recipe

Bento filler: Green asparagus and scrambled tofu

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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)

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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...

Eggs in treasure bags (Tamago no takarabukuro)

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Takarabukuro (宝袋) is a treasure bag. In food terms, it’s a small parcel that is cooked in a fried tofu skin (aburaage 油揚げ)bag - the one that’s used for inarizushi. Here an egg is dropped gently into the bag, and then poached - so, an egg in a treasure bag! It is delicious hot or cold, and is very nice in a bento box as a main or secondary protein. continue reading...

Curried kidney beans and vegetables

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I’m Japanese, so I love the taste of curry. (If you’ve been to Japan you’d know this makes sense.) This is a very quick and easy vegan dish that could be the main protein in a bento, or a filler. You can use any kind of beans here, but I do like the dense rather fudgey texture of kidney beans. They’re not just for eating with chili! I’ve made this quite spicy, but you can tone it down if you like by adjusting the amount of chili powder. The sweetness of the vegetables counteracts the spiciness. It tastes terrific at room temperature, and can be made in advance. It lasts for a couple of days at least in the refrigerator, though it tastes best when it’s freshly made so I don’t make a big amount at one time. continue reading...

Bento filler: Vegan Japanese potato salad

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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. continue reading...

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

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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...

Homemade furikake no. 9: Green tea

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We used to have a neighbor lady in Japan who came from Shizuoka, a major tea growing region. She used to say that at her parents’ house they used to eat tea leaves sprinkled with salt as a snack. At the time, the cynical kid that was me thought that sounded disgusting! But then I was recently surfing around some Japanese sites and stumbled upon the home page of a tea producer, who mentioned the same thing. They also said that they enjoyed tea as furikake.

The site didn’t have a recipe, but they mentioned putting in chirimenjako (tiny salted fish, which I used in the hijiki seaweed furikake) and sakuraebi (tiny dried shrimp), used in Furikake no. 1, radish leaves.) Both are dried or semi-dried products that are packed with umami, and are also high in calcium. You can get them at any Japanese grocery store, and very similar products are available at general Asian or Chinese stores too. In case you can’t get a hold of them though, I’ve given some variations below, including a vegan one.

The tea furikake definitely has the taste and fragrance of tea (with a hint of bitterness), enhanced by the umami of the other ingredients. It’s really very pleasant. Tea furikake is not available commercially as far as I know (at least not outside of Japan). And if drinking the extract of tea leaves is so healthy, surely eating tea leaves has to be as good, if not better! continue reading...

Panfried Komachibu - Vegan 'Scallops'

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Komachibu is a small round form of yakifu, grilled and dried fu. Fu is a traditional Japanese form of wheat gluten, that is a good vegan protein source. (Read more about fu.) If you like to use seitan, you’ll probably like fu as well. Komachibu is available at any reasonably stocked Japanese grocery store (in the dried food section).

Komachibu are about the size of a large coin. When they are reconstituted in water, they swell up to about the size of a small scallop (they do shrink back down a bit when cooked with this method). The texture is very soft, like very very tender scallops. I don’t pretend that they are as good as real, fresh scallops of course, but if you’ve given up shellfish for dietary reasons, these are not bad at all. And, they are terrific in a bento box, vegan or not. continue reading...