sides

Bento filler: Classic Kinpira Gobo (burdock and carrot kinpira)

kinpira_gobo.jpg

Spicy-salty-sweet kinpira, crunchy vegetables that are quicky stir-fried and optionally simmered, are perfect for bento. So far I have given you carrot kinpira and forgotten vegetable kinpira, but Japanese food purists might have noticed that I haven’t posted a recipe for classic kinpira gobo (or goboh). There’s a simple reason for this: here in Switzerland, the only gobo or burdock root that I can get in the stores is an exorbitantly priced frozen version. But recently I was able to get my hands on some fresh gobo (no I didn’t smuggle it from Hawaii!) - so here, finally, is kinpira gobo. continue reading...

Bento fillers: Forgotten vegetable kinpira

kinpira-collage.jpg

Easy sugarfree carrot kinpira is one of the most popular recipes here on Just Bento. And no wonder - it’s a snap to make, healthy, and spicy.

While kinpira is traditionally made with carrots and burdock (gobo) in Japan, you can use the kinpira method for any crunchy vegetable. What’s more, it’s a great way of using up parts of vegetables that you might normally throw away. Not only will your tastebuds and tummy be happy, your wallet will be too. continue reading...

Cooked to death hot and sweet peppers

ctd-hotsweetpeppers.jpg

Greenhouse grown peppers are available year round, but summer is when peppers are really in season. I picked up a bushel load of colorful hot and sweet peppers at a market last week, and some of them turned into this item which is great for bento.

It couldn’t be easier to make, but does take a little time. A mixture of mildly hot chili peppers and sweet peppers are briefly stir fried in sesame oil, then simmered for about half an hour or more. The peppers are falling-apart soft, spicy, sweet and salty. It’s great to tuck into the corner of a bento box, and, well drained of the cooking liquid, also makes a great and unusual filling for onigiri (rice balls).

My grandmother used to make this kind of ‘cooked to death’ or until very limp (kuta-kuta ni) vegetable dish quite a bit. It’s a great way to reduce a big pile of vegetables to a manageable eating amount. This method works well with green beans too. I think it’s rather similar to the way some vegetables such as greens are cooked for a long time in American Southern cooking. I’m no nutrionist, but you do eat all of the ‘cooking liquor’ alongside the vegetables, so nutrition loss may not be so bad, though raw-food advocates may shudder.

The key here is the selection of peppers. The spicy chili pepppers should only be mildly spicy. In Japan you would use shishito peppers. Here I used a variety from Italy that I’m not sure of the variety name of, but it is similarly thin-walled and mild enough not to burn my mouth. Jalapeños or anchos might be good choices too. For the sweet peppers, I used the long red peppers that are called banana peppers, Hungarian peppers or paprikas, depending on who is selling them and where. continue reading...

Bento filler: Cherry tomato and leftover vegetable gratin cup

mayogratincup.jpg

This vegetable gratin in a cup is a great way to use up leftover vegetables in a tasty way. It only takes a few minutes to assemble too. The only thing you should have are the cherry tomatoes, which make their own sauce in a way. Otherwise you can use any cooked or frozen vegetables you have on hand. Here I’ve used some leftover zucchini and frozen carrot and peas. You could use the ever popular sweet pepper and onion confit too.

The ‘sauce’ used is mayonnaise. Cooking with mayonnaise may seem a bit odd, but it works very well. It’s a very popular all-around sauce in Japanese home cooking. Cooked mayonnaise sauce tastes very nice when cold, making it very suited to bento dishes. I have used a ‘light’ mayonnaise here to halve the calories (50 calories per tablespoon, instead of about 100 for regular mayo), and added a little pesto from a jar to make it even tastier. I seem to always have jars of sauces spreads and pestos and so on around in the fridge - if you do too, try experimenting with them!

You do need a toaster oven to cook them up fast, but for serious bento makers this is a really handy piece of kitchen equipment to have (see essential bento making supplies).

This is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian recipe. To turn this into a vegan one use a non-egg mayonnaise substitute and omit the cheese. You can up the nutrients by adding chopped up leftover meat, more cheese, and so on. continue reading...

Bento filler: Green asparagus and scrambled tofu

asparatofu.jpg

When I woke up this morning, it was snowing heavily! By mid-afternoon the sun was shining brightly and the snow had completely melted. Such is early spring. And speaking of early spring, it’s asparagus time! The ones we are getting in the markets here now are from Spain, which is not totally local, but at least they’re coming to us from on same continent.

Asparagus goes very well with eggs and egg-based sauces like hollandaise and mayonnaise, and scrambled eggs and asparagus is a classic dish. This is a vegan version, using scrambled tofu. Don’t scoff at it until you’ve tried it - there are some ingredients in there that make it taste creamy and just slightly tangy, a perfect foil to the asparagus.

For speed purposes, use just the tips and tender stalk parts of fairly skinny spears for this.

This is also great for breakfast, piping hot with toast. continue reading...

Bento filler: Spring greens namul (namuru)

springgreennamul.jpg

Namul (or namuru as it’s called in Japan) is a very versatile vegetable side dish from Korea. It’s one of the key ingredients of a bibinbap but I make namul much more frequently than I make bibinbap. Various vegetables are quickly boiled or blanched, and then dressed with a simple dressing of sesame oil and salt. It’s a great way to eat a lot of vegetables, since the boiling or blanching shrinks down the mass quite a lot. The compactness makes it a perfect bento side dish. It’s so good for you, but tastes great!

I make namul with all kinds of vegetables, including the most commonly used one, bean sprouts. But at this time of year I like to make it with brightly colored spring greens. The toasty sesame oil dressing is a perfect foil to the bitterness of many of these greens. Here I’ve used three kinds of greens that are easily available to me, but do use whatever you have around where you live. I’ve used the dark green, mildly bitter leaves of a puntarelle or catalogna (which I used to think was cima de rapa), spinach leaves, and lamb’s lettuce (also known as mâche - see more about ithere). If I were in Japan at this time of year I’d use spinach, nanohana, and maybe some komatsuna. I’ve listed some green vegetables that would work below. continue reading...

Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried cranberries and balsamic vinegar

cabbagegarliccran.jpg

The title of this recipe says it all! In case you hadn’t noticed, quite a lot of Japanese recipes use a bit of sugar to make them a little sweet. That’s fine in moderation, but I’m always looking for sugar-free methods that still have that sweet-salty taste that I love. In this one there’s the sweetness inherent in fresh cabbage (which is especially strong in new spring cabbage), the dried cranberries, and the balsamic vinegar. It tastes great at room temperature so it’s a nice bento side.

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that is so good for you and lasts for a long time in the fridge, and dried cranberries and balsamic vinegar are good things to stock in a pantry. Garlic, I have on hand all the time. So I make this when I’m low on freshly bought ingredients and need something crunchy to fill a bento box corner. It goes well with rice or other carbs, since it doesn’t taste that specifically Japanese or Asian. continue reading...

Bento filler: Easy sugarfree carrot kinpira

kinpiraninjin.jpg

This is probably my favorite way to eat carrots - cut into matchstick size, stir fried in sesame oil until crisp-tender with some red pepper flakes, and finished with a scatter of sesame seeds. It’s crunchy, salty and spicy. It’s really tasty at room temperature, which makes it a great bento filler. continue reading...