Buddha bowls are having a serious moment in our house. Not only do they come together quickly for dinner, but they also make some of the best lunches the next day. And since dishes like these can accommodate almost whatever you happen to have on hand, its fun to pile them high with random veggies you have stuffed in the fridge. A generous drizzle of creamy sauce brings it all together. Pretty soon you've got yourself a beautiful meal – one that's both healthy and satisfying to boot. And it's totally doable on a weeknight. Yup, these Buddha bowls are here to stay.
This recipe was hands down our favorite combo over the past couple weeks. It has layers of complementary Asian flavors: nutty forbidden rice, crispy spiced tofu, lightly dressed sesame carrots, and a coconut almond lime dressing to top it all off. And while there's a lot going on in the flavor department, it isn't nearly as hard to prepare as it sounds – you'll see.
Forbidden rice is dark medium-grain heirloom rice that's grown in China. Legend has it that this rice was traditionally reserved for Chinese emperors – highly revered for encouraging good health and a long life. Thankfully, the days of forbidden rice prohibition are clearly over, because I can buy this stuff on my regular grocery run. Not sure how the emperors would feel about their revered forbidden rice sitting in a basket alongside my bulk bag of dried chickpeas, box of raspberry popsicles and big bunch of bananas…but in any case, I'm digging it.
And besides its wicked name, there are quite a few other things to like about forbidden rice. First off – the cooking time. It cooks in about thirty minutes. For someone who's used to cooking brown rice for forty-five minutes or longer, the shorter cooking time was a welcome treat. The color is also stunning. How often is it that you eat rice that's anything but the most neutral of colors? And not only is the deep purple shade beautiful, but it's also an indicator of the antioxidants in this rice. In particular, it contains anthocyanins, which is the same stuff we love in blueberries, grapes and acai. So when it comes to rice, you might say that black is the new brown.
Between all the peeps who have tried this dish at our place, the jury's split on whether the best part is the crispy tofu or coconut almond lime dressing. I'll start with the tofu. I have quite the attachment to it after testing this recipe a handful of times – mainly to ensure I had the crispiness down pat. Some people don't love tofu, and I get it. But I've seen crispy tofu turn naysayers into big fans so hear me out. Crispy tofu has a satisfying crunch, and when paired with flavorful spices, you've got yourself a pretty addictive protein source. It's anything but boring.
Crispy tofu is usually accomplished with a fryer, but I was determined to make it work without the heavy oil bath. And I did it! This recipe gets you the crisp, without the fry. Turns out there's a few tricks to pan-fry your way to crunchy tofu. Since tofu contains a fair bit of water, the goal is to remove as much of it as possible, both before and during the cooking process. Start with extra firm tofu. Then, press out the excess water by stacking something heavy on top of the tofu block. This might sound scary, but I promise it's not. When it comes to cooking, tossing the tofu cubes in a light dusting of arrowroot powder helps them crisp up (much like cornstarch would). And once you've developed the crispy coating, and then it's time to really bring the flavor. Toss your cubes in a bit of oil and sprinkle with a generous amount of Asian-inspired spices. Another quick cook in the pan awakens the spices. And boom. You've made yourself some crispy tofu. And while it might be tempting to do the coating and the spice layer all in one go, I found that the spices burn before you have enough time to develop a good crisp on the exterior. So, two steps. Please.
And this sauce. It’s a creamy blend of bright flavors that seem to pair perfectly with this dish. The coconut milk makes this sauce feel really indulgent – in a dairy-free kinda way. It also pairs nicely with lime juice, a hint of Asian hot sauce (like Sriracha) and fresh ginger. A smidge of almond almond butter thickens the mixture and imparts an ever-so-slight nutty taste. It's unique and addictive, all at the same time. We pour this sauce on by the spoonful. It keeps well in the fridge overnight, but if you're using a full-fat coconut milk like we do, you might want to add a bit of water the next day to smooth it out.
When it comes to assembling this bowl, you're the boss. I highly recommend the sesame carrots included in the recipe below. They're lightly dressed in sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds, which adds an extra pop of flavor to the dish. Super simple and totally worth it. We also love adding thinly sliced purple cabbage and dinosaur kale. If you have cilantro, green onions and lime on hand, throw those in as well. Yum!
Forbidden Rice Buddha Bowl with Crispy Tofu
- 1 cup forbidden rice (black rice)
- 2 cups water
Crispy Spiced Tofu
- 12 oz extra-firm tofu, cubed (½-inch)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- ¾ teaspoon coriander
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Coconut Almond Lime Sauce
- 6 tablespoons coconut milk (from a can, see note 1)
- 2 teaspoons almond butter (smooth and unsalted, see note 2)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice (about ½ lime)
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha
- ½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 carrots, cut into matchsticks (about 4 oz/128 g)
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 2 cups shredded red cabbage
- 2 cups thinly sliced lacinato kale
- Thinly sliced scallions/green onions (optional)
- Lime wedges (for serving)
- Make rice: Combine rice and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil (uncovered) on medium-high heat. Once boiling, immediately cover with a tight fitting lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let steam for 10 minutes.
- Coat Tofu: Meanwhile, spread cubed tofu on a clean kitchen towel and pat dry. Transfer tofu to a medium bowl. Sprinkle with arrowroot powder, toss until evenly coated.
- Cook tofu: Heat 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat (see note 3). Add tofu to the hot oil. Cook until crisp and golden brown on all sides, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Make the Sauce: Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together coconut milk, almond butter, lime juice, Sriracha, ginger, and salt. Thin with water, if needed, until it's a pourable consistency.
- Season tofu: Once the tofu is crisp, reduce heat to medium-low. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil over the tofu (while its still in the pan). Toss to coat, then sprinkle with garlic powder, coriander, onion powder, Chinese five spice, and salt. Toss to coat. Cook until the spices are deeply fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently so the spices don't burn.
- Prep Other Toppings: In a small bowl, combine carrots, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Toss to coat. Set aside other toppings.
- Assemble: Divide rice into bowls. Top with crispy tofu, carrots, cabbage, and kale. Drizzle with the sauce. Garnish with scallions and serve with lime wedges.
- Coconut milk: Full-fat coconut milk recommended. Since canned coconut milk tends to separate, shake the can thoroughly before measuring it out for this recipe.
- Almond butter: You can use salted almond butter, but taste before adding the salt, in case you want to add a bit less.
- Pan: I prefer to use a nonstick pan here, because it lets you get a nice golden-brown crust on the tofu. If you don't have a nonstick pan, you can use a seasoned cast iron pan. But since cast iron retains more heat, you'll likely need to reduce the heat slightly to prevent the tofu from burning near the end.