Review of Saisai Lunch, a new vegan bento and quick lunch book by Yumiko Kano

saisailunchcover.jpgI’ve mentioned quite a few times both here on Just Bento and on Just Hungry about my admiration for the work of Yumiko Kano (or Yumiko Kanoh), who has written several vegan cookbooks. When I found out that she was coming out with a new book in her “Saisai” series dedicated to bentos and one-dish lunches, I knew I had to get it. The book, titled Saisai Lunch: Quick bentos and at-home lunches made with vegetables (菜菜ランチ 野菜でつくるクィック弁当&おうちごはん) came out on Monday and I received it yesterday, and it looks very good.

Yumiko Kano specializes in “no meat, no eggs, no dairy products, no sugar” vegan cooking. (‘No sugar’ means no added white sugar; she does use maple syrup quite a lot, especially in her dessert recipes. She also has a disclaimer that sugar may be present in some flavoring ingredients. Otherwise, she uses the natural sweetness of vegetables, dried fruits, sweet wine and so on.) She uses vegan konbu seaweed based dashi stock (though she uses commercial granules or concentrate) instead of the more usual bonito flake based stock. And unlike most other Japanese cooks, she doesn’t put mirin or sake in every single dish. Most of her recipes are very easy to make, since she only uses a few ingredients.

The bentos in Saisai Lunch have one or maybe two okazu (side dishes) besides the main carb (mostly rice, but she sometimes uses noodles or pasta, and there are a few sandwiches). This keeps things very simple and quick, and it’s the approach I take with my bentos too most of the time. The presentation of each bento is beautiful yet simple - no trace of kyaraben-style cuteness here! And most of all, everything looks so delicious that even the resident diehard omnivore (or as he calls himself, the “bovo-vegetarian”) around here is drooling over each page.

The catch? Well, it’s in Japanese. Also - and this holds true for all of Yumiko Kano’s books - she does rely on many ingredients that are easy to get in Japan but not so much outside of Japan, though that situation is slowly changing for the better. I do find that I need to adapt her recipes to suit the ingredients I can easily get a hold of quite a lot - and the adaptations are what appear on this site or Just Hungry eventually. If you do read any Japanese and are interested in vegan/vegetarian or just healthy bento recipes though, and you have access to Japanese ingredients like kouya dofu and yuba, you can’t miss this. Even if you don’t read Japanese, the beautiful photos alone might inspire you.

Saisai Lunch is only available online outside of Japan from Amazon Japan at the moment. The base cost is 1995 yen.

A sampling of recipes

  • Tandoori style lotus root bento (the one on the cover; lotus root slices are marinated in a mixture of soft tofu and lemon to make it yogurt-like)
  • Kabocha squash soboro bento
  • Sweet potato and sesame seed fried dumpling bento
  • Carrot, dried tofu (kouya dofu) and raisin dry curry bento
  • Okara, parsley and sweet red pepper salad bento

Other books by Yumiko Kano

All of Yumiko Kano’s cookbooks are vegan. The interesting thing is that Ms. Kano herself, according to interviews, is not a vegetarian. She just enjoys making delicious vegetable based dishes, and she certainly succeeds as this.

  • Saisai Gohan: Vegetables, Beans, etc. - A collection of satisfying recipes made with all vegetable based ingredients (菜菜ごはん—野菜・豆etc.すべて植物性素材でつくるかんたん満足レシピ集) This is my first Yumiko Kano book, and I recommend starting here if possible. Everything from soups to snacks to mains to even desserts are in here.
  • More Saisai Gohan (ますます菜菜ごはん—野菜・豆etc.素材はすべて植物性楽しさ広がるレシピ集) The sequel to Saisai Gohan, more of the same types of recipes.
  • Saisai Sweets: No eggs, no dairy, no sugar - Vegetables transformed into sweets (菜菜スイーツ—卵・乳製品・砂糖なし 野菜がお菓子に大変身 ) Desserts and snacks only! I haven’t tried a lot of recipes from this one. One, which I did adapt a lot, turned out very well. Another one, a sort of chocolate gateau made with ‘chocolate pudding’ made of cocoa powder, maple syrup and tofu layered with salt crackers, didn’t. The concepts are very intriguing though, such as ice cream sweetened with amazake instead of sugar. (What can I say…my general philisophy on sweets is, have a little, but go for the real thing.)
  • Yumiko Kano’s Vegetables Are Delicious! Recipes For Life (カノウユミコの野菜がおいしい!一生ものレシピ) This is the book that made her famous, so to speak. It’s a mook (magazine-format photo book) so has big, gorgeous photos. The recipes are mostly savory, and presented rather differently from the Saisai books, as part of elaborate meals and so on. It’s a bit cheaper at 1290 yen than the Saisai books but less durable.
  • Full Course Feasts With Vegetables: From Hors d’oeuvres to Desserts, 100% Vegetable Recipes (ベジタブルでフルコース—オードブルからデザートまで、野菜度100パーセント・レシピ) This one is a bit different. Full course dinners based around a single vegetable (carrots, daikon radish etc.) from starters to desserts are presented in big, gorgeous spreads. Interesting, if rather impractical to do in practice perhaps, but the individual recipes are quite easy to make, if rather on the oily side sometimes.
  • The books in the ‘Whole Vegetable Cookbook’ series (丸ごと野菜COOK BOOK) are each dedicated to recipes based on a single vegetable: Carrots, Cabbage, Greens and Daikon radish. My feelings on this series are mixed - I think she’s repeating herself from previous books quite a lot in these, though there are no identical recipes. There are still some gems in these, such as the roasted carrot spread (my version is again adapted etc.) in book 1. The Greens book, surprisingly, is the weakest in my opinion, while Carrots and Cabbage are very good. (I just recently got Daikon so haven’t tried any recipes in there yet.) Still, they do give lots of ideas for cooking vegetables in interesting ways.
  • Yumiko Kano’s Vegetable Sweets That Are Kind to Your Body (カノウユミコのカラダにやさしい野菜スイーツ) is, as the title suggests, dedicated to sweet things.
  • Sweet Snacks and Breads That Are Kind to Your Body (からだにやさしいお菓子とパン) is a bit more baking oriented than the Vegetable Sweets book above. Her baked goods, not to mention her other recipes, are not gluten-free for the most part, but are of course vegan.

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So when can we expect your cookbook on Bento Boxes?

Are there any vegan bento

Are there any vegan bento cookbooks in English? What are some examples of ingredients that are in the cookbook that are easy to find in Japan but not outside of Japan?

Vegan bento book

It’s not a bento book I think, but a lot of people like the book by the lady behind Vegan Lunch Box. I have not tried it myself but I know she has lots of fans.

As far as me writing a cookbook…not happening anytime soon I’m afraid. I’m periodically asked if I am writing a cookbook (bento book or Japanese cooking etc). I know people have different reasons for blogging, but one of mine is that it gives me total control over what I write, how I write it and how I present it. I do not have a further agenda behind my blogging - I know that some others may, to write a book or to become a media personality or write for MSM or whatever. In a small way I’ve ‘been there done that’, though in a different field. I have written a book (not a cookbook - a book about CSS and Javascript) and while I am quite proud of it and glad I did it, it was also a very stressful experience, and the presentation of the information was quite compromised from my point of view. (Tons of useful material was cut out to fit the page count, the screen shots were way too small for my liking, and so forth and so on.) So…after that experience, I am determined that should I ever write another book it will be under my terms, and I want to have say over how the information is presented. Nowadays self-publishing is a really viable possibility, and I may look into that eventually.

But first we have a house to sell, a new place to find, and and and… So, in the meantime I hope you all enjoy the blogs! :)

The lotus root bento looks

The lotus root bento looks delicious. You should make that dish and post the recipe on your blog. =)

I leafed through it while I

I leafed through it while I was in Tokyo last week. just had to buy it. :) It’s my first book by Yumiko Kano, so I can’t wait to try out some recipes.

greets from Basel~

Re: Review of Saisai Lunch, a new vegan bento and quick ...

I bought Saisai Gohan, Masu masu Sai Sai Gohan and SaiSai Sweets several years ago and the recipes are fantastic...

We cook from them at least once a week... I've translated a few and will translate some more over time on my website [...] (under Vegan Japanese Recipes) .. i'm only putting my own photos up .. so i have to make them too...

Tonight i'm going to try to make the Taro and Cashew Blancmange with Kiwi and Brandy sauce...

My girlfriend is making the gyoza and shouyu ramen...

Can't wait to get hold of all her new books .. Ninjin/Kyabetsu/Daikon Ryori .. SaiSai Lunch... when i can afford to order from as I live in the UK...

Wish there were English versions for people who can't speak Japanese... i'd be happy to translate them ...

Re: Review of Saisai Lunch, a new vegan bento and quick ...

I'm really not sure about the legality of translating recipes without permission. It would seem to be a copyright violation.

That is why I never do that - I may adapt a recipe, but never a direct translation.

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