating exactly what he wants, and so am I. Not the easiest thing to pull off on a weeknight, let me tellya.
As long as you’ve got the basic elements, you can make a Buddha bowl with almost anything. These recipes do all the thinking for you, balancing flavors and textures.
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What are Buddha bowls?
If you’ve ever had a grain bowl, you’re familiar with the concept: Cooked grains topped with a variety of other elements, plus a sauce or garnish to tie it all together. It’s unclear where the name “Buddha bowl” came from, but theories include a nod to the Buddhist idea of balance, or to the famously round belly on Buddha statues. Filled with a variety of items from the major food groups, healthy Buddha bowls are often plant-based meals, but the term now includes vegetarian and meat-based options, too.
How to make Buddha bowls
The basic concept couldn’t be simpler. Most Buddha bowls contain at least one item from each of these categories:
Grains, preferably whole grains
Protein, like beans, tofu, or lean meat
Cooked and raw vegetables, for a mix of softer and crunchier textures
A garnish or sprinkle, like sunflower seeds, microgreens, or pomegranate arils
Some kind of sauce that complements all the flavors and adds punch
How to meal prep Buddha bowls
Because each element is added separately, Buddha bowls are ideal for advance meal prep. Devote an hour or two to prep time when you’re less busy, refrigerate everything in separate containers, and on a busy weeknight pull it out and reheat an item or two.
Buddha bowls with global flavors
While the deity that gives these bowls their name may come from Asia, today you can pull inspiration from all over the world.
Grilled planks of cheese and vegetables, chickpeas, chopped fresh veggies, quick-cooking quinoa, and a tangy lemon-dill dressing take you straight to Greece. If you’ve never grilled halloumi cheese, you’re in for a treat. The insides don’t get gooey, just soft and warm, and a little squeaky when you bite into it.
I’m a sucker for a good peanut sauce. This one is super-easy, just a handful of pantry staples whisked together and used to marinate baked, crispy tofu. (Make a double batch of that sauce — you’ll find ways to use it.) The Buddha bowl itself features brown rice, shredded raw carrots and tender spinach, and roasted broccoli.
Indian flavors grace this beautiful grain bowl with a quick, veggie-heavy curry, sauteed spinach, and the contrasting crunch of shredded red cabbage and roasted cashews. A garnish of fresh cilantro leaves adds an herbal note.
Burrito bowls are essentially Mexican Buddha bowls. Here, you’ve got brown rice, spicy roasted corn kernels, seasoned black beans, fresh avocado and cherry tomatoes, and a dressing made with lime juice and cilantro. It’s ready in under an hour, and both the corn and the beans will hold in the fridge for days.
Let’s go to Morocco, for a bowl absolutely bursting with flavor. Roasted vegetables get tossed on a baking sheet in the traditional spice blend, ras el hanout. They top couscous, of course, together with lentils, salty olives, and plumped-up currants. You get a bit of green from arugula and fresh mint, and a nice crunch from sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Don’t miss the vinaigrette made with spicy harissa paste.
Vegan Buddha bowls
Thanks to plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, tempeh, and seitan, it’s not hard to make a Buddha bowl vegan.
A zesty vinaigrette made with cilantro and oregano, garlic, olive oil, and plenty of lime juice is the star of this show. Co-stars include a tender-crisp sauté of corn and zucchini, sliced avocado and cherry tomatoes, and simply seasoned black beans. You won’t spend much time at the stove to make these grain bowls, since your microwave handles several of the elements.
Poke bowls usually feature marinated raw fish, so they’re not exactly vegan-friendly. Here, sliced tempeh get the poke treatment, soaking up a quick homemade teriyaki sauce before getting grilled. Grilled pineapple rings add smoky sweetness and edamame provides a firm-but-creamy texture, while raw veggies like red bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, and red onion bring the crunch.
This easy beauty lets you taste a delicious rainbow. Spiralized sweet potato and beet noodles get a quick sauté before you place them atop a bed of quinoa, along with thinly sliced, sweet-tart apple, chickpeas, fresh spinach, and luscious avocado. Sprinkle on chia seeds for crunch, and drizzle with a simple dressing made with tahini sauce, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar.
Buddha bowls don’t get much simpler than this, thanks to a handful of ready-to-go ingredients. If you’ve got leftover quinoa, you really can be eating in just five minutes thanks to canned chickpeas, olives, and store-bought hummus and tzatziki. The only actual prep is a quick salad of chopped cucumber, tomato, and green onion, tossed with fresh parsley and plenty of olive oil.
Is that not gorgeous? With leftover roasted veggies, you can have this work of art on the table in minutes. (The recipe calls for Brussels sprouts and sweet potato, but it works with any roasted vegetable.) Add some lentils and navy beans for protein and sliced apple for crunch, drizzle with tahini sauce, and absolutely, positively do not skip the garnish of pomegranate arils — the tart, juicy pops make a fabulous contrast.
Buddha bowls for meat-eaters
I know, I said Buddha bowls are usually vegetarian or vegan. But carnivores deserve easy, nourishing dinners, too.
Quick-cooking ground turkey gets zhuzhed up with a spicy sauce featuring gochujang, the Korean chili paste — that one simple trick makes a weeknight dinner special. Sauteed mushrooms and crisp-tender zucchini round out the main ingredients. Put a little sesame oil, a handful of microgreens, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top, and each bowl looks like it came from a restaurant.
I like a grain bowl that plays with the grain part. Here we use orzo pasta, topped with turkey meatballs, olives, tzatziki, and a quick cucumber-tomato salad. You’re going to want to make a double-batch of meatballs — the garlic, lemon, dill, and oregano seasoning makes them irresistible. Pop the extras in the freezer, and next time you need a simple dinner, you’ll be halfway there.
Here we have a sheet pan dinner masquerading as a Buddha bowl. Roasted broccoli and chicken thighs get basted with teriyaki sauce — you can make your own or use a store-bought shortcut. While they’re in the oven, cook up some lo mein noodles and season with sesame oil and garlic. Divide the noodles among the bowls, top with chicken and broccoli, garnish with sesame seeds and green onions, and dig in.
This bowl will knock your socks off. You only need 15 minutes to marinate cubes of sushi-grade tuna in soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Use that time to thinly slice radishes and cucumber, chop green onions, warm up some leftover brown rice, and thaw frozen edamame. The end result tastes like sushi but it’s much, much easier.
A baking sheet and a blender do all the heavy lifting here. Use the former to roast broccoli, sweet potato, and chicken breasts. Meanwhile, use the latter to make a sweet-tangy-spicy mango sauce with coconut milk, cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes. You’re going to want to drink this stuff, seriously. When you put all the cooked items together along with fresh avocado, mango, and spinach, holy cow is it good.
Breakfast Buddha bowls
Surely, you didn’t think these versatile, nutritious, easy meals were only for lunch and dinner? To make these weekday-friendly, meal prep the ingredients ahead of time and stow them, separately, in the fridge.
This vegetarian burrito bowl definitely leans towards Mexico, thanks to chunks of seasoned, roasted butternut squash and a quick, fresh salsa. A sunny-side up egg, some ripe avocado, and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar complete the meal. I like to serve this with corn tortillas and hot sauce.
Nobody said Buddha bowls had to be savory. Think of this sweet vegan breakfast as oatmeal dialed up to 11. Gluten-free oats and almond milk meet quinoa, coconut milk yogurt, sliced apple, pomegranate arils, and candied pecans, with a drizzle of maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon on top. It’s ready in minutes — perfect for busy mornings.
I’m a sucker for hash browns. This breakfast bowl stars tofu scramble — crumbled-up tofu, sauteed with spices and vegetables — which is mighty tasty, but to me the highlight is the crispy outside, soft inside hash browns. They’re baked on a baking sheet, which saves the mess (and calories) of frying.
The ingredients list alone sold me on this morning treat. Protein-packed quinoa gets zinged up with spices, pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut, and golden raisins. If that’s not intriguing enough, check out the toppings: sliced banana, goji berries, chia seeds, flaked coconut, and, if you like, a little maple syrup.
Tofu scramble is a key element here, too, but this version is seasoned differently. It gets served along with sauteed kale, mushrooms, and onion, sliced avocado, and salsa, on a bed of brown rice. One bowl will keep you energetic and satisfied all morning long, and it’s ready in just 20 minutes.
More easy meal ideas
Check out these familiar dishes for more lunch and dinner inspiration.