If you are new to vegan cooking, bowls offer a fantastic place to start. They are one of the eight “core foods” I feature on Vegan.com—the others are stir-fries, salads, roasted vegetables, smoothies, soups, sandwiches, and wraps.
What do all these foods have in common?
- They’re easy meals for beginner cooks.
- They can include lots of wholesome ingredients.
- You can prepare any of these dishes in an endless assortment of ways.
There are two types of bowls: savory bowls for hearty meals and fruit-based bowls typically served as a breakfast.
A bowl can feature as many different items as you want. I consider three a minimum, and five or more items as special.
Here are some ideas:
- Grain (rice, quinoa)
- Tofu cubes (baked or stir-fried)
- Roasted tempeh
- Stir-fried or roasted vegetables
- Chopped greens (raw or steamed)
- Avocado slices
- Shredded vegan cheese
- Chopped or sliced tomatoes
Working from the above list, you can make a different sort of bowl every time. I always include at least one protein-rich item, such as beans, tofu, or tempeh. That not only boosts nutrition, but also helps me to stay full for several hours after eating.
Once you’ve put together your bowl, you can amp up its flavor by adding:
Don’t feel like you’re limited to the above options. If there’s a sauce or dressing your particularly love, it should go wonderfully with just about any savory bowl you can prepare.
Garnishes & Seasonings
- Kimchi or sour kraut
- Vegan sour cream
- Roasted sesame oil
- Jarred Indian pickle
- Fresh or browned chopped onions
- Ground pepper or our favorite spice seasoning mix
- Soy sauce or tamari
- Pickled cucumbers (sliced or whole)
- Chopped cilantro (better when mixed into beans than added as a garnish)
- Minced garlic and/or ginger, heated in oil for 30 seconds
- Chopped nuts or peanuts
- Corn kernels
- Nutritional yeast
- Roasted sesame seeds or gomasio
- Pickled ginger slices
You can also think of bowls as an appealing way to serve three or four classic items from your favorite cuisine. You’ll get an altogether different presentation than if you served the very same items on a dinner plate.
- Mexican: Beans, rice, salsa, guacamole AKA a “burrito bowl”
- Italian: pasta, sauce, vegan meatballs
- Middle Eastern: falafel, tabouli, dolmas, hummus
- Korean:Vegan beef, chopped veggies, kimchi, and garnished with cilantro
- Indian: dal, basmati rice, samosa or pakora, lime pickle
- Southern: sweet potato, black eyed peas, cornbread, grilled marinated tempeh
Even though a breakfast bowl might only have four or five ingredients, they can look positively gourmet. There might be no other dish that’s so deceptively impressive, given that you can make a breakfast bowl in minutes.
Breakfast bowls typically contain far fewer ingredients than savory bowls. Here are the main ones:
- Diced fruit or berries
- Vegan milk or a thick fruit smoothie
Choose peak-of-season fruits whenever possible. Any sort of tropical fruit goes beautifully in a breakfast bowl—these include: mangoes, papaya, banana, passion-fruit, and dragon fruit.
If your bowl will include frozen blended fruit, make it as thick as your blender will permit. That requires using as little vegan milk as possible. A high-end blender like a Blendtec or Vitamix, or a good food processor, will do a much better job than a mid-priced blender. Ideally, your blended frozen fruit will have the texture of soft-serve ice cream.
Breakfast Bowl Toppings
- Cacao nibs
- Chopped nuts
- Roasted hemp seeds
- Vegan whipped cream
- Soaked goji berries
- Shredded coconut
- Chopped dates or figs
- Maple syrup
- Vegan yogurt
- Sprig of mint
- Nasturtiums or other edible flowers
- Nut butters
Vegan Bowl Cookbooks
Want to buy a cookbook totally devoted to vegan bowls? You’ve got at least three different ones to consider:
- Vegan Bowls, by Zsu Dever
- Plant-Based Buddha Bowls, by Kelli Foster
- Vegan Buddha Bowls, by Carin Cafa Cifelli
Whether you’re preparing a savory bowl or a breakfast bowl, make a point of using several differently-colored vegetables or fruits. More colors invariably makes the final product more appealing.
If bowls become one of your go-to meal choices, consider buying an extra-special bowl. One of the defining qualities of monks is that they are minimalist when it comes to physical possessions. A bowl plus a robe is sometimes all they own.
I lean toward minimalism, and purge clutter from my life at every turn. But I’ve gone out of my way to purchase a couple bowls that I adore, and I use one nearly every day. I recommend shopping around for a ceramic bowl that has the shape and color you love.
Glass bowls can also be lovely. I own an old smallish Corning tempered glass bowl from the 1960s that I use for many meals. Corning sadly doesn’t make these anymore but you can find them in perfect condition at thrift shops and on eBay.
Wooden bowls are also widely available. They look nice, but I don’t recommend them since they’re hard to keep clean.