FOOD
2020.05.04

Bento: Boxing up happiness―2

While staying in, how about enjoying some time in the kitchen to create a bento lunch for a picnic at home? Chef Masahiro Kasahara of the popular restaurant Sanpi-Ryoron offers recipes for these hearty washoku bento―open up a bento box and delight in the variety of flavors and colors you discover.

Recipes and preparation by Masahiro Kasahara. Styling and text by Atsuko Sakamoto
Bento accessories from Utuwa
<Look for more recipes in the Kateigaho International Japan Edition 2015 Spring/Summer feature>

Nori bento
This take on the ever-popular nori bento features a double-decker layer of shoyu-infused katsuobushi bonito flakes spread on the rice and topped with nori. While color balance is usually considered an important element of attractive bento, the nori bento may be the exception that proves the rule. As Kasahara notes, “A bento composed of really tasty things will end up being mostly brown in color.” Indeed, the deepfried chicken, kabocha squash, and braised shrimp in this bento, with the dark look enhanced by the nori, serve to demonstrate his point.

Recipe (Makes 2 servings)

• 400 g cooked rice
• 1 sheet toasted nori seaweed, cut into 12 pieces
• 10 g katsuobushi bonito flakes
• 1 tsp dark soy sauce

1. Sprinkle soy sauce over bonito flakes and mix gently. Divide into four portions.
2. Spread 100 g of the rice in the bottom of the bento box. Scatter one portion of bonito mixture over the rice; cover with three pieces of nori. Repeat to make a second layer.

SIDE DISH 1
Simmered kabocha
• ¼ kabocha or other winter squash (about 250 g)
• Seasoning sauce:
300 ml dashi stock
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp mirin

1. Use a spoon to remove the seeds and fibrous innards of the squash. Peel the squash and cut into bitesized pieces.
2. Place the squash in a saucepan so that pieces do not overlap and add the seasoning sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover with a drop lid, and simmer for 10 minutes.

SIDE DISH 2
Braised sakura ebi shrimp
• 30 g dried sakura ebi (small dried shrimp)
• 1 Tbsp sesame oil
• Seasoning sauce:
2 Tbsp sake
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar

1. Heat sesame oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add dried shrimp and sauté until fragrant.
2. Add seasoning sauce and simmer, stirring frequently, until liquid is gone.

SIDE DISH 3
Karaage fried chicken
• 1 boned chicken thigh (about 300 g)
• Marinade:
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
Black pepper to taste
Katakuriko potato starch
• Salad oil for deep-frying

1. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add to marinade, massaging so sauce is absorbed, and let stand for 10 minutes.
2. Dredge chicken pieces in starch and tap off excess. In a heavy pan or deep-fryer, heat oil to 170°C. Fry chicken for 3 minutes. Remove from oil and let rest for 3 minutes. Turn up heat to 180°C and deep-fry another 2 minutes, or until crisp.

SIDE DISH 4
Tsukemono (Japanese pickles)
• 30 g takuan or other pickled vegetables,
sliced

 

Miso-grilled swordfish bento
This “Saikyo style” grilled fish is marinated in sweet white Saikyo miso before grilling. “The marinated fish has a substantial flavor, making it a perfect dish for bento, since it’s tasty even when it’s not hot,” Kasahara says. “We used swordfish here, but Spanish mackerel, black cod, yellowtail, or salmon would also work well in this recipe.” This bento meal is also a real time-saver: the fish and the hard-cooked eggs are prepared the day before, so only the sesame-dressed pepper kinpira needs to be cooked in the morning.

Recipe (Makes 2 servings)

• 400 g cooked rice
Aonori green-laver flakes

Miso-grilled swordfish (steps 1, 2)
• 2 swordfish fillets (100–120 g each)
• Swordfish seasoning:
50 g white (Saikyo) miso
20 g (5 tsp) sugar
20 ml sake
• 1 Tbsp salad oil

Seasoned eggs (step 1)
• 2 eggs
• Egg marinade:
100 ml dashi stock
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 tsp sugar

Sesame-dressed red and green peppers kinpira (step 3)
• ½ red pepper
• 3 small green peppers
• Seasoning sauce:
3 Tbsp sake
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
• 1 Tbsp salad oil
• 1 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
• Red chili pepper flakes

1. Prepare the day before serving:
Combine all swordfish seasoning ingredients. Coat each fillet with the seasoning on both sides. Place in a covered container and refrigerate overnight.
Place eggs in cold water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 8 minutes. Immediately transfer eggs to a coldwater bath to cool. Mix together marinade ingredients. Peel the eggs, place in marinade to cover, and refrigerate overnight.
2. Wipe seasoning mixture from swordfish with a paper towel. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook fish over low heat, taking care not to let it scorch.
3. Slice peppers lengthwise into thin strips. Mix together seasoning sauce ingredients. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add peppers, and sauté until just tender. Add seasoning sauce and continue to cook until all liquid is gone. Remove from heat and top with sesame seeds and chili pepper flakes.

Place rice in bento box and sprinkle with aonori flakes. Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Arrange the swordfish, peppers, and seasoned eggs attractively on top of the rice.


Vegetarian bento

This bento, with its varied selection of vegetables, showcases a wide range of textures, different shapes, and seasonings from sesame to spicy chili. It’s a palate-pleasing experience that opens new vistas on a vegetarian meal. The main dish is ginger-flavored atsuage, a tofu product; soybeans have long been known as “meat from the fields” for their high protein content. Chock-full of vegetables—not just in the side dishes, but cooked in the rice as well—this bento is simultaneously filling and nutritious.

Recipe (Makes 2 servings)

Vegetable-seasoned rice
• 360 ml (2 go rice-cooker cups) uncooked rice
• 100 g daikon radish
• 50 g carrot
• 2 fresh shiitake mushrooms
• 50 g gobo burdock root
• Seasoning sauce:
340 ml water
30 ml light soy sauce
30 ml sake
3 g dried dashi kombu

1. Wash rice. After rinsing, soak in fresh water for 30 minutes, then drain well in a sieve or colander.
2. Peel daikon and carrot and cut into 1 cm cubes. Slice shiitake thinly. Make shavings from one end of the burdock root as if sharpening a pencil with a penknife.
3. Place the drained rice and seasoning sauce in a rice cooker. Put the vegetables on top. Cook until done, then mix.

SIDE DISH 1
Atsuage deep-fried tofu sautéed with ginger
• 1 block atsuage
• Cake flour
• 1 Tbsp salad oil
• Seasoning sauce:
2 Tbsp sake
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp mirin
1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1. Cut atsuage into slices 1 cm thick. Dredge in flour to coat.
2. Heat salad oil in frying pan over medium heat. Fry atsuage until crisp on both sides. Add seasoning sauce and cook until liquid is reduced.

SIDE DISH 2
Avocado in sesame dressing
• ½ avocado
• Dressing:
1 Tbsp ground sesame seeds
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
⅛ tsp wasabi paste, or to taste

1. Remove pit from avocado. Peel and cut into bite-sized pieces.
2. Mix dressing ingredients together. Pour over avocado pieces and toss gently to combine.

SIDE DISH 3
Sautéed and simmered potato
• 1 medium-sized potato
• 1 Tbsp salad oil
• Seasoning sauce:
2 Tbsp sake
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce

1. Peel potato and cut julienne-style into thin 4 cm strips.
2. Heat salad oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add potato and sauté until tender. Add seasoning sauce and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced.

SIDE DISH 4
Spicy konnyaku noodles
• 1 bundle (120 g) shirataki konnyaku noodles
• Seasoning sauce:
100 ml dashi stock
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
• Red chili pepper flakes, to taste
• Chopped green onions

1. Parboil shirataki noodles. Drain and cut into bite-sized lengths.
2. Place noodles and seasoning sauce in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, stirring frequently,
until liquid has evaporated completely. Remove from heat. Top with red chili pepper and green onions.

<For chef Kasahara’s bento-making tips, go to Part 1>

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