Time required: 20-30 minutes

Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

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I love cabbage rolls, whether rolled or deconstructed, but regular sized ones are a bit too large and sloppy in my mind to put into all but the largest bento boxes. These are little bento sized cabbage rolls, just a bit bigger than a ping-pong ball. They aren’t too showy to look at, but are deliciously juicy hot or cold. They are kept compact and slim by using napa or Chinese cabbage instead of regular cabbage leaves, since napa cabbage leaves are thinner and more tender, and using the smaller inner leaves that are about 10 inches (25cm) long.

Another feature of these mini cabbage rolls is that I tried making them in a rice cooker, and they came out great. I’ve also given instructions for making them on the stovetop, but if you’re looking for more ways to utilize your rice cooker, you may want to try it out that way. continue reading...

Rice cooker frittata with summer vegetables

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Here’s the first recipe from my minimal non-kitchen kitchen (see previously). This recipe has proved itself to be a keeper already - I’ve made it 3 times in the past couple of weeks. It is basically a vegetable frittata that is cooked in a rice cooker. continue reading...

Quinoa with Green Peas and Dried Sausage

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Although I use rice or bread in most of my bentos, I do like to mix it up with various other grains on occasion. Quinoa is probably my favorite alternate grain; it has a fun pop-y texture and nutty flavor, especially if you sauté it a bit in oil before steaming, and is so high in protein that it can considered to be a serious alternative protein source.

While most quinoa recipes seem to be vegetarian, this one is not, though you can easily turn it into a vegetarian or vegan dish. I’ve added just a little bit of dried sausage or saucisson sec though - its meaty, assertive flavor really goes well with the quinoa and the fresh peas. (In France, peas are often cooked with bacon.) Saucisson sec just means dried sausage, so you can use salami, chorizo, pepperoni, or any similar hard sausage that you can eat sliced without cooking. Whole brown mustard seeds add a little bite. This dish can be made in advance, eaten for dinner one day and bento a day or two later.

I’ve used fresh peas here, which are in season where I live, but frozen peas will work just as well. continue reading...

Homemade Sakura Denbu - sweet, pink, fluffy fish flakes

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Sakura denbu (桜田麩) is a sweet-salty, fluffy pink flaked fish condiment - a sort of fish furikake - that is used in sushi rolls as well as to decorate various rice dishes. It’s used quite often in spring, because of its dainty appearance and cherry-blossom pink color. (Sakura means cherry blossom or tree.) You can buy it in little packets at any Japanese grocery store, but commercial sakura denbu usually has MSG and various preservatives in it. Plus, it’s rather expensive at my local Japanese grocery store. So, here’s a homemade sakura denbu recipe to use in your springtime bentos.

It’s not that difficult to make, but there are some key points to pay attention to to produce the desired fluffy texture, so I’ve included a lot of procedural photos. Make sure to choose a fairly low-fat white fish for this; a high fat fish like salmon will clump up and not produce the fine flakes that are characteristic of denbu. continue reading...

Bento No. 71: Tiger Corn Muffin and Soup Bento

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Bento contents:

Total calories (approx): 510 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 25-30 minutes to decorate the muffins (muffins are pre-made and frozen)

Type: Not Japanese, theme bento, vegetarian continue reading...

Bento no. 68: Picnic bento with chicken lollipops and gift-wrapped onigiri

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Bento contents:

  • 3 Karaage Chicken Lollipops, each about 40g of dark chicken meat, 180 cal
  • 2 onigiri with mixed in furikake, containing about 1 1/2 cups total white rice, 360 cal
  • Boiled asparagus, 10 cal
  • Cherries, 30 cal

Total calories (approx): 580 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 10 minutes the night before; 15 minutes in the morning

Type: Japanese picnic continue reading...

How to make chicken lollipops

Chicken lollipops

It’s now the height of summer (at least here in the Northern hemisphere), which means outdoor bentos and picnics! Chicken wings are great finger food, but you can make them even more convenient, not to mention cute, by turning them into chicken lollipops, also known as cherrystone chicken or chicken cherries. Back in the day I used to hang around a chef who used to work in a hotel restaurant in the ’80s, where he had to turn out hundreds of these little things for banquets. He could whip them out by the dozens in mere minutes, but I take a little longer. They are a bit fiddly, but not hard to do. continue reading...

Two-Color Spicy Lentil Salad with Cucumber and Pickled Radish

Freebie alert: I’m giving away a copy of the cookbook mentioned here, The Enlightened Kitchen, over on Just Hungry. Deadline is Sunday, June the 7th!

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Vegetarian Bento May is over, but I still have some bento-friendly vegan recipes to post! This one was inspired by two sources: Sarah’s Curried Lentil Risotto, and a recipe for a lentil and mushroom salad in The Enlightened Kitchen, a great shojin ryori cookbook that I’ve just reviewed over on Just Hungry. The latter recipe uses both green and red lentils to come up with a bi-color effect that is very pretty, and that’s what I wanted to emulate.

The first time I tried making this, I used hard, flinty green Puy lentils, and ran into a problem: they take about twice as long to cook as the red lentils, which are hulled. By the time the Puy lentils were cooked, the red lentils had disintegrated. On my second attempt, I just adjusted the cooking times, putting the Puy lentils in the boiling water first, then adding the red lentils later. That came out quite well. The Puy lentils remain al dente and firm, while the red lentils are quite soft and starchy.

The lentil salad recipe in the Enlightened Kitchen book called for curry powder, which is a standard spice in Japanese kitchens, but I used a mixture of Indian spices instead, which I think makes for more vibrant and exciting flavors. The last of my pickled radishes fit very well too. continue reading...