recipe

Pan-fried lemon chicken nuggets

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Although I use chicken quite a lot in my bentos, I realized that I have very few bento-appropriate chicken recipes up here on Just Bento, or even over on Just Hungry. I am going to rectify this situation over the next few days, so if you are a chicken fan, stay tuned!

The first chicken recipe is one I have made for years and years - tender, lemony white meat nuggets that are infused with lemon. They very quick to make, good hot or cold, and versatile. They are pan fried, not deep-fried, so they are not crispy on the outside, but are delicious nevertheless. You can use them in a rice based bento, with noodles, or as a sandwich filling. They can be eaten as-is with a cocktail stick or the fingers too. continue reading...

Cooked to death hot and sweet peppers

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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...

Glazed Triple-Soy Loaf

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I am always on the lookout for vegan/vegetarian protein recipes that are bento friendly, and this flat oven baked loaf is another one. It's called triple-soy because it has tofu, edamame and miso in it. It has a very dense, rich texture with a sweet-salty glaze. One or two small squares are quite enough for a bento. It may fall apart a bit during transport, but that doesn't affect the texture or flavor. If you can, put it in its own compartment in your bento. continue reading...

Lower-calorie higher fibre inarizushi with hijiki

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Inarizushi are excellent for bento, but they can be a bit high in calories since they are stuffed with sushi rice. The original version with a 100% rice filling has about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of rice per bag, which makes each inarizushi about 110 to 130 calories. On the other hand these inarizushi are about 80 to 100 calories per piece. The secret is in the filling. continue reading...

How to make shuumai / shumai dumplings

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Shuumai or shumai dumplings (焼売)are a standby for dim sum, and are very well suited to bentos. They are small, taste good cold, freeze very well, and are a lot easier to make than gyoza dumplings.

You’ve probably encountered shuumai dumplings in the freezer section of Asian or Japanese grocery stores. Frozen ones are usually pretty good, but if you make them yourself you know exactly what you put in them. I just make a double batch whenever I decide to make shuumai for dinner. Just follow along with the photos and you’ll be turning out lots of shuumai yourself. continue reading...

Bento filler: Cherry tomato and leftover vegetable gratin cup

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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...

Quick tip: Frozen fruit cups

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This is such a simple thing to do, and there’s no better time to do it than in the summer when so many fruits are in season. Cut up any soft ripe fruit, and put them into silicon cupcake liners or wrap in plastic film. Then stash each cup or bundle in a freezer safe plastic container. You can then take out a cup or two and tuck them into your bento box. They act as an edible cooler for your bento. The container here has a cut up nectarine (divided into two silicon liners) and 2 small bananas (divided into 4). continue reading...