Bentos are the Japanese equivalent of a sack lunch. I made my first bento last year after the earthquake. Because of the frequent power outages, the school kitchen couldn’t provide lunches to the students or staff. Everyone had to start bringing their own lunch to school every day, so my friend Mizuki taught me how to make a few simple recipes. Bentos usually have small amounts of a large variety of foods, plus rice (of course). Some common bento components are: fresh vegetables, pickles, mini hotdogs (usually cut in the shape of octopus), fish filets, tamagoyaki (an egg dish similar to an omelet), fruit, karaage (Japanese fried chicken). Nowadays you also see more Western-influenced bentos with sandwiches, pastas and the like. Below I’ve included three bento recipes that I really enjoy. Itadakimasu!
Karaage (Japanese fried chicken) (care of Mizuki-chan)
3 parts soy sauce
1 part sake
potato starch, cornstarch or flour
white and black pepper
beaten egg (optional)
vegetable or canola oil
Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and marinate for at least 1 hour (overnight is also ok). Remove chicken from marinate and coat in breading mixture. For a crispier texture to skinless chicken, dip chicken pieces in egg before breading. Fry chicken over medium heat until fully-cooked, about 3 minutes per side.
Sweet Pepper and Carrot Confetti (care of justbento.com)
(makes about 2 cups)
2 large red sweet bell peppers
1 medium carrot
1/2 small onion
1 hot chili pepper
1.5 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Dice peppers and carrot. In sauté pan on high heat, bring stock to a boil. Add vegetables and cook while stirring until the vegetables are tender and the moisture has evaporated. Vegetables should be getting a bit caramelized on the surface. Season with soy sauce and pepper to taste.
Broccoli with Wasabi Sauce (care of justbento.com)
4-5 cups broccoli, cut into small pieces
2.5 teaspoons wasabi
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon sugar
Bring the water and salt to a boil. Cook the broccoli until it’s crisp-tender and still a bright green in color. Drain, and refresh very briefly with cold running water. (Note: you can skip this step if you’re not in a hurry and have time to cool the broccoli.)
In the meantime, mix together all the remaining ingredients except the wasabi in a small pan, and stir over a low heat until the sugar is melted. Let cool, and add the wasabi, reserving 1/2 tsp or so. Mix well until the wasabi is dissolved.
Pour the sauce over the broccoli and mix well. Serve at room temperature or chilled, optionally with a little additional wasabi on the side for people to mix into the broccoli as they eat it (if they really like wasabi).