Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Japanese Bento Lunch on a Plate

Today I decided to prepare a selection of Japanese Bento items for my lunch. Once again, I turned to one of Francis' excellent cooking demos for the items I made, with some slight variations based on what I already had in my house. Bento meals are very flexible and are often just a great way of using up leftovers. Usually you would use an actual Bento box, which is a container designed to present your lunch in an attractive and often whimsical way. However, you do not actually have to have a Bento lunch box, any sealable plastic container with compartments will do. Or, you can do as I did today, and just serve the items humbly together on a plate.

Francis' video included several different items - Onigiri (riceballs), which are made from freshly steamed and slightly cooled short grain rice, molded with your hands into shapes (balls or triangles usually), then dipped into Furikake (riceball seasonings, available in Asian markets in small packets). You then take some Nori (the green crisp seaweed used in making sushi), cut it into strips that will fit around the base of your riceball, and wrap the riceball. The Nori is not only there for looks, it also makes the riceball a bit easier to hold.

This may seem tricky to get the hang of at first, but really they are incredibly easy and quite delicious. Keeping a dipping bowl of cold water handy will help keep sticky rice from turning to glue on your fingers and kitchen shears are perfect for cutting the Nori into a more manageable size. You can also poke a hole into your riceballs and stuff them with small amounts of fillings such as grilled salmon or terijaki chicken.

Another item I tried today was Honeyed Pumpkin - thinly sliced pieces of pumpkin (I used butternut squash today) briefly fried and then drizzled with honey. I also briefly marinated some chunks of skinless boneless chicken breasts in some hot sauce, then dusted them with a bit of potato starch (you could also use cornstarch), then fried along with e pumpkin. Frying might be the more traditional method, but next time I will simply roast the pumpkin and the chicken.

One of my favorite things was the Spinach Tamagoyaki, simply a scrambled egg cooked in a square skillet and rolled up around some freshly steamed spinach. I used baby chard, since I was all out of spinach, although I think any green leafy vegetable would work beautifully in this. After blanching the chard briefly in boiling water, I dropped it into ice water, drained it well, then drizzled with a touch of soy sauce. Cook the scrambled egg as if you were making an omelette, dropping the cooked greens on top while the egg is still slightly undercooked, and then rolling the egg over the filling. Francis also made some cute sausage octopus creatures and a rabbit shaped apple; I skipped the apple and just cooked a few slices of spam that I had cut into chunks.

The remaining dish I made was Japanese Style Potato Salad, which was just a bit of thinly sliced carrot and potato boiled together and lightly crushed, then mixed with some cucumber, a tiny tiny bit of rice vinegar and Kewpie mayo, a pinch of sugar, and a bit of pepper. I actually made this first and let it chill in the fridge while I prepared the other dishes.

Everything turned out really delicious, even if I made a huge mess in the kitchen trying to cook everything at once.


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