gluten-free

Natto or Tempeh Fried Rice

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This week, I’m aiming to make all of my bentos vegan or vegetarian. One reason is simply to have more vegan/vegetarian bento recipes up here! But the other more personal reasons are that, first of all, vegan/vegetarian meals often cost less than meat-centric meals, especially here in Switzerland where even the inexpensive cuts of meat and poultry are not so. The other is just for health; I often feel so much better when I’ve had a vegan bento.

This fried rice is a meal unto itself. There are some finely chopped vegetables as well as hijiki seaweed, and high quality protein in the form of brown rice and natto, those infamous sticky fermented soy beans. I have been hesitant about featuring natto-based recipes here or on Just Hungry, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that quite a few people actually do like it. Natto is an excellent and easily digestible source of protein, and when it’s cooked like this all of the gooey stickiness of it disappears. If you prefer though, you can substitute crumbled tempeh or even shelled edamame. continue reading...

Root vegetables and tofu stewed in miso sauce (a vegan one-pot meal)

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(On the forum and elsewhere, I frequently hear vegans lamenting the lack of vegan protein-rich dishes. Such dishes do exist in traditional Japanese cooking, and I try to introduce them to you. Not all dishes are that simple to make, though if you read through the recipes they aren’t really that hard. Anyway, here’s one vegan one-pot dish that is good hot or cold, so is very suited to bentos.)

There are all kinds of stewed dishes in Japanese cooking, called something-ni (煮). Collectively these are called 煮物 - ninomo. This is sort of a vegan variation on a classic nimono called chikuzen-ni (筑前煮), which is a staple of the New Year period and the winter months.

Chikuzen-ni gets its umami from chicken pieces and a rich dashi made from konbu seaweed and lots of katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes. Here I’ve skipped the dashi (though you could use vegan dashi for even more flavor), but I’ve used one of my favorite vegan proteins, atsuage or thick fried tofu, and added a lot of umami by using shiitake mushrooms, leek, and miso to finish. There are three kinds of root vegetables in this: taro root (satoimo 里芋 in Japanese), lotus root (renkon 蓮根)and carrots, so it’s full of fiber and nutrition and is a fairly complete vegan meal. I used it for a bento last week, and found it very filling. (I meant to use the leftovers for another bento round at least, but it got eaten up by someone…)

If you can’t get a hold of taro roots or dislike the slightly slimy texture, substitute boiling potatoes (the kind you use for potato salad, not baking potatoes). If you can’t get lotus roots, just leave them out and use more carrots.

This is not a quick recipe, but you can make a potful of it and can last you for several days of bentos and other meals. continue reading...

Vegan Turnip Cake or Daikon Radish Cake

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Turnip cake or daikon radish cake (law bock gaw in Cantonese, called daikon mochi (大根餅)in Japanese) is a staple of dim sum. It’s also part of the Chinese New Year feast. It is dense, a bit sticky, and very filling.

Traditionally it’s made from shredded white turnip, or more commonly from shredded daikon radish, rice flour, various shredded or chopped vegetables, plus dried shrimp, Chinese ham or bacon and/or sausage and so on, and it’s fried in lard. Given that it’s pretty good to eat hot or at room temperature, I tried making a vegan version, which could be the main protein in a vegan bento, or a combination protein-carb. I am pretty happy with the results.

I’ll show you two ways to make this. The first is the traditional method of putting the batter into a heatproof dish or mold and to steam it for about an hour, let it cool, and then slice the cake and fry the pieces. The second method omits the steaming stage and is a lot faster. Both methods yield little cakes that are dense, filling and mochi-like on the inside with a sweetness that comes from the shredded daikon radish, and crispy-salty on the outside.

It’s not exactly a quick recipe, though the second method is a lot faster. But you can make a lot of them at once and freeze the extras. Weekend project perhaps? continue reading...

Bento Filler: Orange Juice Carrots

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What, yet another carrot recipe? Well I do like carrots, and they are so handy - available year-round, cheap, and long-lasting in the refrigerator. This one may not look like much, but it tastes very interesting - a little sweet, a little sour, just a little bitter, with an underlying heat. This was originally presented as a dessert in one of my Japanese cookbooks (but I can’t for the life of me remember which one); the original had I believe maple syrup and/or honey in it, which I have mostly omitted. Instead I’ve added salt and a little soy sauce. It makes a nice contrasting accent in a bento, like a salad. Cutting the carrot slices into odd shapes is strictly optional. continue reading...

Bento Filler: The Easiest Ever Carrot-Sesame Salad

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This is yet another recipe that is so easy that I didn’t even think of posting it, though I make it all the time. But since a lot of you guys liked the soy sauce eggs, and carrot kinpira is one of the most popular recipes on Just Bento (not to mention the most, ahem, copied elsewhere)…I thought, why not?

It is a very simple carrot salad flavored with sesame oil. You can add toasted sesame seeds if you want, or chopped up parsley as I did here, or both. Or leave both out and keep it simple. The good thing about this salad for bentos is that it stays crunchy and fresh-tasting even the next day after making it. It’s a nice colorful filler. continue reading...

Poppy seed encrusted green pea mini-burgers

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Adding to an ever-increasing number of bento-appropriate mini-burgers recipes here on Just Bento, here is one that turns out little green burgers that are as visually striking as they are tasty. What’s more, they are vegan, gluten-free and inexpensive. I always try to have a bag of frozen green peas stocked in the freezer, and they really come in handy in the winter months when locally (or even reasonably locally) grown fresh vegetables are rather scarce. Green peas are great just cooked as-is, or mixed into stir-fries, but they’re also very nice mashed up. The most famous example of this are that British staple, mushy peas. Green peas are also packed with protein and various vitamins. continue reading...

Gomashio Cookies

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You may eat a healthy bento lunch, but what when you get hungry in-between meals? You could eat some fruit or something, but you may want something a bit more substantial yet easy to transport without succumbing to the lure of Krispy Kreme donuts or a bag of potato chips. These not-sweet cookies are one option.

These dense, shortbread like cookies are not sweet - they are indeed a bit salty, from the gomashio (sesame salt). They are very filling ‘in-between’ snacks, clocking in at around 80 calories each. They are sort of homemade, not-sweet versions of Calorie Mate Block (see Notes) - they’re just as filling with none of the artificial vitamins or sugar.

I’ve made them in three variations. One is made with white flour and butter, and is arguably the tastiest but least nutritious. The second is made with whole wheat flour, olive oil and sesame oil, and rivals the white flour one in taste - but is a bit crumbly. The third is a gluten-free, vegan version that uses chickpea (gram) flour, tahini and sesame oil. It is quite firm and tasty, and definitely the most nutritious, but may not be to everyone’s liking. continue reading...

Bento no. 50: Vegan bento with quinoa salad and curried kidney beans

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Bento contents:

Total calories (approx): 450 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 5-10 minutes with pre-made components

Type: Vegan, not Japanese, gluten-free continue reading...