recipe

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...

Bento filler: Raw Asparagus, Radish and Parmesan salad

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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. continue reading...

Bento filler: 3-color Spring Vegetable Namul with Crabstick

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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. continue reading...

Tuna soboro with ginger

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I could have sworn I had already posted a recipe for tuna soboro already, and I was all set out to call this the Much Improved version. But what do you know - I had neglected to post any recipe for this frugal bento staple at all. But no matter; this version would probably have superceded any previous versions anyway. 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...

Budo Mame or Budoh Mame: Sweet-salty soy beans (Bento filler)

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There are many recipes for stewed or simmered beans in Japanese cooking, but this is one of the simplest, and I’m fairly sure, one of the oldest recipes in existence. It traditionally only uses three ingredients — soy beans, sugar and soy sauce — but I’ve added a little salt too since I like the saltiness to be a bit more assertive to balance the sweetness. The beans have a unique, chewy texture that is unlike any other bean dish I’ve ever had. The soy beans become almost caramelized, yet are not cloyingly sweet.

The name budo mame means ‘grape beans’. I’m not totally sure what it means, but it probably means that the beans take on a shiny appearance rather like grapes. They do indeed look like black grapes when made with black soy beans (kuromame), but here I’ve made them with regular white or light brown soy beans, which are a lot easier to get for most people.

Just a spoonful or so tucked into the corner of your bento box makes a nice change of pace, even a mini-dessert of sorts. And of course, it’s packed with protein. continue reading...

Torihamu or Homemade Chicken "Ham"

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Torihamu (鶏ハム)or chicken ham is a recipe that was born and made popular on the internet. It was first popularized around 2001 or 2002, on an extremely popular and often wild and woolly Japanese community/forum site called 2ch or 2-channel (2ちゃんねる), sometime in 2001 or 2002.

Torihamu is a method of cooking chicken breast meat so that it supposedly resembles ham. Nowadays torihamu has entered the mainstream of Japanese culture; there are many recipes for it in regular cookbooks, and the (very mainstream) Cookpad community cooking site has (as of April 2013) nearly 1250 recipes for making torihamu or where torihamu is a main feature

I didn't try making torihamu for a long time, since I was skeptical that it would actually manage to turn low-fat, bland and often dry chicken breast meat into something ham-like. But I've been experimenting with different methods proposed on the Japanese internets, and am now convinced that it's well worthwhile making, especially for bento lovers. It is low in fat, has no chemical preservatives, and really lengthens the refrigerator shelf life of chicken. There's not much difference time and effort wise between making one or several, so it's really best to make a batch and freeze the extras. I make some when there is a sale on chicken breasts. continue reading...

One-pan braised kale with bacon and new potatoes

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I have been trying to incorporate more dark leafy green vegetables into our meals lately, not only for health reasons, but for the taste too. Spinach and Swiss chard are standards for me, but lately I’ve been playing around a lot with the kale family and cavolo nero, a type of dark leafed, loose cabbage. Kale is a bit tough, so I like to blanch it before stir frying it, adding to soups, and so on. continue reading...