Summer Buddha Bowls

Buddha bowls have made a mysterious appearance around here lately. They are deceptive little meals. Initially, they seem easy enough- shove a few things in a bowl, grab a fork or chopsticks and plonk yourself and filled bowl in front of Netflix, then veg out – literally. But once you get into the building stage, you may find yourself led down a culinary rabbit hole, creating more and more interesting elements to complement your initial idea.

Buddha bowls, otherwise known as macro or hippy bowls, have been around for a few years, spreading from the inner suburban haunts of the hipster to outer suburban caf√©s and the countryside. According to the urban dictionary, ‘Buddha bowls are¬†packed so full that they have a rounded belly appearance on the top much like the belly of a buddha’. While I’m not one for succumbing to food trends, I love a hippy macro buddha bowl in summer, so long as certain conventions are followed.

A fine Buddha Bowl is one where the individual elements and flavours complement each other culturally and ethnically. I tend to apply this general principle to other plated meals too. I don’t like mixing Middle Eastern foods with Asian, or Mediterranean with Indonesian, though I have eaten some culturally mismatched foods in cafes which make me cringe. I like to start with a particular cuisine- Japanese, for example, then ferret around the pantry and fridge finding elements that build on that theme. You could add more guidelines:¬†there should be contrast in colour and texture and the composition should be appealing to the eye and not look like a dog’s dinner. Try to include one grain, preferably a wholegrain, the macro element, and some form of protein- such as egg, fish, pulses, beans, or tofu, as well as fresh uncooked vegetables, something pickled, seeds or nuts, and a good dressing. Your bowl doesn’t have to be overflowing like a fat Buddha- a few contrasting elements with some good flavour is all you need.

Today’s macro hippy buddha bowl followed a Japanese path and tasted clean and sustaining. It¬† included:

  • brown rice, cooked, cooled a little, then dressed with sushi dressing and black sesame seeds
  • tofu chunks, fried, then glazed in a miso and mirin sauce
  • pickled cucumber and red onion with ginger for crunch
  • fresh mustard leaves, shredded
  • young radishes

It was one of my ‘holier than thou’ bowls, perfect for the post-Christmas season, the umami element, the warm miso sauced fried tofu, saving the dish from total puritanism. I also considered adding some torn nori. Steamed green beans tossed in browned sesame seed sauce might have gone well too, or a sliced avocado. On market day, a crunchy fried miso glazed small fish would be a good addition. The thing is to use what you have that sits comfortably within a particular country’s culinary framework and that includes using a neutral flavoured oil, and not olive oil, if heading down the Asian path.

When does a bowl become a share platter? New terminology for old ideas. The Medit bowl made from Puy lentils, dressed in olive oil and sherry vinegar, parsley, shallots, goat’s cheese, black olives, toasted almonds. Served with croutons.

Last week’s bowls included a Mediterranean bowl for two ( pictured above) and an Indian feast. To be fair, Indian bowls are as old as Buddha himself. While the rice and dhal are cooking, begin creating small add ons- baked cauliflower with whole cumin seeds, toasted almonds, hard-boiled eggs, and a simple raita, made from yoghurt and cucumber or mint. At this time of year, fresh mango chutney adds a seasonal sweet¬†touch.

The Indian bowl. White rice, hard-boiled egg, baked cauliflower in Indian spices with toasted slivered almonds. Masoor Dal, tomato salad, Raita with mint, mango chutney.

Today’s pickle was made as the rice cooked. It goes well with Japanese meals and makes a nice crunchy change from the commercial pink pickled ginger. It is not one to store.

  • 2 small cucumbers, finely sliced
  • one red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 cup rice vinegar/ or apple cider if improvising
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced/grated ginger.
  • pinch of dried chilli flakes.

Layer vegetables in a small jar. Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar, stir until blended and pour over. Leave for one hour.

Part of today’s culinary rabbit hole- a crunchy fresh pickle.

Happy Holidays dear readers.

Hunza Pie to the Rescue. Silverbeet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring the 70s, a little paperback vegetarian cookbook – Diet for a Small Planet¬†by Frances Moore Lapp√©¬†– was all the rage. ¬†It was a political book, the first to argue an environmental approach to vegetarianism, that ‘world hunger is not caused by a lack of food¬†but by ineffective food policy.’ ¬†As a cookbook, it took a rather scientific approach to food, and emphasised combining grains and nuts with sesame seeds and so on,¬†to provide sufficient protein. It was hugely popular at the time and marked a shift in my cooking, from the earlier influence of Elizabeth David, to a wholefood approach.¬†Since then, my cooking has acquired many layers of influence, all coming together in the food of today, but a little of that simple wholesomeness remains.

some simple ingredients
some simple ingredients

As I consider the rampant forest of silverbeet/chard/bietola in the vegetable garden, a classic dish from this era springs back to mind, the Hunza Pie, along with faded memories of our old Kombi van heading towards the then undeveloped hippy havens of Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, and us, dressed in flared jeans with something to smoke.

pie asssembled
pie asssembled

If you also are inundated with silverbeet, I recommend this wholesome classic to you. It might be a tad hippified, but it’s still good.

25 minutes in the oven
25 minutes in the oven

Hunza Pie, the old way.

The Pastry

  • 150 gr wholemeal plain flour
  • 75 gr butter
  • pinch of salt
  • one egg yolk
  • two tablespoons of icy cold water.

The filling

  • 6 or so large stems of silver beet, stems and leaves cut up separately
  • half a small red onion, chopped finely
  • 100g cooked brown rice ( do this as you make the pastry)
  • 130 gr tasty cheddar cheese
  • one egg
  • pepper

Make the pastry by whizzing the flour and butter in a processor, then adding the egg yolk, process, then add a bit of the water until the pastry comes together in a ball. Pat out flat, and wrap in cling wrap to rest in the fridge for an hour.

Remove pastry. Prepare and grease an 8-9 inch pie dish or quiche tin, roll out the pastry and lay it in the tin. Trim the edges. As this is a simple rustic dish, there is no need to blind bake the pastry. The filling is fairly dry so the case is able to cook crisply
in one go.

Cook the chopped silver beet stems in ample salted water for 8 minutes, then add the chopped leaves for another two minutes. Drain well and squeeze dry. Mix the silver beet in a bowl with the remaining filling ingredients, holding back some of the cheese. Fill the pastry shell, smooth the top, then sprinkle the reserved cheese on the top.

Preheat oven to 220c. Add the pie and turn down oven to 175c ( fan on) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve with a salad. Serves four. Leftovers make great work and school lunches.

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