Forbidden Rice Buddha Bowl with Crispy Tofu

An Asian-inspired Buddha Bowl featuring forbidden rice, crispy spiced tofu and a creamy coconut almond lime dressing. This recipe includes a technique for making the crispiest tofu - without a deep fryer! Vegan & Gluten Free. <jump to recipe>

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.

 Forbidden Rice Buddha Bowl with Crispy Tofu // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan &amp; Gluten Free
 Forbidden Rice Buddha Bowl with Crispy Tofu // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan &amp; Gluten Free

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 // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan &amp; Gluten Free
 Forbidden Rice Buddha Bowl with Crispy Tofu // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan &amp; Gluten Free

FORBIDDEN RICE BUDDHA BOWL WITH CRISPY TOFU

SERVES 4 (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup forbidden rice
  • 2 cups water

Crispy spiced tofu:

  • 1 package of extra-firm tofu (12 oz/350 g)
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon arrowroot powder*
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided**
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Sesame carrots: 

  • 5 oz/140 g carrots
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • Pinch of salt

For serving:

  • Coconut Almond Lime Sauce (recipe below)
  • Purple cabbage, thinly sliced
  • Lacinato / dino kale, chopped
  • Optional: Cilantro, Green onions, Lime wedges

Directions

  1. Fill a saucepan with rice and water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil (uncovered). Once boiling, reduce heat to low. Simmer rice (covered) for ~30 minutes until the grains are cooked and most of the water is gone. Fluff up the rice with a fork, turn off heat, and let it sit covered until ready to serve.
  2. Meanwhile, give the tofu a good pat dry. Then, wrap it with dry paper towels or a clean dish towel. Place the tofu on a flat surface, then place another flat surface on top. The tofu block should now be sandwiched in between two sturdy surfaces (e.g. cutting board, plate). Add something heavy on top and let the tofu rest like this for 5-10 minutes. It will help remove excess water.
  3. While the tofu is resting, prepare the spice blend for the tofu. Mix together garlic powder, onion powder, coriander and Chinese five spice in a small bowl. Set aside. To make the sesame carrots, slice carrots into thin match sticks, about 1.5"/4 cm long.  In a separate bowl, toss the carrots with sesame oil, and then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Add salt, to taste. Set aside until ready to serve.
  4. After the tofu has rest, unwrap it and cut the tofu into bite sized cubes. Place cubes into a medium sized bowl and toss with arrowroot powder, ensuring each piece is well covered. Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Add tofu cubes to the pan, spreading them out evenly and ensuring they don't touch / overlap. Cook for ~15 minutes, flipping every 2-3 minutes until a crisp golden brown exterior has been developed on each side.
  5. Once crispy, reduce the heat to low and transfer the tofu cubes to a clean bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and stir well. Then pour in the spice blend and toss the cubes until each one is well covered. Add the cubes back to the hot pan. Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes until the spices are fragrant. Stir regularly, ensuring the spices don't burn.
  6. To assemble, scoop rice into bowls. Top with crispy tofu cubes, sesame carrots, purple cabbage and kale. Drizzle with a generous serving of coconut almond lime dressing; and garnish with fresh herbs and lime.

Notes:
*May also be sold as arrowroot flour.
**You may wish to opt for deodorized coconut oil. It doesn't impact the same coconut scent. You could also substitute with a different neutral oil, such as grapeseed.

 

COCONUT ALMOND LIME SAUCE

(VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons coconut milk (from a can)
  • 2 teaspoons almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Add ingredients to a small food processor or blender. Pulse until smooth. Serve either at room temperature or cold.

Notes:
-Extras can be stored in the fridge. After refrigerating, your sauce might thicken slightly. Add a bit of water to thin the mixture to your desired consistency.