Total calories (approx): 550 (how calories are calculated)
Time needed: 5-10 minutes in the morning with pre-made components
Type: Vegetarian, not Japanese (Southwestern)
This is a very simple, all-make-ahead bento. It consists of a vegetable-rich spicy vegetarian (vegan really) chili with kidney beans, plus healthy carbs in the form of homemade muffins. The basic pattern can be varied almost infinitely by changing the chili part and the muffin part. Here I have used non-vegan pumpkin yogurt muffins, but you could very easily make this a vegan combo by selecting a vegan muffin. And you could just as easily make this an omnivore’s feast by adding some lean ground meat to the chili.
The mini-muffins were taken straight from the freezer and popped into the containers. They defrosted nicely by lunchtime.
I packed the chili in a thermal jar type bento - the first time I’ve featured one here on Just Bento. I have to say I am not the biggest fan of thermal jar bentos (like Mr. Bento) because they are a bit heavy and bulky compared to regular bento boxes, but for something like a chili or stew that need to be eaten hot, they are essential if you don’t have access to a microwave at the office or school. To ensure that the chili is as hot as it can be at lunchtime, you way want to microwave it for a couple of minutes in the inner container with the lid off because popping it into the outer thermal container.
On the other hand, I prefer to pack soup into a regular Thermos-type bottle (I have a half-litre one from Sigg). I can get more in there, and because of the very secure double-lid I have no fear of liquid spilling out all over (not that it ever has with a thermal jar bento, but I have that irrational fear it will.)
This type of bento is just a bit removed from a brown-bag sandwich lunch really, but much more interesting and comforting. This comment by Emily to my post about bento teasing really pained me…but I know that some people can be cruel and thoughtless, not to mention narrow minded. If you are a bit shy about bring a full-on Japanese style bento, maybe try something like this first!
The recipe for the South Western style vegetarian chili is from JB reader Stephanie, and is delicious. Thanks Stephanie!
Stephanie says: “One of my favorite dishes is vegan chili, I think that a drier version works perfectly for bentos and is very much like your curried kidney beans.. I soften all the vegetables (by sautéing them in the olive oil) before adding the liquid and spices.”
After sautéeing the chopped vegetables in the oil until they are soft, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 15 minutes or longer. You can vary the amount of cayenne to taste.
This makes about 8 cups of not-very-wet chili. The chili really should be made ahead and re-heated in the morning - it tastes better that way! (If you plan to freeze this, I’ve found it freezes better without the beans, which can just be added when you reheat it.)
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