This section contains recipes that are secondary okazu, food items in a bento box besides the main carbohydrate and the main okazu, which is usually a protein. Most recipes in this section are vegetable based.
For main okazu (usually protein) recipes, see the Mains section .
For recipes for things that can be made in advance and stocked in the freezer, refrigerator or pantry (this includes mains and sides), see the johbisai  (staples of ‘bento stash’) section.
This is a very simple and quick vegetable side dish or filler for bentos, using vegetables available in the spring - new or spring cabbage, little carrots, and greens, with shredded crabstick or surimi. You could use shredded ham instead of the crabstick, splash out a bit and use real crabmeat, or just keep it all-vegetable. This is a namul, a Korean salad-like side dish. More about namul (and another namul recipe) here . The addition of a bit of vinegar is very unauthentic, but I think it enhances the flavors.
The most time consuming part of this recipe is shredding the vegetables. You can cheat and use pre-shredded carrots and cabbage, or use your food processor, if you’re not too handy with a knife.
Makes approximately 3 cups, or 3-6 bento sized servings. Total calories: about 250 calories.
Bring about 2 inches (5cm) of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the shredded carrot, wait a minute, then add the cabbage. Wait another minute and add the greens. Boil one more minute, then drain the vegetables and run cold water over them. Squeeze out any excess moisture. The carrot and cabbage should still have a crisp texture.
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
This will keep in the refrigerator, well covered, for 2-3 days.
You may be used to eating spinach leaves in salads, or sautéed. In Japan spinach is rarely eaten raw. The most common way to eat spinach is to blanch it briefly. You may lose some nutrients when you do this, but it’s more than made up for I think by the fact that you can eat a whole lot more spinach than in a salad or so.
In the U.S. and Europe, it’s probably easier these days to buy ready-washed bags of the leaves only. This is a bit of a shame really, because spinach stalks and roots have a different texture which adds interest. In any case, the instructions here assume that you are dealing with the leaves only.
Wash the leaves just to be sure they are totally clean.
Bring a pot of water to the boil. (If you are in a hurry, boil the water in an electric water kettle, then pour the water into the pot.)
Put the spinach leaves in the pot all at once. If you have baby leaves (they are round and small and not crinkled), boil them for 30 seconds and not any longer. If you have fully grown leaves, boil them for about a minute.
Immediately drain the pot. Run cold water over the leaves to cool them off fast. Drain.
Take the spinach leaves in your hands and squeeze out the water as much as you can. You’ll end up with one or more ‘logs’ of spinach looking like this:
This ‘log’ started out life as a whole 200 g (about 7-8 ounces) bag of baby spinach leaves! Cut the ‘log’ into pieces that are a bit shorter than the height of your bento box.
The easiest way to flavor blanched spinach is to just sprinkle some soy sauce on it. You can garnish it with a little bonito flake, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, etc. I prefer to sprinkle the soy sauce just before eating, so I put it in a small soy sauce bottle. (There’s no need to fill the bottle up incidentally, since you’ll only need a few drops!)
You can vary the flavor by using commercial mentsuyu (soba noodle sauce). For homemade versions, see kaeshi  and Japanese essence . (For what it’s worth, I make kaeshi more nowadays than Japanese essence.)
This is a little more work to make, but is very delicious, and great for bento! This amount makes enough for 200g / 1/2 pound of raw spinach, cooked.
If you don’t have pre-toasted sesame seeds (irigoma), toast the seeds briefly in a small dry frying pan. Crush in a small mortar and pestle or suribachi. Add the sugar and crush some more. Add the mirin and soy sauce and mix. Mix with the spinach.
You can make a sort of cheater’s gomaae by using about 2 teaspoons of tahini instead of the sesame seeds. Add some whole sesame seeds on top for garnish.
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.
For each cup:
Equipment needed: toaster oven, cupcake cup (aluminum or silicone)
Mix together the mayonnaise and pesto (you can leave the pesto out if you like). Mix in the chopped vegetables, and then the halved or quartered tomatoes.
Put the mixture into a cupcake cup. Top with cheese, and a little dried basil or oregano. Cook in a toaster oven for about 6 minutes, until bubbly and a bit browned on top.
Cool before putting into bento box.
If you don’t have a toaster oven, you can make this in a regular oven at 200°C / 400°F for about 10 minutes. But making just one in a big oven isn’t too efficient energy-wise, so…this might give you a reason to get a toaster oven if you don’t have one!
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.
Incidentally, this is what my fresh gobo or burdock roots look like:
Burdock root is very high in fiber, and has an earthy taste. The roots are slim and about 60-70cm (about 2 to 2 1/2 feet) long, and a light brown in color. Commercially grown burdock root doesn’t have a tough skin, so all you need to do is to scrub it well with a stiff vegetable brush or scrape it with a vegetable peeler. It has some bitterness, so it’s usually soaked in water before cooking.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that you should go out of your way to make kinpira gobo, if you can’t find burdock root in your area. As I’ve shown in my other kinpira recipes, the method can be adapted to many vegetables. The reason why kinpira gobo is ubiquitous in Japan is that burdock root is a very inexpensive standard vegetable. If you can get burdock root easily where you are though and you’ve never tried kinpira gobo, I hope you will. For me it was a rare and wonderful treat.
Kinpira gobo has carrot in it as well as burdock root. There should be about 4 parts burdock root to 1 part carrot, which comes out to about 1 burdock root to 1 small to medium carrot.
1/2 cup of this comes to around 50-60 calories.
Cut the burdock root into 5 cm / 2 1/2 inch or so long pieces. Slice each piece lengthwise then cut into matchsticks. Put the burdock root pieces in a bowl with enough water to cover, and let soak for a few minutes. Drain away the water, and refill the bowl with fresh water. Soak a few minutes more then drain. Pat the burdock root dry with kitchen or paper towels.
Cut the carrot into matchsticks too. There’s no need to soak the carrots.
Heat up a wok or large frying pan with the sesame oil. Add the burdock root and carrot piecs, and sauté briefly, tossing to coat the pieces with oil. Add the chili pepper flakes and toss. Add the sugar, mirin and soy sauce and about 1/2 cup of water. Lower the heat to medium, and continue cooking and stirring until the moisture has disappeared from the pan. Taste a piece of burdock root for doneness: it should be crisp-tender. If it’s too crunchy for you, add a bit more water and cook some more.
Kinpira gobo keeps in the refrigerator for a few days. It can also be frozen, wrapped in individual portions.
(And yes, I’m back to regular posting!)
Cucumbers are a perennial staple for me. They are available at any time of the year, even in the depth of winter. Sure they are greenhouse grown, but they are for most of the year anyway. They add a nice refreshing crispy crunch to any meal, including bentos. This is an extremely easy to make-ahead salad or marinade. Make it at least an hour before you want to eat it, or the night before for bentos. It will stay nice and crunchy for a week if you keep it tightly covered in the refrigerator, and the flavors will mellow nicely. This kind of marinated salad or instant pickle is called an amasu-zuke (sweet vinegar marinade). I have added a nashi or Asian pear to the cucumbers - their sweetness allows me to reduce the amount of sugar normally used to half, and the crispy texture is really nice with the cucumber.
Makes about 8 cups of salad, plenty for several bentos and meals.
Slice the cucumbers in half lenghwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the halves again into half, so you end up with quarters. Cut up the cucumber into chunks about 3/4 cm / 1/2 inch thick (no need to be too precise here; just chop away roughly).
Peel, quarter and core the nashi pear. Slice fairly thinly.
Combine the cucumber and pear in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the rest of the salt, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chili pepper flakes. Stir well but don’t worry if the sugar and salt don’t melt totally - they will melt once you mix this with the vegetables. Put the combined sauce in the large bowl with the cucumber and pear, scraping out any unmelted sugar and salt. Mix very well. Cover, and let rest for at least an hour or overnight in the refrigerator. It will keep tightly covered for a week.
If using in a bento, you may want to put it in a leakproof container if you add some of the marinating sauce. This goes well with a Japanese-style or not-so-Japanese style bento.
Try using a crispy apple like Fuji instead of the nashi pear.
You can make a cucumber-only salad too, in which case increase the sugar to 2 tablespoons.
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.
Note that I don’t add any sugar or mirin here, unlike most traditional kinpira recipes. I just let the natural sweetness of the carrots speak for itself.
Cut the carrots into matchstick size. (Cheat alert - you can use pre-shredded carrots meant for salad if you like, but then lessen the cooking time.)
Heat up a frying pan or wok with the sesame oil. Add the carrots and toss around until crisp-tender, about 4 to 5 minutes depending on how skinny the matchsticks are. Add the red pepper flakes and toss some more. Add soy sauce, toss toss. Add the sesame seeds near the end.
This does theoretically keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, though around here it never does.
This is such an easy recipe that it’s barely a recipe at all, but it’s very versatile and quick, so here it is. Fennel bulb has so much flavor on its own that you only need to add a minimal amount of seasonings to make a tasty salad. This method of massaging crunchy vegetables with salt is called shiomomi （塩揉み）in Japanese, and is very useful for making fibrous vegetables easier to eat without having to cook them.
Cut the green parts off the fennel bulb (you can save them for soup). Cut the bulb in half, then slice very thinly. Sprinkle with salt. Massage the slices firmly with your hand until they are softened.
You can store this in the refrigerator, well covered, for 3-4 days like this if you like. When using, drain off any excess moisture, and sprinkle with a little bit of lemon juice or ponzu and optionally, black pepper.
Just sprinkle a little salt on the vegetables, and scrunch them up well with your impeccably clean hands. Optionally add some dried chili pepper flakes for spiciness. You can eat the massaged vegetables immediately, or store it in the refrigerator for a few days. Shiomomi is closely related to instant pickles , but even easier since you are just relying on the inherent flavors of the vegetables you are using.
Fresh green beans are available year round, but their real season in the northern hemisphere is the summer to early fall. I count crispy green beans among one of my favorite vegetables, so I enthusiastically eat as much as possible.
There are several kinds of green beans - large and fat, flat and broad, and so on. These are skinny little haricots verts or French beans. They can be rather expensive, so I like to cook them as minimally as possible. Here they are paired with julienned fresh ginger and carrot, stir fried then steam-cooked in a frying pan. The ginger adds some heat and the carrots add sweetness. They are cooked in less than 5 minutes, though allow some extra time to cut the ginger and carrot. You can use fatter green beans if you can’t get haricot verts - allow for a couple more minutes of cooking time.
This is great hot or cold, so it’s a very good bento vegetable dish. It will hold in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, so if you buy a big bag of green beans at the market it’s worthwhile to make a batch of this.
Cut the tough stem end of the green beans off, and cut the beans into two or three pieces diagonally.
Peel and finely julienne (or chop) the ginger.
Peel and finely julienne the carrot. You can also grate it in long strips with a grater or vegetable slicer/mandoline (see essential equipment ).
Heat up a frying pan and add the oil. Add the ginger and stir a minute. Add the carrot and green beans. Add all the seasonings. Put on a lid and let it steam cook for about 3 minutes.
Open the lid and stir around over high heat until any moisture has evaporated away. Cool before packing into a bento box.
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.
For two main-servings or four or so little side servings
Bring a pot of water to the boil (to speed it up, boil the water in an electric kettle, one of the essential bento making supplies ). Add some salt.
Wash and cut up the asparagus. Boil in the pot until just tender, about 2-3 minutes depending on how thick the stalks are. Drain and then dunk in cold water. Drain well.
Chop the onion very finely. Heat up a non-stick frying pan and sauté the onion in the olive oil until softened.
Add the tofu, crumbled, to the frying pan. Add the vinegar and turmeric and keep stirring. Your objective is to evaporate most of the moisture, to produce a crumbly texture like dry-ish scrambled eggs. Near the end of the cooking process, add the miso and stir through very well.
Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
If you’re packing this for bento, let cool, then mix with the asparagus. Also great eaten hot.
The tofu scramble on its own is delicious with rice, on toast, and so on.
Sweet white miso (shiromiso 白みそ）is milder and sweeter than regular miso, but if you can’t find it regular miso will do in this recipe. Even better is kyo-miso(京みそ), a mild and slightly sour miso from Kyoto.
I swear this site has not gone all vegetarian - I’ll have some recipes for you omnivores soon! Still, now that the weather is so sunny and beautiful here, and with the abundance of great produce, it just seems easier to think up vegetable recipes. This one can be used as a filler or a vegan main in a bento, and is dead easy to make - and it just uses four ingredients! The main ones are fresh green beans and aburaage, deep fried tofu skins. No oil is added, since we utilize the residual oil on the aburaage instead. This dish keeps quite well in the refrigerator, so you can make a batch and use it throughout the week.
This makes about 6 servings when used as a vegan main, with 50 calories per serving; all the calories basically come from the aburaage.
Cut the aburaage into thin strips. Do not blanch the aburaage; this goes against the usual advice given for dealing with aburaage, and against the advice I’ve given you before - see inarizushi redux . But hey, rules are made to be broken sometimes! As you cut the aburaage, you will notice that your hands get a bit oily. We’ll be using this oil as the cooking oil for the whole dish.
Wash and cut off the tops and tails of the green beans. If needed, slice them in half.
Heat up a non-stick frying pan or wok. Add the aburaage strips, and stir fry until the strips get a bit crispy. The pan should be a bit oily at this point, from the oil in the skins.
Add the green beans, and lower the heat to about medium. Stir fry a little, then put on a lid and steam-cook for about 3-4 minutes until the green beans are crisp-tender.
Remove the lid and turn the heat up again. Add the soy sauce to the hot surface of the pan, not directly onto the green beans, so that you see and smell the soy sauce sizzle. Rapidly stir fry so the soy sauce coats everything.
Add the red chili pepper flakes or ichimi tohgarashi powder. Taste, and add a bit more if you like it spicier, or a bit more soy sauce.
Let cool before packing into a bento box.
This will keep for up to a week, well covered, in the refrigerator.
Add a few drops of dark sesame oil when you are sautéing the aburaage, for that toasty flavor it gives.
You could, in a pinch, use pre-cooked canned inarizushi skins…but since they are already stewed, they may sort of disintegrate if you put them in first. If you use the canned skins, sauté your green beans first in a little oil, then add the strips of inarizushi skin later. You may want to use the can liquid instead of soy sauce. But do try to get unstewed aburaage for this, since it will be way better.
I made this particular batch with some fresh aburaage that my intrepid mother brought with her all the way from Japan. She’s holding up a couple of them up here - just look at the size of them! They are at least as big as four regular aburaage skins.
We used the middle bits for the green bean stir fry, and the end pieces to make some inarizushi . The skins were a tad oily and quite puffy, since they are virtually handmade by a small tofu shop in Kyoto. The inarizushi were quite spectacular - very puffy and beany, in a good way.
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.
Cut the top half of the carrots. Reserve the thin ends for another dish. Peel the parts you will use, and cut into fairly thick rounds. Cut out shapes at this point if you like.
Put the carrots and chili pepper in a pan, and add enough orange juice to cover. Add the salt. Bring up to a boil, and cook until the carrot slices crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Add a little water if it looks like the pan will dry out before the carrots are cooked.
When the carrots are cooked, take out the whole chili pepper. Add the soy sauce and maple syrup, and rapidly boil until the juice is almost gone. Cool off before putting into your bento.
This will keep for about 3-4 days, well covered in the refrigerator.
Omit the salt and soy sauce, and add a vegetable stock cube or 1 teaspoon of vegetable stock powder (like Marigold) instead. Increase the maple syrup to 1 Tbs. and really boil down the liquid until it is syrupy, coating the carrots. This version is sweeter and more like glazed carrots.
When you don’t live in Japan and you try to recreate Japanese recipes, ingredients can be a bit of a problem. I’m not really talking about the basic staples like soy sauce or mirin and so on; it used to be an issue trying to get a hold of those too, but with the growing popularity of Japanese cuisine in particular and Asian food in general, this has become much less of an issue. (Here, I either mailorder from stores in Paris or London, or stock up when we go to Lyon or Geneva.) But fresh ingredients are another matter. Take for example, the classic kinpira gobo , a terrific vegetable standby. It’s crunchy, a bit spicy, and goes well in just about any rice based bento, conventional or otherwise . It’s also very easy to make, freezes well, and is an all-around star. But getting hold of burdock (gobo) roots anywhere but a town with a sizeable Asian population? A bit difficult. Here in sleepy semi-rural France, forget it.
But I’m not complaining. I’ve already adapted the basic kinpira formula to use carrots only , or almost any kind of vegetable that’s suitable . Here’s yet another variation that uses a vegetable that you will not encounter in Japan, parsnips. I must admit I only encountered parsnip in the last decade or so of my life, after moving to Europe. I don’t think they are that common in U.S. supermarkets nationwide either, unlike the ubiquitous carrot or broccoli. But they should be! They’re naturally sweet, roast up beautifully, and make interesting purées or mashes. And, they have a crunchy fibrous texture that is quite similar to gobo.
So, here they are in kinpira form.
Because of their natural sweetness, no additional sugar or mirin is required, although you can add some if you like of course. A little bit of pre-treatment as it were is needed to counteract the texture, but it only adds a few minutes to your cooking time.
Makes about 2 cups
Cut the parsnips into thin matchsticks. This is a bit tough on your hands, especially if the parsnips have large cores, but it will be worth it!
(Note: You can skip this next step if your parsnips are young and tender and go straight to the stir fry step.) Heat up a large frying pan and put in the water. When the water is boiling, add the parsnips and put on a lid. Let it steam-cook for about 3 minutes. Open the lid and either drain off any remaining moisture or just let it evaporate.
Add the oils to the pan and stir fry the parsnips, 2-3 minutes. They should still be crisp but just about turning soft. Add the sesame seeds and chili pepper flakes and toss around well. Add the soy sauce and toss to coat everything well.
As with all kinpiras, this freezes very well. Just divide into individual portions and wrap in plastic, or use a freezer container. One way to make bento packing very convenient is to freeze kinpira in little divider cups; use disposable ones, or reusable silicone ones, whichever you have. To pack, just stick one in a bento, where it will defrost in plenty of time for lunch in most cases. (Although as with all kinpiras, in our household this rarely makes it to the freezer before it’s all devoured.)
This is something The Guy came up with the other day, after I’d been experiementing with parsnip kinpira. Some of it didn’t quite turn out right (I over- or under-did the parboiling part) but it still tasted good. He just boiled some linguine, added it and the kinpira to a pan and sautéed it a bit. It was spicy and crunchy and delicious. If you’ve made extra kinpira (any of the kinpira recipes on this site should work) give it a try!
I had never tried raw asparagus until just a couple of weeks ago. I just assumed that aspagarus needed to be cooked. But if you have fresh, tender asparagus, and slice it very thin, it actually makes an excellent and unusual salad. The texture stays crisp for a few hours after making, so it’s a great springtime bento side dish. It’s paired with thinly sliced radish which adds more crunch, color and a spicy kick, plus small chunks of Parmesan cheese for saltiness and body. A very simple lemon dressing brings it all together.
This is inspired by a raw asparagus salad on the Epicurious site , but changed considerably.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups of salad, or 2 to 6 bento-sized servings. Approximately 200 calories for the entire amount.
Make ready a bowl of cold water with a little lemon juice and peel thrown in. (I just squeeze out the lemon juice I need for the dressing, and squeeze some juice and throw the lemon half into the bowl.
Cut or break the hard part of the asparagus stalks off. Cut off the tips and reserve for another dish. Slice the remaining parts of the asparagus stalks very thinly with a sharp knife, or use a vegetable slicer or mandoline. Put the sliced asparagus in the lemon-water; this prevents the asparagus from turning brown.
Slice the radishes very thinly also.
Drain the asparagus very well and pat dry with paper towels. Put in a bowl with the radish slices, add the rest of the ingredients except for the cheese, and stir around well to combine. Taste, and add a little more lemon juice or salt if you think it needs it (but remember that the cheese will add more saltiness). Add the crumbled cheese.
This salad can be made the night before you need it, though it’s best made in the morning.
We’re nearing the end of the green asparagus season around here, so I’m trying to eat as much of it as possible. This miso marinated asparagus dish may look very spicy, but it’s only mildly so - it just looks rather hot because I used a red miso. The miso marinade does not overwhelm the asparagus flavor, but just enhances it. It is great in a bento since it’s salty, a little sweet and spicy all at once.
This recipe is adapted from a Japanese cookbook, Tsukemono Hyakka （漬け物百科）  (Pickling Encyclopedia). Actually the term tsukeru（漬ける）refers to both pickling and marinating, so I guess it could be called the Pickling and Marinading Enclopedia.
Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water until crisp-tender. (To cook them evenly, put the stalks in first, cook for a few minutes, then add the tips and cook for 2-3 minutes more.) Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking and to fix the green color. Drain well.
In the meantime, sauté the chopped onions in the oil until limp. Add the red chili paste and stir. Add the sugar and mirin, then add the miso. If it gets a bit stuck to the pan, add a few drops of water and stir and scrape to deglaze the pan. Take off the heat.
Add the aspargus and mix well so each piece is coated with the marinade. Layer into glass or ceramic bowl or container (not plastic, because the miso and chili will stain it) evenly. Cover with kitchen parchment paper, then put another bowl or container filled with water; this acts as a weight. Here I’ve used two identical glass bowls; the asparagus is layered in one, covered with parchment paper, then weighted down with the other bowl which is filled with water.
Leave the asparagus to marinate for at least an hour - you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Take off the weight and store the asparagus in a tightly covered container.
The asparagus will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator, but it will gradually lose its green color so you should try to eat it up as soon as possible. This is not that hard to do. (It’s pretty good mixed with hot pasta.)
You can halve the amount of marinade, and marinade just half a bundle of asparagus and use the rest of the cooked stalks for dinner.
Many cuisines call for a red chili paste of some sort. Here I’ve used doubanjang, which is a Chinese (Sichuang) chili paste; you can find it at Asian/Chinese or Japanese grocery stores (in Japan it’s called toubanjang and is written 豆板醤). You could substitute harissa or other red chili paste here. (At one point I had two kinds of harissa, two kinds of doubanjang, and a Hungarian chili paste in the fridge, which was a bit much.) Korean kochujang is a bit less intense, so you may want to double the amount to 2 teaspoons if you use that.
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.
You can use one kind of green leafy vegetable or several. Wash the leaves well to get rid of any grit and so on. If the leaves have stalky parts, cut them off and slice thinly (as I did here with the puntarelle leaves). Cut the leaves up if necessary.
Bring a pot of water to boil. Put in the leafy parts that take the longest to cook first - in my case I put the puntarelle stems in first. Boil for about 2-3 minutes, then put in the rest. Boil for about 2 minutes or just until the leaves are limp, but not turning into mush! (For tender baby spinach leaves for instance you only need to boil them about 30 seconds.)
Drain well Return to the pot and add cold water, to refresh and cool them. Drain again and squeeze out the moisture well.
Grate the garlic clove on a fine grater, or smash it to a pulp with a knife, or pass it through a garlic press. Mix with the salt and oil. Mix into the well drained and squeezed out greens very well - your hands are the best tools for this. Mix in the sesame seeds. Taste, and adjust the seasoning: if it’s not salty enough, add a little salt; if the greens are bit too bitter for you, add a little bit of sugar. If you want it spicy, add a few drops of chili oil.
You can make this ahead and store it in the refrigerator for up to a couple of days, though no longer - think of it as a salad.
Raw garlic can make you a little pungent, so you can leave it out if you have an important meeting later on, or a hot date, or picky office/classroom mates. It’ll still taste good, though of course it’s better with the garlic. Mixing the grated or mashed garlic with salt does lessen the impact slightly.
You can use the namul dressing for many other vegetables too. Just blanch or boil them enough so they are crisp-tender and not mushy. I’ll post some other namuls as I make them.
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.
Heat a wok or large frying pan with the oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and let it fry until barely brown. Scoop out the garlic slices and set aside; return the oil to the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high.
Add the cabbage to the pan, with a little salt (which helps the cabbage to soften a bit faster since it draws out moisture). Toss and stir fry until a bit limp but still crispy - about 4-5 minutes.
Add the cranberries, and the balsamic vinegar (the more you add, the more sourness there will be, but even 2 tablespoons is not overwhelming).
Re-add the reserved garlic. Season with a bit more salt - make it just a bit salty, since when it cools down the salty flavor will become a bit muted. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Let cool before putting into a bento box.
This will last in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, well covered. It’s good hot too so you could make it for dinner and leave some for your bento the next day.
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.
Peel the carrots, and shred them with a coarse grater (see below about the slicer tool I use).
Put in a bowl with the chopped parsley. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix well. The flavor mellows if you can let it rest for an hour or more (overnight is good).
And..that’s it! Just drain off some of the juice when packing into a bento box. I do recommend putting it in a divider cup. (The leftover juice is very tasty, so you could add it to a green salad as dressing.)
This is the ‘cassette’ grater/slicer/shredder I have. It’s made in Japan and is about oh, 15 years old, and is a hand-me-down (otherwise known as ‘borrowed from my mother’s kitchen and never returned’). It still does its job flawlessly. I think it was about 1500 yen brand new. I shredded up two carrots in about two minutes.
Nowadays many makers make this kind of interchangeable-blade slicer. (This one looks nice .) They are very easy to clean, and much less intimidating than the big French mandolines. I classify this tool as nice to have on my Essential Bento Equipment  list, but it sure is great for tasks like shredding carrots! You could also use an old fashioned knuckle-scraper type of grater, or the shredding blade on your food processor.
It’s time to get back my bento mojo! Here’s a vegan version of Japanese potato salad, that is a great bento side dish, or the main carb in a salad bento.
When I think of potato salad, there’s one that reigns supreme: Japanese style potato salad, which is usually made with tons of mayonnaise. But since I’ve lost a few pounds in the last week or so, I didn’t want to derail that. So, here is a vegan version of Japanese style potato salad, which is rather lower in fat and uses a tofu ‘mayo’, which ups the protein. It is a variation on a recipe in a Japanese vegan cookbook that I’ve mentioned several times before on Just Bento and Just Hungry , SaiSai Gohan  (Vegetable Meals) by Yumiko Kano.
Here’s my recipe for a traditional Japanese potato salad . This vegan version may look just like the traditional version, but it doesn’t have the same very eggy flavor as the traditional kind of Japanese potato salad since well, it has no eggs in it. But it does have a satisfying creaminess and I think it’s quite good.
This should ideally be made at least a few hours before you intend to eat it, since it needs to be cooled down. So making it the night before is ideal. It will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator, but no more (the same as regular potato salad) so just make as much as you’ll use up in a couple of bentos and a meal or so.
This makes 4 servings, at approximately 160 calories per serving.
Peel and cut the carrot in half and slice thinly. Peel the potatoes and cut into small chunks.
Add both to a pot and cover with cold water, add a little salt, and bring to a boil. Boil until the potatoes and carrots are tender - the cooking time depends on how big you cut them up. Test for doneness by tasting a piece.
In the meantime, seed the cucumber and slice thinly. Slice the onion thinly also. Put both into a small bowl, and sprinkle with a little salt, and massage with your hands so that moisture comes out of the slices and they become quite limp. Squeeze out excess moisture.
Drain the potatoes and carrot well. While still hot, put into a bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard and a little salt and pepper. Mix well, and leave until cooled down to room temperature. Mix in the cucumber and onion.
Make the tofu “mayo”: Put all the ingredients into a food processor (the ‘baby food’ bowl is great for this, if your food processor has one) and whiz until totally smooth. If you don’t have a food processor, mash as finely as you can with a fork or your hands. Mix into the potato salad.
Cover and cool in the refrigerator.
This potato salad is delicious even without the tofu ‘mayo’. You may want to season it a tad more at the stage where you add the lemon juice and olive oil. Try adding olives and capers for a very zesty non-creamy potato salad. The tofu ‘mayo’-less version keeps a bit better, so may be a better choice in hot weather if you can’t keep the salad somewhere cool, or pack it with an ice pack.
Zucchini or courgette flowers are beautiful things to behold at the market. The most commonly seen recipes using them seem to call for stuffing them with meat or cheese, but they are great just simply fried too.
When trying to come up with a fritter that would fit neatly into a bento box, I found that the floppy flower petals got a bit too messy looking. So I cut them off, ending up with just the round blossom ends. They look rather like giant buttercups.
These little fritters are good hot or cold. They are very easy to make, so I would suggest making them for dinner and holding back a few for your bento the next day.
Each fritter is about 30-40 calories each, depending on how large they are and how well you drain the oil.
The batter (more than enough for a dozen flowers):
Trim the stem or small fruit off the end of the flowers (reserve the small fruit for another dish). Cut the petal ends off (you can just sauté them with the small fruit). Carefully wash the blossom ends - watch out for any insects caught inside. Dry on kitchen towels.
For the batter: Beat the egg and water together. Add the salt. Beat in the flour, but don’t overmix.
Heat up about 1/2 inch / 1 cm or so of oil in a small frying pan. Dip the cleaned and dried blossom ends in the batter. Put them in the hot oil, 3 at a time. Tilt the pan slightly as you fry them, so that they become submerged as much as possible in the oil. Turn once or twice until they are a golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the blossoms.
Sprinkle with a little salt or a few droplets of soy sauce to eat.
To crisp them up the next day, pop them in a toaster oven for 2-3 minutes, or in a dry frying pan. Let cool completely before packing into your bento box.
Here’s a display of zucchini in many forms, at a local market. Seeing things like this make me so happy to be alive.
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.
Do you just cut off the florets of broccoli and throw away the thick woody stems? What a waste! Broccoli stalks are perfect for kinpira.
If the broccoli stalks are very hard and woody, peel off the skins with a vegetable peeler or knife, and cut off the dried hard end. Slice into thin matchsticks.
Heat up a frying pan or wok with the sesame oil. Add the broccoli stalks and toss around until crisp-tender, about 4 to 5 minutes depending on how skinny the matchsticks are. Add the red pepper flakes and toss some more. Add soy sauce, toss toss. Add the sesame seeds near the end. (You may notice this is identical to the way carrot kinpira is cooked.)
The thick stalk part inside a cabbage is also an unloved part of this most versatile vegetable. Sliced into matchsticks, it too makes great kinpira. Here I have given it spicy curry-like twist, but you can make them in the standard kinpira way (see broccoli stalk recipe) too. You can get the spices at any Indian or South Asian market.
Cut the cabbage stalk and ribs into thin matchsticks.
Heat up a frying pan or wok with the oil. Add the cabbage and toss around until crisp-tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the spices and salt, and toss around until well coated.
A lot of people never think about cooking celery stalks, unless it’s to add to a soup or chowder. Cooked celery is crunchy and delicious as it’s full of umami. This is a very simple kinpira where the flavor of the celery and the olive oil really shines through. You can use the tougher outer stalks that might not be suitable for salads.
Cut the celery on the diagonal into thin slices.
Heat up a frying pan or wok with the oil. Add the celery and toss around for just a couple of minutes. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.
Well, I have finally delivered the first draft of my bento cookbook . There is still a lot of work to be done before the book will be ready for publication, but I am so relieved to clear this first hurdle at least. I was practically unable to think about any other recipes other than the ones destined to go in there for a long while, but now I can start thinking about new things for the site! (And yes, the book will have all new recipes and bentos, except for some basics. What’s the point of just copying recipes available online here, you know?)
Anyway, here is one of those barely-a-recipe ideas - yet another way to cook an egg. I make this when there is a spot to fill in a bento box, or as a late night snack. It literally comes together in 3 minutes, from breaking the egg to final result. It adds a bright spot of yellow with so little effort. Here I have mixed in some leftover chopped up green onion, but you can put in anything any number of things. I’ve tried furikake, some plain bonito flakes with a little soy sauce, bits of leftover meat or hamburger, canned tuna, mixed frozen vegetables straight from the freezer, and more. You can also leave it plain.
Put all of the ingredients into a small microwave-safe bowl, and beat with a fork until blended. The butter should be in little flecks throughout the egg. Cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on the HIGH setting for 30 seconds. Take out, and beat up with a fork to break up the cooked parts and mix with the still uncooked parts. Cover and return to the microwave for another 15 seconds. Note: The cooking time may vary slightly depending on your microwave. If it’s still undercooked, return to the microwave and cook a for 10-15 more seconds. Repeat if needed. The final texture should resemble moist scrambled egg.
Turn out onto the plastic wrap that was covering the bowl. (If you used cheap plastic wrap that disintegrates in the microwave, you may need to cut another piece.) Gather up the ends of the plastic wrap and squeeze the egg - it will be very hot, so protect your hands with a kitchen towel or something. Squeeze into a little teardrop/chestnut shape as shown here, or a ball, or anything you like. Open up the plastic wrap and leave to cool.
Use as a bento gap filler, or just eat as a protein-snack.
I am not sure if it’s because I’m always on the lookout for things to go into bento boxes, or just a coincidence, but I have been seing more mini-fruits that are just right to tuck into the corner of a bento box lately. The photo above shows a couple of these: small yet still sweet figs, about 1 inch / 2 cm in diameter at their fattest point, and something that was being sold as mini kiwis (Debra of hapa bento saw them being sold as kiwi berries ). They look like tiny kiwis when cut open, and taste like kiwis, but lack the hairy skins; they have smooth, totally edible skins. I’ve seen two kinds - ones that are a reddish-green on the outside and about the shape of an American football or rugby ball, and ones that are elongated, about the length of my thumb. They are very cute, though a bit expensive - but then you only need a few for a bento box.
Another fruit, not exactly mini, that I like to put into the fruit section of a bento is pomegranate seeds (you see a couple in the photo). They are sweet-sour and make great little nibbles. They are so pretty too. You can shake some out of a cut open pomegranate by turning it cut side down over a bowl or plate, and whacking it hard with a wooden spoon, handy open beer bottle, your fist, etc.
What are your favorite fruits for bentos or lunchboxes?
I’m in Japan for the next few weeks! One thing I was really looking forward to having here was easy access to really fresh tofu and okara  - the fiber-rich bits of the soybean left over after the soy milk is extracted. Back at home, the only way I can get either one of these things, especially okara, is by making my own soy milk , but here okara is dirt cheap from a tofu maker or at the supermarket.
If you have easy access to fresh okara (see if a local tofu maker has some) or make your own soy milk, please give this super-easy salad a try. It can be made in no time, lasts in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, and tastes like a soft, fluffy tuna or potato salad, except that it’s really packed with protein and fiber. It’s low-carb and gluten-free too, and could be low-fat if you choose the according mayonnaise. Use it as a bento side dish, or as a sandwich filling. If you’re on a strict low-carb diet, you could even use this as your main ‘carb’ like food - okara has a filling quality that is lacking in so many low carb foods. All that fiber will keep you quite regular too.
Even if it is low carb, gluten free and fiber-rich and all those good-for-you things, it really tastes great - even my okara-hating stepfather likes this. If you don’t have any crabmeat around, try canned tuna, canned salmon, cooked or canned scallops , or imitation crabmeat (surimi). Cut up ham would work too. If you are a vegetarian, try it just with the okara and vegetables with no added seafood or meat.
Makes about 4-5 cups of salad or 8 to 10 servings
Peel the carrot and slice thinly. Cook in boiling water for about 5 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.
De-seed the cucumber if necessary, and slice thinly. Sprinkle with a little salt, and massage with your hands. Squeeze out excess moisture.
Drain the crabmeat. Mix all the ingredients together, taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more mayonnaise if you like.
This keeps in the refrigerator, well covered, for 2 to 3 days. In hot weather, pack it with an ice pack or in a bento box with a cooling element, because of the mayonnaise.
The best way to keep fresh okara is to pack it up very well and freeze it. Defrost in the refrigerator, and use as if you would freshly made okara. See the in depth okara article  for more okara ideas.
See also: Okara nutritional data  on the Self.com site.
This little side dish or filler is related to the Cooked To Death Peppers , but is a lot faster to make and less oily. It doesn’t keep as long as Cooked To Death, but will be ok for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. It’s a nice bright color and flavor accent in a bento. Since it doesn’t keep as long, I make this in small quantities.
Cut the bell pepper into small chunks or strips. Chop the chili pepper finely.
Heat up a frying pan with the oil. Add the peppers and sauté briefly until the peppers turn a brighter color and are coated with the oil.
Add about 1/2 cup of water, and bring to a boil. Add the maple syrup. Boil rapidly until the moisture is just about gone and syrupy and the peppers are cooked. Add salt and pepper, and a dash of soy sauce.
Keeps for about 3 days in the refrigerator.