Bento no. 4: Portable, disposable picnic bento

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Bento contents:

  • 4 shiso onigiri with 1 1/2 cups brown rice (330 calories)
  • 2 'large' hard boiled eggs (160 calories)
  • Mixed steamed vegetables (about 40 calories)

Total calories (approx): 530 calories

Time needed: 15-20 minutes

Type: Japanese picnic/hiking bento

The contents of this bento are really quite basic, but I wanted to show it as an example of a disposable 'bento box' that you can bring along when you don't want to carry around an empty container with you after lunch. It re-emphasizes the point that I've made before, that you do not necessarily need a special 'bento box' to make bento. This is one I made for a hike we went on earlier this year, when I didn't want to have a rattling empty box in my backpack all afternoon, or utensils either.

The 'box' in this case is a half-dozen egg carton. The little onigiri fit snugly in 4 of the compartments, and the eggs in the other two. The crumpled foil you see contains a twist of salt. You could also bring along a foil packet of mayonnaise or salad dressing if you wanted something to dip the vegetables in. (I love fresh steamed vegetables so I didn't bring any dip here.) The mixed vegetables could be anything in season - since this was in the summer I had a huge bag of green beans, so I steamed some with a few carrot sticks thrown in. Everything can be eaten with your hands. (Bring along some wipes or a moist towel if you won't be able to wash up.)

onigiri_shiso2.jpgThe onigiri are wrapped in fresh, salted shiso leaves, and have no filling. Use nori or another wrapping of your choice (see Onigiri on Parade for ideas) if you don't have shiso. This is also for the people who don't like nori seaweed as a wrapper! I love shiso leaves as onigiri wrappers, because they taste so fresh and green. They are also full of all kinds of good vitamins and things. Since this was made for a hike and I knew I needed extra energy, so I used a little more rice (1.5 cups) than I usually do. (I also brought along a couple of bananas and a bag of almonds for snacking.)

I cheated here with the eggs - they are ready-boiled 'picnic eggs' (Picknick-Eier), sold at every Swiss supermarket, dyed to fit whatever holiday is coming up (the ones in the photo are dyed red and marked with a white cross for Swiss National Day). I've included the time for boiling the eggs in the instructions and timeline however. You can boil your eggs the night before. (I would not boil eggs earlier than that, especially if you are in the U.S. where they wash the eggshells and remove the natural protective coating.)

A similar bento could be assembled in the winter with, say, broccoli and cauliflower florets that have been steamed. You could fill up a dozen-egg carton with little onigiri for a party or a group picnic. (Or why not a potluck-bento gathering?)

On an environmentally-friendly note, you can smush down the carton with all the other bits inside, and carry it home to dispose of there, instead of throwing it away at your picnic destination. It'll still be compact and silent in your backpack.

Ingredients

Per person (double the amount for two)

  • 2 'large' eggs
  • 1.5 cups (375ml) cooked brown rice from the freezer
  • 4 large shiso leaves
  • Salt
  • Mixed fresh vegetables

Equipment and supplies

  • A small 1/4-cup or so bowl or measuring cup
  • Steamer, or steamer rack
  • 1 small pan for the eggs
  • 1 large pan if necessary for the steamer
  • Plastic wrap
  • Ziplock bag
  • An empty (and clean!) 1/2-dozen egg carton
  • A tiny piece of aluminum foil

Steps

  1. Fill the electric water kettle and switch on.
  2. Put the eggs in a pan and cover with cold water. Switch on the heat. (If you want to be sure the yolk will remain in the center, roll the eggs around a bit while they come to a boil.) If you can, set a timer for 10 minutes. (See Elise's great directions for perfect hard-boiled eggs.)
  3. Prep the vegetables you will be using.
  4. Put some boiled water in the pan you use under your steamer, and pile in the vegetables into the steamer. Let steam for about 5 minutes or so, depending on what vegetables you are using.
  5. Wash the shiso leaves. Sprinkle them with salt (the amount depends on you, but you should salt well since the onigiri have no filling). Lightly massage the shiso to wilt them a bit.
  6. Divide the rice into 4 portions and make them according according to these instructions using plastic wrap, but no salt. Wrap each onigiri with a shiso leaf, then wrap in plastic wrap. Pack into the egg carton (you may have to squeeze them slightly).
  7. Take the vegetables out of the steamer, and let cool a bit.
  8. When the 10 minutes are up, drain the eggs, and cool them under cold running water until they have cooled down. Wipe and put into the egg carton.
  9. Put the vegetables into a zip bag.
  10. Make a 'salt shaker' by putting a small amount of salt in a square of foil, and twisting it closed. To sprinkle just open it up a bit.

Timeline

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(click on timeline to see a bigger version)

As you can see, you can save most of the time required by making the eggs and vegetables the night before. You can even make the onigiri the night before too, since the shiso and plastic keep it quite moist Then all you have to do is pack and go!